Something has got to give, I thought at midnight when Twila’s hard head thunked me in the back just as Jada’s strong legs flexed several times into the soft pit of my stomach. When Ryan goes out of town for a night, I usually sleep in our big king bed with both girls. I have long believed that this actually helps me get more sleep than sleeping in separate beds and having to run in and out multiple times a night to comfort, soothe, and cart to the bathroom. But last night tested that theory rigorously.
Jada has RSV right now, along with half of the toddlers in Minnesota. So these last two weeks have thrown us back down the hill of night weaning into the pit of constant night nursing. My breasts are sore and I am beginning to feel resentful. As the cough wanes in severity, my reasonable, adult mind tells me that Jada could nurse less at night; Jada’s stubborn toddler brain tells her she should scream bloody murder if she wakes up and a breast is not immediately placed within her reach.
I told myself it was their illnesses that were making them so restless last night. Twila was diagnosed three days ago with a severe ear infection. So our season of constant viruses continues. On Friday Twila was ducking her right ear to her shoulder, whimpering that it really hurt. I could tell from the look on her washed-out pale face that she was not exaggerating. We packed up and got in the car to go to the doctor.
Twila, being a little afraid of the doctor these days and being the expert negotiator that she is, negotiated lunch at Lean Chin’s (her favorite restaurant) on our way—not after the appointment, she made very clear to me.
Even though Jada had a severe chest cough, I didn’t plan to have her seen since it was no doubt a virus that they could do nothing about. As we finished our lunch at Lean Chin’s, I began the time-consuming process of bundling the girls against the five degree whipping wind waiting for us outside. I stood Jada up on my chair to get her jacket buttoned just as the friend Twila had made during lunch went running past. Without hesitation, Twila leapt up and ran after him. In the split second it took me to reach out to restrain her, Jada tipped off her chair and hit the tile floor with a dull thud that I knew was her head.
I paced with her for a few moments, just long enough to get her reasonably calm, calm enough to jacket and mitten Twila and then I scurried the girls out the door. We battled against the wind-chill for ten freezing yards and finally were at the car. I set Jada in her car seat and before I even had the buckle latched, she was asleep.
It’s because she’s been sick I told myself, it’s because she hasn’t been sleeping well—right?
When we pulled up to the doctor’s office a few minutes later, I had Twila lock me out of the car and ran in to talk to a nurse. I explained the situation.
“And the one who hit her head is the one who’s sleeping?” The nurse asked leveling a skeptical gaze over the counter. Suddenly I felt quite naive by hoping I could let Jada finish her nap in the car before I brought them in.
Four hours later, we were picking up a prescription for Twila’s ear infection and traveling home in late Friday afternoon rush hour traffic with the assurance that Jada did not have a concussion. After waiting hours for back to back walk-in appointments, the girls were exhausted. Having nothing on the calendar that night, we came home and collapsed. I asked Ryan to pick up pizza. He came home with a pizza, a bottle of wine and a movie.
When the kids were finally (if temporarily) asleep, we fell on the couch and didn’t move, didn’t talk, we didn’t even watch our movie. We just listed to the silence, the blessed silence of the evening. My ears rang in the absence of the constant noise of children, music, washing machine and dishwasher cycles, ringing phones and talking toys. We sat and drank our wine.
“I have to believe this is the most intense phase of parenting,” I finally said hoping to speak that truth into existence.
That night when we went to bed, not long after collapsing on the couch, we had a restless night. But it was nothing compared to last night. It has proven typical that when I most need a good night’s rest, I don’t get it. But last night just felt like some kind of silly joke.
Desperate for sleep, I climbed into the big bed at 9:15. With a dim lamp glowing, I read my book for a while, listening to the peaceful sounds of children sleeping. At 9:45 I turned the lamp off and rolled over. At 9:55, Jada woke up will a scream that raised the hair on the back of my neck. I patted her back, my eyes wide and my pulse pounding until she fell asleep.
I took a deep breath, tried to slow my rapid heartbeat, and finally, slowly lay back down. Just as my eyes fully closed and my mind began to drift into the unconscious of a light dream state, another holler yanked my mind back out of the soothing comfort of rest. Jada was screaming and kicking her legs in a sleeping version of her protests to being dressed.
I got close to her ear and shushed her in a long gentle but loud ssssssssh. It was enough to soothe her back to sleep.
Less than an hour later when she woke up with a scream again, shushing and patting didn’t work. Exhausted and starting to feel a little irritated, I rolled her onto my chest and nursed her. Once again, she fell asleep.
Thirty minutes later, it was 11:01 and Jada was screaming like she had put her hand on something hot. My eyes were foggy and my patience was quickly waning. I couldn’t understand why she just wouldn’t sleep. She was clearly so tired. Her sleep had been so bad for the last several nights and her naps almost non-existent. She needed this sleep. Why wouldn’t she just sleep? I wondered angrily.
I got out of bed and paced the halls. Soon her cries subsided and her head got heavy on my shoulder. Just then I heard the soft patting of Twila’s little bare feet coming down the hall.
“Mom, what’s going on?” She asked, her face crumpled in sleepy confusion.
“Just get back in bed, I’ll be right there,” I whispered as quietly and calmly as I could. But the exchange was enough to wake Jada again who seemed to think since Twila was awake, it was time to play. He sleepy grins though delighting to Twila failed to amuse me.
Reluctantly and with less than a heart full of love, I nursed Jada to sleep…again. After a bit of thrashing and fussing, Twila was asleep again too. I dared to believe that maybe this was it. That now I would crash into the deep restful sleep that I so desperately needed.
It only took two or maybe three more hours of thrashing and fussing, screaming and crying, soothing and re-soothing to fall into that kind of sleep. Time at night seems to move differently than day time hours do. They are halting and unpredictable, too slow and too fast all at once. And when I finally was in that deep sleep, I and the girls stayed there for about four hours.
The sun was just lighting up the horizon when Jada and Twila caught each other’s wakeful eyes and somehow that restless sleep was enough for them to hit the ground running, ready to play, laugh, devise and scheme.
My cheek felt like it was super-glued to the pillow. My head might have weighed five hundred pounds. My eyes seemed swollen almost completely shut. I couldn’t be sure if I was exhausted or coming down with something.
Though outwardly I knew I needed to get up, to start making food to feed the children, to change Jada’s diaper and help Twila get socks on and get warmer clothes on Jada, I could not inwardly summon the will to get to my feet. When a mom is this tired, she starts looking for someone, or something to blame. Was it the garlic chicken broth I gave Jada last night I wondered, she has been very sensitive to garlic. Is it her nursing addiction that keeps her sleeping so lightly? Would it be better if they were sleeping in their own room or would I just be sentencing myself to making multiple trips in there each night? I’ve never been one to let my children cry it out. Though this second time around I have gotten more astute about the difference between a fuss and a cry, I find it goes against my mothering grain to not respond when my baby is really crying.
So I am at that oh-so-common place that mothers find themselves, thinking: would it be better to make a change or stay the course? There is no real way to know if making changes will help or hurt until you try. Consistency is important but when you are sleep-deprived and resentful, a mother can find herself realizing that something does indeed have to give.