Sleep

 

Isn’t this the favorite topic of all moms?  Or least favorite.  Or perhaps the word “favorite” shouldn’t be in there anywhere, but it is the topic many moms are most obsessed with.  And it is certainly the theme of everyone’s favorite question to ask new parents:  “Is s/he sleeping through the night yet.”

I think nearly every mommy blogger in the world has written on this topic, and I don’t have anything spectacularly new to add.  I think our (read: our son’s) sleep story is a pretty common one.  It is (as with most things in my life) somewhere in the middle of most:  could be better; could be worse.  Levi didn’t “sleep through the night” (I’m not sure how people are defining this when they ask.  I’m assuming they mean does he sleep in a manner that doesn’t require the parent to get up and out of bed to nurse or sooth.  In the strictest sense of “sleep through the night,” though, he is like all humans:  most nights he sleeps straight through; some nights — like us — he wakes briefly, perhaps fusses a little, rolls around, grabs his bunny and puts himself back to sleep; on the rare night, generally when he’s not feeling well, he wakes to the point of wailing and needs to be comforted back to sleep) until he was close to 18 months old. He still won’t nap or fall asleep at night without a warm body to fall asleep on.  He went through many stages before getting to his current “sleep through the night” phase (and yes, I use the word “phase” purposefully).  For example, even once he started staying asleep for most of the night, he was still getting up at 4am to nurse.  Eventually that changed to 5am.  About a month before we stopped nursing he was getting up as late as 6am at times, and now it’s rare that he gets up before 6.

So that’s the lowdown on Levi’s sleep.  As for my sleep, I am on a new (that is, three nights old) get more sleep kick inspired by Arianna Huffington’s, Sleep Revolution.  I haven’t actually read the book, but I listened to her interview on the Beautiful Writers Podcast.  Nearly two decades ago, I read an interview with (then) President Bill Clinton where he said he slept for five hours each night.  That was the amount he said he needed. Ever since then, I have told myself, well, if Bill Clinton can/could run the country on five hours of sleep a night, I should be able to get by on that amount for my simple life.  Huffington helped me see the serious errors in this way of thinking.  So, since, I cannot give up my early mornings, the only end on which to get more sleep is bed time.

Three nights ago, I informed Dawn that we were on a new sleep schedule whereby my book had to be put down and her TV needed to be turned off at 10pm sharp (I typically put my book down anywhere from 10:30-11pm.  I wanted to start getting a full seven hours of sleep, which would require being asleep by 10:15 for my 5:15 alarm).  This means being physically in bed by 9pm in order to have enough time to write in my gratitude journal and read.  For two nights we stuck mightily to the lights out at 10 rule.  I even gave up on baking an apple cake for my faculty reading group in order to get to bed on time (this might not seem like a big deal, but it was HUGE for me.  To give up on something that I had planned into my day, something that makes me feel like I am successfully “doing it all” — and conversely something that makes me feel like a failure for not being able to pull it off — is a really big deal.  Silly as it sounds, it made me so grouchy and bothered me tremendously into the next day).  So for two nights in a row, promptly at 10pm, I put my book down and Dawn turned off the TV.  I laid there.  I closed my eyes.  I opened my eyes.  I rolled this way and that.  And then, I started talking.  The first night we fought about where the olive oil goes in the kitchen.  The night after that I started turning over the logistics of getting the dog to the vet.  Both nights were a total sleep revolution fail.  I simply could not fall asleep at 10pm.

Last night was worse (maybe?).  I was physically in bed by 9, after frantically deleting my Facebook account on account of extreme workplace toxicity.  I laid there with a tight chest and body pains trying to will my body to calm down.  I couldn’t.  It wouldn’t.  Finally, at around 10pm, I picked up my book. Though I had difficulty concentrating, I felt sleepy by 10:30, put the book down and drifted peacefully to sleep.  Dawn probably got more sleep too because I wasn’t gabbing her ear off.

