Mary at Owlhaven is asking everyone what they do to get through the days after the nights of no sleep. I was eagerly trolling the comments looking for tips because the nights here have been mostly sleepless since the common cold has once more darkened our door. I don’t do well without sleep. Anyone who has lived with me even a little while can tell you that I’m crabby and cranky and irritable if I wake up tired. This of course is an indicator that I am not nearly as good a person as I’d like to think that I am because when it gets difficult all sorts of meanness, and I mean that in the old fashioned sense, comes leaking out of me.
My MILly, who raised 8 children, has recently admitted to me that she is able to run on no sleep for days and days before it starts to bother her, and that perhaps she is a freak of a physical specimen and it is harder for others. I’m glad that she has realized this because many times in the past she has been decidedly unsympathetic. I tell her that I am sleep deprived and she would glibly say something like, “Well, that baby is doing it’s job, they’re bringing you to the end of your strength so that you can learn to rely on Jesus.”
Most of the time we are on the phone when she says this, which is good, because I usually want to punch her when I hear it. That is her genuine experience however, so I don’t think she means to be glib. My experience feels decidedly less spiritual than that.
A typical sleep deprived morning around here goes something like this. About 4 hours after I have managed to get to bed, one of my children will wake me to tell me about their dream, or to check their behind for poo. I will mumble something incoherent, hug them and tell them to go out before they wake the Baby. Then I will sink back into oblivion a few seconds later, until the next child sits at my bedside hissing, “Mom, MOM, MOM!” at which point I wake up again to answer whatever question they have, or to listen to the story about the Lego plane they have constructed while I am slumbering. Sometimes I fall asleep on them while they are telling me, but they hardly ever let me stay that way. Eventually the Girl will come in and demand, “Mommy, I want you get up. Get up Mommy. Get up. I want you to make my breakfast.”
Or I am awakened by them screaming at each other over some small and silly toy, or pushing at each other in a doorway that has plenty of room for them to walk around each other if only one of them would be less stubborn and change course.
As I get up I usually am choking on a wave of self pity and sometimes actually am in tears because of how terrible I feel, and because there is no end in sight. Everything I do on a sleep deprived day has an edge to it. My voice is sharper, my patience is thin, I am easily over whelmed by the onslaught of sound that living with children entails. I say over and over again, “Mommy just needs you to stop talking so I can think,” as I try to get one thought to form itself out of the haze into a definite course of action.
On tired days I can only think about one thing at a time, and we all know that Mommy’s don’t have that luxury. On tired days I feel angry at my children for needing me, for pulling at me, for constantly assaulting me with their presence. On tired days I have to apologize at lot, my children crumple and cry when I tell them to do things and end up hissing it through clenched teeth while I hold on to the edge of my sanity and try not to yell. On tired days I look for that reserve of strength and it is gone. I look for that great spiritual fountain of patience and endurance that I hear others talk about, and I do not feel that I find it. On tired days I muddle through, stumbling toward the possibility of sleep again, teeth gritted against the physical sensation of struggling through quicksand, or pressing through a fog. The necessary energy that it takes to propel children through the daily routine of chores and school and life is missing, and I long for a break.
I am not proud of this, I am not proud of my inability to cope, my tendency toward irrational anger or self-pity, but it is there nonetheless, and I must somehow go on in spite of it. So in response to Mary’s query I have been thinking about the things that do help me get through those days, including today, and wishing I had more wisdom for myself and others.
I think the thing that works the best for me is to not try at all to have a normal day. Mommy is tired, throw the routine out of the window. I also need to accept, if at all possible, that things will be more messy today, that life will be rough around the edges and to let it all go. So I will sometimes turn on a feature length show, usually a treat only for weekends, and lie down with the Baby until it’s over. Sometimes that nap is enough, but during those never ending tired weeks I am afraid that it will become routine, so I use this as a last resort.
I only try to get done what absolutely must be done today, everything else can wait. Of course a week of this can cause things and my stress level to pile up which is why I don’t go to bed without doing the dishes and thinking about what I need for dinner the next day. If I see a messy kitchen in the morning I am overwhelmed and can’t deal with it, far better to do it the night before.
I try to remember that my children are more important than paper work, tax returns, ins forms, laundry, dirty floors, and all of the other things I seem to be drowning in. It’s easier to remember this if I sit down and spend time with them instead of treating them as the flies buzzing around my head as I try to work and swatting them away in annoyance. I will take up residence in a comfortable chair and get them to tell me stories. I will read a few books to them, if I can stay awake long enough. I will hug on purpose, and store up Mommy kisses for the time later in the day when I need to concentrate on something else and need them to play quietly on their own. I will try to remain open to my children.
But what works the best, for all of my days, when I remember it, is to sing. I sing happy songs. I sing songs that are short and cyclical and get stuck in my head, the kind that end where they start so that I keep singing. I sing songs with words that lift me out of the self pitying fog I can lose myself in. I sing songs that restore my perspective. It works when I am tired and walking the floor with a sleepy baby. It works when I am picking up yet another Lego after I have stepped on it. It even works when I am exhausted and wish I could, just once, sleep until I am not tired anymore.
Recently I have been singing the first part of the standard Hebrew Bracha/blessing to a tune that my sister in law wrote. In English it means, “Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, blessed is Your name.” With this one little act, my terrible day is turned into one of praise as my children sing with me. Miraculously I have never turned from singing this to yell at a child, to groan in irritation, or snap in annoyance. Singing this gets me through and helps me to be a better mom. Baruch Hashem.