This has been one of those weeks where I find myself once again on call 24 hours a day as one of my children battles his way through a nasty cold. So I revisited my friend sleep deprivation who has been hanging out with me on and off for over ten years now. It is a myth to think sleep deprivation ends when the baby first sleeps through the night. For sure it tapers off but it is always lurking in the shadows.
I love sleep. Before my children where born I could be known to sleep 10 hours a night, every night. Staying up late generally meant 11:00 pm. I was always a morning person. My body wakes up early, sometimes even after super late nights. So it is safe to assume when woken in the night, or asked to stay up super late I might not be the kindest most generous person. But over the years I have pushed through this irritation (most of the time) to connect with my children.
Night time parenting is a huge challenge. For me, I am tired. It is dark, colder then usual and my body is literally begging me to sleep. My boys co-slept, nursing on demand for the first years of their lives. I would pray for hours between feeds. When my youngest was 2.5 years old and I was on my sixth year of nighttime breast feeding, I woke up angry one night. It was an every 2 hours kind of night. I was about to lash out at him. Demand that he stop this right now! And then he smiled at me. He looked at me in a way that changed something deep inside. He just wanted to know I was there and that his whole world was okay. All it took was seeing me and he smiled. I imagine his body was tired and begging for sleep as well but something had interrupted that and he needed help to fall back to the world of sleep. And that something was me. Because he unconditionally loved me and trusted me. It that moment I felt in a way I had never before, what an enormous gift this was. This idea that another human being was choosing me, to bestow this deep and trusting love upon. I didn’t lash out at him. I carried this gift forward.
Here we are six years later and when it’s dark and things hurt or feel wrong he still trusts in me to help him settle back in to a more grounded state. There is something different though, that I hadn’t anticipated so early on. When his body is less sleepy then mine he stays awake and then sneaks in to cuddle me. He has ways he works to be quiet and apologies when he wakes me up. He wants to respect my need for sleep in the very same way I respected his need for comfort so many years ago.
This week, with his illness, there was a lot more time awake in the night. I may have slipped up more then once when trying to be gentle. And his stuffy nosed, drippy eyed, fevering self would look at me and say, “sorry I woke you up mom.” Which would take me back to his two year old self and the memory that he had gifted me with his loving trust. After the worst of the nights, he woke before me. I was short on rest and wondering about the day ahead, when he looked me in the eye and said “mom, thanks for always being there for me.” Heart melting moment.
It can be easy on this journey to join up with a crowd of adults who think the demands our children put upon us are outrageous, worth complaining about, deserving of punishment or shaming. I see it out there in the world. And when I find myself sleep deprived and slightly removed from being fully grounded I can feel the pull toward a less positive way of engaging with my children. But each and every time I reach that tipping point they find a way to share with me, that little extra something, that shows me without doubt, that putting our relationship above all else is absolutely worth it. They don’t see my black lined tired eyes or smell the stench of my un-showered body they simply see the love and acceptance sitting there forever with in their reach. And as much as I love sleep it’s no where near as delicious as the way my adoring boys look at me in full gratitude.