Where to go from here…?  Perhaps I should read Huffington’s book for some ideas, but I feel like I don’t really need an entire book just to tell me to go to sleep earlier, turn off screens, develop an evening routine, etc.  I know all of this.  I also know that starting a wind-down process earlier than 9pm is a little unrealistic in this house.  Perhaps I am just supposed to sleep from 11-5:15 — maybe that is just the right amount for me.  Maybe I should set the alarm for 15 minutes later on the morning end.  Maybe I should just consider myself lucky that I get more sleep than I did for the first 18 months of Levi’s life or lucky that I get more sleep than a lot of moms that I know.  Still, I do worry about the long-term health effects (and short-term ones too — after all, a couple of days ago, I was looking in the refrigerator at work for the worksheets that I had printed!) caused by lack of sleep.  So maybe I’ll keep putting in the effort to have my head hit the pillow a bit earlier, but I’m not putting it there while I’m still wide awake.  That benefits no one.

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Beating Myself Up

The night before last I was exhausted.  I was bone tired.  I did bedtime stories with a flat, listlessness to my voice that I had never heard before.  I got up from Levi’s room, and while I cannot even recollect the walk to my bed, I can only imagine that I dragged myself there.  I laid face-down.  It was an effort to pick up my arm and remove my glasses.  They laid next to me on the bed because I couldn’t even get them to the nightstand.

As tired as I was, I couldn’t sleep.  But you know what I could do?  Beat myself up.

Yup.  As I laid there so drained of energy that I couldn’t walk down the stairs to finish cleaning up the kitchen or get to the sink to brush my teeth, my brain found just enough juice to tell me that I needed to get up; that there was a mess left in the kitchen that needed my attention; that I had plans to do yoga (and that in the long-run yoga would make me feel better than lying face-down in bed); and that, on the whole, I was being a bad, lazy woman who was too weak to keep up the energy to do the basic things she needed to do to stay sane.  Then I sunk deeper, feeling certain that I would never have energy again and that if I just started allowing myself to run helter skelter (or simply lie there…) and do whatever — like lying in bed every night — then I would get used it, and that is all I would ever do, and therefore the kitchen would never be clean again and civilization as we know it would surely be over….

Who is in charge here?  Sheesh.  The stories were that night.

Last night:  I did dishes.  I sang the tooth brush song with gusto.  I read those bedtime stories like a staged production.  I vacuumed and mopped the kitchen floor.  I did yoga.  I helped Dawn make signs for work.  I read.  I slept.  (I did skip the gratitude journal because of sign making, however…).

So yeah, it turns out that I was just really extra tired the night before, and what I actually needed was sleep.  I am not sure how I can be 41 years old and still so unskilled at figuring that shit out, but I am.  I am also trying to get better at it, or least learn not to make myself feel so bad.  For me, the most important thing to try to keep in perspective is that “this” (whatever this might be in the moment — a “lazy” streak, an illness, a mood swing, a messy house, stress at work…) won’t last forever (well, except for maybe stress at work).  I can never see the light, and yet it has never failed to come for me.  If only I could put the energy into remembering this that I do into beating myself up….

Rise and Shine Mama Challenge

I am currently participating in Shawn Fink’s “Rise and Shine Mama Challenge.”  (If you haven’t already, check out my unsolicited review of the AMP).

Yesterday’s prompt involved journaling about our needs.  Not our needs as mama (though those could be included too), but our needs as women — as the woman who still exists (somewhere in there) outside of our role(s) as mom/wife/partner.

I found myself getting caught between needs and wants, but ended up writing down both because I believe “wants” was more the intention of the exercise.

First I made myself chuckle since “sleep” was the first thing on the list.  This often feels to me like the great paradox of  the “rise and shine” aspect of AMP: I need to get rise early in order to start my day off “right” (that is, right for me), but I also need sleep. I believe that Shawn would say that we make this decision each day, in the moment, by truly responding to what we need. If it is sleep we truly need when that alarm goes off at 5:15am, then it is sleep we should have.  If not, well then, get up and greet the day.  In one of the early e-mails for this challenge, Shawn included a quote (I’ve not forgotten the exact words and who said it) — something to the effect of — If we lose an hour in the morning, we spend the rest of the day looking for it.  And I feel this is so true.  Often when that alarm goes off, I am not even fully in charge of making the decision.  Some days I instantly drift immediately back to sleep.  Those are the days that I try not to beat myself up for missing my morning me time (though I am truly sad to have missed it, I don’t need to layer guilt on top of that).  The rest of the days I need to do a lot of self-coaxing but ultimately the pay off of padding groggily through my house to get my coffee and settle in at my desk is so worth it.

