Sleep, oh glorious Sleep. I apologize for all of the years I took you for granted. I wish I could have banked all of the extra hours of leisurely sleep I enjoyed before life got busy and kids entered our world. I acknowledge and appreciate you for the power you have to help me be my best: full of energy, adventure, productivity, resourcefulness and patience. I thank you for all of the years I had in the past without needing makeup to cover the tired circles under my eyes. And please, come visit me again – often. I’ll admit it: I’m just not my best without you.
I find it somewhat ironic that I am noticing a lack of sleep these days. After all those early years of sleep deprivation, I am somewhat shocked to realize that I could ever again be guilty of taking sleep for granted. (something I swore I would never do) After the challenges we had during our baby-years, I think I must remind myself again of what a glorious thing it is to sleep deeply and wake well-rested.
The big difference is that nowadays, the majority of my need for sleep can be fairly placed on my own shoulders – a product of my own choices: staying up with my night-hawk husband, enjoying the occasional social time with friends, and a preference to be an early bird in the mornings. However, I am noticing the toll it is taking as my focus, mood, physical strength and energy wane, and my desire to be productive has all but disappeared. I think my highest desire today is to have a great nap. I’m even grateful for the grey day outside, as it lends itself well to curling up under the covers. And so here I find myself daydreaming about sleep – while my sleepy mind brings me back in time to when sleep was a daily challenge.
Perhaps I now appreciate a good sleep, simply because I heavily paid my dues when our kids were younger and I was chronically sleep-deprived. After all, over three years of rarely having more than 2 hours of sleep strung together will take its toll. Looking back, I wonder how I managed to function, let alone keep our kids safe, fed, clothed and happy. It completely escapes me how I managed to start and build my practice, or even carry on coherent conversations during that time.
An awesome kid (and amazing sleeper now), Ethan may just have been the worst-sleeping baby I have ever known. Despite being a very happy baby, he absolutely hated sleep, and would fight it like no tomorrow. Even in arms, he cried every time he had to go to sleep. (I’m not sure what he thought he was missing!) I am quite certain he almost caused our friends to question whether or not to have kids. In the very least, I know for a fact that they prayed to please not have a baby like that in the sleeping department. He was a sleeping nightmare – and the only way I could get any sleep to be able to function in daylight hours was to sleep with him. Our bedtime routine involved me laying to down to nurse him – with both of us drifting off to sleep, a routine that we revisited frequently through the night. Chiropractor/Mommy by Day, All-Night Milk Bar by night. (which made a mid-day nap an absolute necessity)
By the time Audra was born, we had already put in months of effort to get Ethan to sleep well, and on his own. Our efforts paid off – and he gradually became a great-sleeping toddler. Co-sleeping took on a new form – like early morning cuddles to give us an extra hour in bed, or for naps when either Dean or I wanted one, too. With time, our sleep challenges transitioned purely into precious moments.
Being parents the second-time around, we vowed that we would do things differently with Audra – putting more effort in to teach her to self-soothe, nurse only when hungry, and that we would put her down when she was getting sleepy. And I think we did a better job… but she was a born cuddler, melting her sweet, warm body onto mine so deliciously that even when I had something to do, I was often loathe to put her down. (And Dean was equally, if not more guilty of this. I’d often come home from work to find him on the computer, with Audra in a deep sleep in his arms. He’d answer my ‘look’ with a sheepish grin, acknowledging that “she was just so cuddly”.) And I am happy to say that she is still as wonderfully cuddly today, almost eight years later.
In fact, I choose to think that our tendency to hold our babies and sleep with them helped shape them as the very affectionate, hug-loving children that they are today. I am happy to say that both Ethan and Audra choose to give us hugs in the school yard – a rarity these days in many grade school kids. And many comments have come our way about the enthusiastic cries of joy and running hugs Dean gets when picking our kids up from camp or the after-school program. So whether it was the extra cuddles as babies, or a mix of a whole lot of things over the years – we appreciate every indication of how ingrained our children are to show their love and affection.
Suffice it to say that our intention was to have children who were well-adjusted, and who felt loved, comforted, and well-rested – with healthy associations with sleep to boot. With time, this came. Our children transitioned to their own rooms and beds, with easy bedtime routines. They were not afraid of the dark, never had nightmares or night terrors, and rarely woke in the middle of the night. However, it took us years to get there. Perhaps we could have had that from the beginning. I’m the first to admit that I am no expert in the baby-sleeping arena. However, I am grateful for the end result, regardless of how long it took us to get there. Looking back on it, the difficulties we had with sleep have blurred. I can no longer feel the frustration – although I know that I had lots of it.
Instead, my selective mommy memory remembers the feel of a fully content, deeply sleeping baby in my arms. I remember curling my body into theirs as we co-slept. I remember the joy of waking up and seeing the peacefully sleeping faces of my healthy babes. I remember being woken to smiling babies who wanted to bounce, play and giggle with the early morning rays. I remember the inexplicable joy of being skin-to-skin with my babies, feeling them breathe, feeling their tiny hearts beating, and looking at them in amazement for the miracles that they are. I remember feeling absolutely overwhelming waves of love, mingled with a fierce sense of protection, and my desire to give them every bit of myself and every opportunity in the world. I remember my mommy-heart singing for joy and overflowing love – despite the fatigue. Somehow in those moments, tiredness disappeared and all that mattered was the love I had for my children.
And so, these days when I don’t sleep well, it’s usually for relatively short periods of time – a night or a week, rather than for years on end. It’s usually due to a combination of a busy life with lots on my plate, an aging dog who sometimes wants to go out at random times of the night, and rarely because of our kids.
And yet, I can say with all honesty that it is possible that some of the best moments of my life were wrapped up in those times that I was not sleeping. Maybe it was nature’s way of making sure I didn’t get so busy as to forget the little moments that mean everything.
As I sit and write this, a part of me wishes I could flash back in time, just for a moment to experience those moments again, challenging though they were. They pass so quickly. And all of the sudden, my need for sleep has dissipated. Instead, it is filled with the need to be present to the moments in front of me. While I may indeed still find time for a nap today, one thing I know for sure is this: I will enjoy every minute I have with my kids today. Because I realize that one day, years from now, I will look back on days like today – and see them for perfect moments in time. Instead of remembering that I was tired, I will remember the sounds of their laughter, and the memories of the time we spend together – fully present to the only things that truly matter.
(And I could laugh out loud that I thought I was writing about my need to sleep… )