Sleep deprivation is one of the greatest challenges throughout motherhood. We’re awake early and often and rarely have the luxury of taking a nap. Frustratingly people are always telling us to enjoy this time; that it goes by in the blink of an eye. But no matter how fast it will seem like it went by later, how can anyone enjoy anything when they’re sleep deprived?
With every new stage of development, there is a corollary loss of sleep for the parent (okay—for the mom). Your kid is learning to walk? No sleep for mom. Learning to talk? No sleep. New teeth? No sleep. Growth spurt? No sleep. Nightmares starting? No sleep. Nighttime potty training? No sleep. Now plenty of people told me that getting a dog is like having a new baby, that it’s a lot of work, but truthfully I didn’t expect to lose sleep again. Between the girls and the puppy someone has been awake before six am for the last six weeks.
In many ways a puppy is easier than having a baby (you can use treats to get the behavior you want, you can close the kennel door and say goodbye, you can attach him to a leash and insist that he come with you, and they are definitely easier to train in every way) but more surprising have been the ways in which puppies are actually harder than new babies. As a practicing attachment parent, there wasn’t much I couldn’t solve by attaching my baby to the breast. My breasts are rendered useless when it comes to Django. Even if one of my babies woke up at an early, ungodly hour, after feeding and changing I was almost always able to cuddle up and go back to sleep with her. Django on the other hand after being let out and fed is a ball of bouncing energy until just around 10am when I am thoroughly caffeinated, the kids are finally fed, and Jada’s nap is still long hours away. That is when Django is fast asleep on the kitchen floor. Dogs.
He has been good…for a puppy and certainly he’s brought more joy than work. But I’m tired. I’m tired in that deep, profound, new baby way, where reality takes on new shades of meaning. I’m never quite sure what’s happening or what to do next. There is a seemingly endless list of things that must be done but rarely can I summon more than the one thing that is in front of me squeaking for grease (usually Twila wanting to show me her latest invention or Jada begging for more vitamins).
The tears started to seep out yesterday morning when I woke up before six for the thirty fourth day in a row, remembering the multiple times I was shocked from deep, dreaming sleep to carry a child to the bathroom or tuck her back in, or shut her window or give her a sip of water.
The jitteriness of exhaustion has set in lately and my patience has been at historic lows, my fuse epically short. I know cognitively that it won’t always be this way, that this is, like so many phases past, just a short lived blip in the parenting timeline. But on a cellular level, it feels like this is our reality. This feels like how it’s always been and always will be.
I wish I was better at “letting the house go” as so many wise mothers prescribe for getting through these overwhelming phases. But I’m not capable of that luxury. I could let the bills go, if only our creditors would give me such liberating permission. “You have to focus on the kids,” Citibank might say, “just let the invoices go. There will always be bills, your kids are only this young once.” That hasn’t happened yet. And neither has my compulsive need to have a tidy house relented.
I felt very pessimistic last night as the sun was setting and the hot air was giving way to a fresh, cool breeze and Ryan and the girls and the puppy were playing out on the front lawn as I thought of all the things that keep me from enjoying my kids. I made a list in my mind as I washed the dishes, watching them play through the window: The dishes, first off, and the bills, the laundry, cooking, making appointments for the dog and the cat and the kids, puppy class and soccer class and the dentist and the doctor and rushing to make deposits at the bank and returning things to the library and putting gas in the car. Washing the sheets (especially as Jada potty trains) and walking the dog, cleaning up his accidents and trying to keep his training going. Planning dates for Ryan and me and trying to save some energy for each other. All these things take my focus off my kids so that the only time (it seems) my focus is on them is when they are making bad choices (destroying the cleanliness of the house, eating brown sugar out of the cupboard, tackling the dog, fighting over the one toy they both must have, hurting each other, etc.) so that when they are actually playing nicely with each other, creating cool inventions, rehearsing skits, or the like, I am just so grateful to have two minutes of quiet to get something done or focus on training the dog, I don’t stop to enjoy their goodness and their times of sweetness.
I thought of all this last night, my brow folded into something between a grimace and a pout, scrubbing pots and pans grouchily, indeed feeling just plain sorry for myself and simultaneously mourning the all to quick passage of time of my life that is hurdling by in front of me (will life ever slow down?) when I looked out the window and saw Jada climb up the ladder of her tiny plastic slide. She was going to attempt a frontwards, head first slide. Except, she was wearing a light summer sun dress and, I could now see from the new angle of her soon to be attempted daring front first slide, no underwear.
Her sundress ballooned around her bare bottom in a perfect circle, filled by the light breeze that was kicking up from the western sky as she headed face first over the arc of her slide. The sight stopped me in my grouchy tracks and caused a sudden laugh to erupt from my lungs. She finished the slide to rollicking applaud from Ryan and Twila only to circle around and do it again. Now I was laughing in earnest as she mooned me a second time through the kitchen window from which I had a perfect straight on view of the absence of her undergarments. No less than five times she repeated this headfirst slide before I shook my dish gloves off and wondered out loud, “what am I doing in here?”
I headed out on to the lawn and everyone’s faces lit up. It was this look of excitement and surprised that made me realize how rare it is for me to prioritize fun over tasks. It’s so easy to get caught up in the notion that moms have to keep cleaning/cooking/picking up/washing, or nothing will ever get done! And sadly this is often the case but it’s our own fault when we miss joyful moments like these because we’re feeling sorry for ourselves over a sink full of dishes that is most certainly not going anywhere. The dishes will be just as dirty in ten minutes when Ryan is helping the girls brush their teeth or get their jammies on, I told myself.
So I put off the chores and joined my family to play with the puppy and cheer on the girls in their gymnastic routines and pull them around in the wagon with Django chasing happily behind us.
I realized in theory a long time ago that if a mother wants to find peace she must find it in the midst of the mess of mothering or she will be waiting one heck of a long time for any semblance of calm or joy. But learning a fact doesn’t mean you know how to apply it to your life. I had in no way figured out how to put that theory into practice until last night.
Somehow the desire to be a part of what my family was doing motivated me to find a certain calm even knowing there was a mess inside and a pile of chores that needed doing and that bedtime was getting late, which meant I would be up too late and once again tired tomorrow. But I laughed and cheered and cuddled the puppy.
I realized that having fun is a skill that can all too quickly be lost. I remembered last night as I cleaned up the kitchen tonight, like I always do, still sleepy and weary and ready for bed. But as I listened to the sounds of girls getting ready for sleep, I stopped cleaning and shook off my gloves. I picked up my glass of wine and walked into the living room where we keep our family pictures. I sipped my wine and looked at them all. The old and the new. I smiled as I looked at that five and a half year old picture of Ryan and me holding Twila just moments after she was born, the most recent school pictures, the shots of meeting Django for the first time. I relaxed right there in the middle of the mess and enjoyed a few peaceful moments thinking about my family. It was a small victory. But for a task oriented, type A, compulsive cleaning, grouchy mommy, it was a big deal.