You’ve gotta teach ’em to self soothe, you know.
You can’t tip-toe around or they’ll never sleep with noise.
Babies know how to get you to pick them up–just let her cry.
I know which floorboards squawk under pressure. I avoid them. I am up on the balls of my feet, lightly stepping a dance out the door, gently turning the knob to make a silent shut. I so badly want these quiet moments to last, more for her than for me.
Minutes later, it’s as if some unknown force with a foot has forgotten the dance and stepped on her. She squawks first, then she screams. A loud train has gone by and shook her from her light and always tummy-disturbed sleep. I rush back in, no longer careful just quick. Her face is beet red and crinkled with pain, her body making little sounds of too much air.
I pick her up and she lets a little of it out, a tiny little urp and I say, There you go, you did it, but I know there’s so much more. She looks up with ocean eyes and makes her sour face, tasting acid and thrusting her tongue in and out and in and out. If she could talk her big sigh past puffy eyes would be followed with a, Can’t sleep, Mama…just can’t sleep.
I am here to take care of her, to soothe her. To help her back to a sleep that comes slowly past the discomfort in fits and spurts.
I was thinking, as I was watching myself as if in a movie last night, absolutely losing my mind over the sleep deprivation, that I want to quit. Wave my white flag. I was filled with anxiety and something bordering on rage. Not toward her, but toward It. The parts of me that were showing were the deepest shades of red and black.
No one is capable of keeping this up. I can’t do this. I can’t do this…
Ryan is out of town and I’m just one me and the boys need me too and all I can do is try to keep them quiet all the time so the fits and spurts of sleep can last past moments. Because the discomfort brings the only words she knows and those are cries, anytime she’s awake.
I suppose this is when we start to wonder, in our sleep-deprived desperation, if these little human beings should be programmed as quickly as possible. As if they were robots and not individuals with all different needs. I get that, I just can’t do that and that’s my story.
In the middle of the night I cried (again) please help me, please help me, please help me. I begged. She wasn’t going back to sleep and on wake up number two of four and two hours later, there I was, still swaying from side to side and shushing and her eyes were wide open, startled. Her eyes have shock in them sometimes, like she just can’t believe what’s happening in her little body. And then she dozes and wakes just as I start to doze with a toot-toot-toot that hurts and the cries start again.
I have no choice but Surrender. Sacrifice. Service. On the hardest days, when there just isn’t enough Mommy to go around.
Right now everything is closing in on me and my fists are clenching and so there is no gentle about much of anything. But I’m here and I’m up and down and up and down and I’m getting meals with one hand and I’m tucking and wiping and instructing and reminding. They will be okay, but right now okay feels really far away.
This is when we lose ourselves, I suppose. Somewhere in the start. And maybe later we come back, we mothers. Because traces of us are always running through all of it, in between the clenching and the floorboard dancing. Those traces are why I sit here writing instead of showering or sweeping the floor, while I have this early morning moment where I should be sleeping.
Well, you’re not any good to anyone if you don’t care for yourself.
You HAVE to get some sleep.
I know. And some days I do. Most days I don’t. I know that no one is capable of keeping this up but I’m finally willing to see that as a gift. A horribly difficult gift meant just for me. Because when I am at the end of myself like this and like last night, I am so sifted that I am left with nothing; nothing but tears in the dark, eyes wide open like I can’t believe what’s happening inside me.
It is at the end of myself, I see the beginning, where faith starts. Where humility exists. I am all poured out and I lay my body down so carefully so as not to wake her and I look around and over the ugly ugly ways that I’ve been dealing with this sacrifice and I have no choice but surrender; to take a good look at the humanity in me that needs Grace and, oh please have mercy. I am a stubborn one and so motherhood is one of the only ways I’ll allow a holy kind of soul cleansing thing to happen in me. I am otherwise so occupied with myself that I pay that kind of change no mind at all.
So I answer to her when she cries and it is an honor to serve her. No matter what kind of ugly I am when I’m at the end of myself at the never-end of the days, it is an honor. One day, when the pain is gone, she will learn to sleep with our help, just as she learns to eat solids and take her first steps.
In the midst of this, all the days and nights like a loss of myself, God is tip-toe-ing around my messy heart and mind, holding gently all my needs. Not forcing me to get it, but simply loving me while I slowly learn.
I want to do the same for Elsie. I want to do the same for my boys. This is what being their mother looks like…Messy failures and grace gifts combined, so I can teach them what I would otherwise never know.
Everything in life that we really accept undergoes a change. So suffering must become love. That is the mystery. – Karen Mansfield