Truly, the most important thing I believe I have gained so far from AMP is the skill of reminding myself/telling myself how much better I’ll feel if I can just start my day with writing and end my day with yoga (most days) and my gratitude journal. If I can hit those three marks, then even missing other important elements like working out and making a home cooked meal feels like not such a big deal.

As she often is, Shawn was right in encouraging us to journal our needs (all of them!), because as she said, often what we think we need might not be what we actually need.  Yesterday I believed that I “needed” to figure out which writing project to work on in the morning and  from which angle I needed to be approaching it.  What I found out, however, was that I just needed to allow myself time to journal — to write and doodle and imagine and plan and dream without an agenda, theme, or topic; without worrying about audience or whether my writing was any good.

A couple of other realizations I have to come to in the five days of this challenge:  my evening rituals and rising early plans are pretty solid and effective but could be tweaked a bit.  For example, I could be much better about using my evening time to prep for the next day.  I’m generally so damn tired in the evenings and so much more a morning person that I tend to leave everything for morning.  However, packing lunches (especially on the eves before Levi goes to daycare) and picking out clothes in the evening could go a loooong way toward making mornings feel a little less like a marathon.  I also need to figure out a morning contingency plan for the days when I go through the effort of rising early and my little guy rises right along with me.  My default mode on those mornings is supreme aggravation and frustration.  Coming up with a way to transition into a pleasant day/morning with my little one alongside me is important, but something I have yet to figure out.  #Goals, as they say….  🙂

 

Perfect Halloween

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Like seemingly everyone in the world (I feel certain this perception is shaped by my SMS feeds, which seem to just invite pumpkin posts), I love this time of year.  It’s my favorite.  Every year for over a decade, my wife and I go all out decorating for Halloween.  Our aesthetic has ranged from cute to scary and sometimes a mixture of both.  As with most things in life, I always want our decorations to look perfect, but they never quite do.  They always fall short (kind of like the picture above — the fact that Levi’s bibs are in the background in their loud green manner really takes away from the picture and bugs the crap out of me.  Always just short).

Last night I was out walking the dog.  It was the kind of fall evening that you just want to bottle up.  Granted I was freezing (note to self:  It’s okay to take out gloves now after dusk), but the moon was just emerging while kids rode home on their bikes.  The smells of neighbors’ dinners greeted me, and, most importantly, Halloween decorations were glowing (and sneering).  Total idyllic suburbia.

There are two houses in our neighborhood that decorate for every holiday and really stand out at doing so.  Sitting across the street from each other there is a rivalry between them, and both are always perfect.  As I approached the houses last night — perfect as always — I started wondering if they both realize how incredible their decorations look.  Like, are they able to step back to the road, take it all in, and say, Yup – perfection has been attained.  Or do they also wrinkle their nose, wishing for better, thinking the mum would look better somewhere else or the door hanging seems off just bit?  (Isn’t this what we all wonder about beautiful people?  Do they look in the mirror and see it, or are they just like the rest of us, busy critiquing?)

I returned home to my currently unadorned yard with the realization that we will just be lucky to get our decorations up this year (I brought them up from the basement to the garage almost two weeks ago, and we just have not had a minute to get it done).  The perfect Halloween decor will have to wait (probably forever)….

 

 

 

Our Imperfect Pumpkin

What I’ve learned about my quest for perfection from our pumpkin….

Until this season, we had not had a garden in the four years since moving to the suburbs.  Dawn couldn’t bring herself to part with even a small part of her fluffy, green, weed-free yard.  But this year, I really wanted Levi to get involved in gardening.  I knew he would love it.  And as he grows, I really want him to have an understanding of where (real) food comes from.  We settled on getting  a VegTrug garden table for my birthday.  We put it together as a family.  The sides didn’t sit perfectly square and that bothered me immensely. We jostled and shook and put our weight on the thing and forced it into the perfect v-shape.  Levi supervised and tried to climb it, of course.

It looked great on our patio.  We filled it with with lettuce, basil, broccoli, green pepper, tomato plants, and kale.  As predicted, Levi was in awe — especially with the img_3083broccoli.  He would study the plants, sticking his head far into the leaves in search of the little head that had started.  He would point and touch and then ask to move to the next plant for the same examination process.

