Thursday, August 16, 2012

Sweet Sleep (Or Not)

Jack Ryan

My first daughter, Emma, was a terrific baby. She rarely cried, was almost always content to sit and smile, and the thing that made her absolutely GOLDEN was that by seven weeks old she was sleeping through the night (in her own room!) from 7pm until 7am. Golden, I tell you. Naturally, I thought that I was the perfect mother. How else could I have gotten such a perfect baby? And because Boss has always been super awesome, he would agree with me by saying, yes Babe, you are the perfect mother! Perhaps I am imagining that last part, but it feels right to type it.

My second daughter, whom I love dearly, was a bit  LOT more challenging. She never did get that sleeping thing right until she was around three years old.  And because I have always been super awesome, too, I usually blamed Boss for her non sleeping genes. Darn him and his early rising! But Kate, she took early rising to a whole new level. Multiple night wakings, 4am risings, every single day, for three(ish) years.  I read book after book, tried schedule after schedule. She and I even went so far as to move in with my parents for a few weeks when she was six months old, so that we could do the dreaded 'letting her cry it out' without disturbing the rest of the household (we were houseparents in New Mexico at the time). I remember crying to my mom, asking her why Kate couldn't sleep like a normal child. I had dreamed of having a house full of children, but sweet Kate and her non sleeping was making Boss and I change our minds. I shudder now, to think of how dark my thoughts were towards motherhood at that time, but it was where I was at. Those were some hard years, and I just wanted to survive them.

Eventually, Kate turned three, started sleeping decently, and we found the courage to try for baby number three. Jack was what I would call an average baby. We had seasons of great sleep and happiness, and seasons of multiple night wakings and early risings. But the tide always changed, bringing with it sweet sleep when we needed it most. I feel that his first year of life was probably fairly typical. And his second year of life was even better. And as of this summer, for the first time in eight years of parenting, the Z family was all well rested! And it was awesome.

And then came last week. Boss and I went away for four days, sans children, and came home to a different toddler. Well, he's still the same cute, ornery little fellow that we all adore, but his sleeping habits are now a different story. We used to lay him down at night with a prayer and a kiss, and simply walk away. And that was it. Two minutes and we were done. A stress free bedtime routine. And Jack would sleep beautifully for ten hours each night, while still taking a lovely nap each afternoon. But not anymore. Now, since our return, he cries (and cries, and cries, and screams, and cries) when we put him in his bed. We have tried everything, and the only thing that is working is holding him until he falls asleep and then placing him in his bed. And even then, most nights he has eventually been joining us in ours. And naps? Unless we are driving, those seem to be a thing of the past.

But I am not the same mother that I was six years ago. And I no longer feel like I am just surviving. The passing of time brings with it the gift of perspective, and no matter how frustrated I want to feel with Jack, no matter how tired I am some mornings, I know that soon enough this season will pass us by. Just like it did with Kate. I know that soon enough all of our children will be in their own beds, and we will be begging them for a cuddle or two. And if we never have any more children? Then this is it. This is my last cycle of sleepless nights. And I can honestly say that thought makes my heart a (tiny) bit sad. So when my growing son now cries at bedtime, I pick him up, cuddle him close, and go sit with him on the couch until sleep finds him. I brush my fingertips across his eyelids until they grow heavy. I breathe in the scent of his hair, and memorize the weight of his body on my chest. And I remind myself that this season, even in its sleeplessness, is still beautiful. A once in a lifetime opportunity to be the one place where my son feels safe and loved.

I still pray that one day our home will house more children. Our foster license is ready to go, and we are now waiting on that magic phone call. I still hope that I will get the privilege of rocking another tiny soul to sleep. But in case this is it? I soak it all in. And I thank God for the blessing of being a mama.