 

The excitement of growth, led us to want to grow more, so we took the corner of one of our landscaped perennial gardens and planted pumpkin and cucumber seeds.  Most of the seeds were dug up and stolen by our large squirrel population (Levi’s friends), but we did end up with one large sprawling tangle of vines and a single pumpkin.  We (especially Levi) watched every new sprout on the vine carefully, hoping it would turn into a little pumpkin zygote.  We had a few but, sadly, none survived.  We discussed the possibility of inseminating by hand (Dawn’s idea) but never ended up doing it.

Eventually we cut away all the vines but the one with our single pumpkin (whose growth Levi tracked on a daily basis, making a little ball shape with his hands and then widening them to show the pumpkin getting bigger).  It grew, and it was green.  Really green.  Almost black.  It grew under the pine tree in our yard, so we believed it simply wasn’t getting enough sun.  The plan was to let it grow for a bit and then cut it when it reached Halloween-ready size and let it ripen on the sunny patio.

Imagine our surprise the day we cut it and our very green pumpkin looked like this underneath!

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A perfectly green pumpkin with a patch of orange on the side that was facing the dark, damp ground!  Or, the way I saw it, an imperfect, orange pumpkin that remained mostly green and just looked weird!  We could not put this out on display.  But Dawn was proud of the pumpkin and put it right out front for all the neighborhood to see.  She posted pictures of it on Facebook.  And you know what some of the comments on Facebook said?  “It’s perfect.”  “Unique.” “I, for one, love your two-tone pumpkin.”  “Cool.”  “Love your pumpkin.  It’s different.  Yay.”  And there is really no denying any of those comments, except for maybe the first one.

And so as I continue down my refusing-to-give-up path to perfection, I revise, along the way, what that perfection looks like (a tiny bit, at least.  It’s hard.) in order to make room for things like a green and orange pumpkin.  After all, mother nature is ultimately in charge here.  Just one more arena where I am not in control.  (Did I mention, it’s hard?)

Look at me! I’m doing it!

Parenthood is a lot like that moment when first start riding a two-wheeled bike for the first time.  Whoever was holding you up has let go and suddenly you’re pedaling fast and furious, and you’re doing it!  Filled with pride, everything is how you’d imagined it would be — wind whipping, scenery passing, freedom is yours!  “Look at me,” you call out, “I’m doing it!!!”  Until you hit the urine covered fire hydrant, crash into the neighbor’s fence, go off the curb, or otherwise upset the careful, perfect balance of things that riding a bike requires.

I have weeks (though few in number lately) where I feel like I’m doing it:  running in the mornings, going to the gym on the weekends, cooking meals, researching, writing it the mornings before the kiddo is up, playing with the kiddo when he is up, getting work done, being a good colleague, fitting in some time for fun, tidying up the house before bed, doing yoga, reading at night before bed, watching some TV too, hey – even spending time on SMS (but not too much…).  All of this is done in a reasonably clean house (I’ve truly given up on perfection or even close to my standards here) and with a reasonably clean child, and sanity settles in:  a combination of pride (Look at me!) and gratitude, and a false sense (hope) that this could continue indefinitely.

And then the perfect balance is broken by one or many things.  For us it has included the draining interruption of starting daycare, followed by our first daycare cold two weeks in (which has lasted over a week and half at this point).  All last week I was too sick to get up in the mornings and write.  At night I would fall into bed without dessert, cereal, TV, or reading (this is a very clear indicator of just how sick I was).  I haven’t moved my body since September 11th.

While I set September 12th — the day Levi started daycare — as the date after which I would truly be able to focus on my work and research/writing, the opposite has ended up being true.  My focus is actually all about Levi’s daycare experience — how to get out the door on time in the morning (I’m drenched in sweat every morning by the time that car seat buckle clicks in); how to deal with the emotions of worrying about him; how to get him to sleep and eat while he’s at daycare.  My work days now consist of looking at the daycare’s Shutterfly site while e-mailing the director for updates.

This morning I was at my desk shortly after 5:30.  I will stick to the schedule at work that I have set for myself.  Tonight I will do yoga before bed.  Maybe, in a truly amazing feat, we will get the Halloween decorations put out, but let’s not count on it.  This is week balance will be restored.  Or will it?