I think I’ve got it figured out. Except for sleep. I just don’t seem to get enough of that. Mornings are best when I’m up early, out of the house, doing something — swim, spin, run, yoga. I come home to breakfast and morning madness but my mind is clear. I feel good. I’m more patient than when the kids and I roll out of bed around the same time and grump around together in the same sleepy blur.
But then comes the crash. By 9am, my eyes are heavy and I’m moving slowly. So slowly. I slip into a 20 minute nap, get up, pour that treasured cup of coffee (I only drink one cup a day, but it’s a hefty cup.) But I’m still tired. The nap takes the edge off, but my brain still feels only partially operational.
Yesterday afternoon, a writing day, I lay down on my new office floor (yes — on the tile) and took a quick nap. And then I napped again at yoga class during the opening shavashana. In fact, I went early knowing I would nap, so I could nap longer.
Before bed, no matter how tired I am, I have to read. I’m reading a really good book right now: Half-Blood Blues on a borrowed Kindle. (Read it! Read it!) I rarely turn off the light until my eyes are literally crossed with exhaustion. And then I sleep instantly, and deeply, and often right until the alarm sounds to start the cycle all over again. (Last night I was woken at 1:45am by a little voice across the hall calling “Mama!” When I came, he said, “I need a kiss and a hug.” I didn’t even mind being woken up for that.)
Here’s what happens when I don’t get up early: within a day or two, I’m sleeping less soundly. I’m prone to the 3am wakeful worries. And so I keep getting up early — three or four times a week. And taking naps. And planning to crawl into bed earlier. And not. And sleeping deep. And waking again.
One small note on naps: I keep them short. And I consider them to be part of the creative process. It probably sounds crazy, but I get some deep problem-solving done during naps. The stuff that’s too complex or troublesome or bound up with emotions to figure out by just sitting and thinking or trying to write through it — that’s the stuff that gets treated during a nap. I’ll wake recognizing something I couldn’t before. I’ll wake feeling soothed. I’ll wake with a brand-new angle.
But I’m still tired. My nap hasn’t figured out a solution for that.
This has been a weekend and a half. If only every weekend could be like this … but then nothing would get done … but then I might not care that nothing is getting done …
It all started on Wednesday with the first birthday event, chronicled in a post below. Thursday we threw together a slumber party. Albus’s version last spring had been so easy, I had no qualms. Turns out, five girls make a lot of noise. There were moments when I was standing in the kitchen going I can’t stand the squealing. Will they just stop giggling? Kevin found my response very amusing: You’re not much of a girlie girl, are you? The pillow fight first thing in the morning just about did me in. But in the end, I could stand back and laugh and appreciate their energy and excitement.
The irony of it all was that I spent Friday night at my own version of a (non-sleepover) slumber party when my darling little book club got together in a hot tub. Yes, you read that correctly. Let’s just say it was a book club for the ages. It’s not often I’m still awake at 3:30 in the morning. Though I suspect the neighbours might have been having their own moments of will they just stop giggling already?
Friday was also AppleApple’s actual birthday. She celebrated with three hours of soccer. But we also had a surprise for her: her own writing desk for her new room. Thanks once again to kijiji. We’d been storing it in the basement, and post-slumber-party Kevin hauled it upstairs and set it up in her room (all while the birthday girl herself was sitting at the counter, completely oblivious, absorbed in a new book). We then coaxed her up: “Let me get a photo of you in your new room.” The first attempt was a bust. She went into the room, posed, and walked out. Kevin and I just about died laughing. This pretty much sums up our AppleApple: she lives deep inside her head. So we coaxed her back up a second time, she sat down in her reading chair, looked across the room and — at last! — spotted the writing desk. Reaction above. Sweet.
Now, just to put the icing on a truly terrific weekend, last night also featured our turn in a babysitting exchange. Have you heard of the overnight babysitting exchange? If not, may I highly recommend such a venture to you. First, find a willing family of equal size. Second, set two dates. Third, drop your kids off with their sleeping gear. Fourth, thank me later. (And thanks to Tricia for introducing the idea to us.) I didn’t mention step 2.5, in which the other family’s children are dropped off at your house with their sleeping gear. Yes, in our case, it means having eight children in the house (we took our turn last month.) But let me just shout: Totally worth it! Completely. Absolutely. I say we book dates on a quarterly basis. Seriously. Just for example, we spent on dinner what we usually spend on babysitting. And we went out for brunch this morning. Brunch!
Ergo, on this Sunday noon, I am so ridiculously relaxed I can’t remember all those things I should be doing. I’m going with it. Everyone needs to let down the hair from time to time. Forget serious. Get silly. Empty the mind. Inhabit the goofy happy happening. It’s good for the soul.
These are the good motherhood years. Not that they haven’t all been good years. But I’m telling you. These are sweet. For starters, I sleep through the night (I mean that literally, as all mothers of infants and toddlers will understand.) But then, my eldest is not so old: he still likes doing things with the whole family. And my youngest is not so old either: he still asks to be carried downstairs in the morning. All appreciate bedtime hugs and kisses goodbye in the morning. All are developing characters with funny thoughts and quirks and individual interests. Bursting with potential. Ages 10, almost 9, 6, and 3. This time is a keeper. Can I bottle it?
A random conversation between CJ and Kevin this morning, on their walk to nursery school (as reported by Kevin):
“Dad, Christmas is on the street now.”
“Are you excited about Christmas?”
Little dance with punches – “Yes! All the presents! How does Santa get all the gifts into the house?”
“How does Santa do magic without a magic wand?”
This morning, I slept until 7am. I did not get up early to swim or to spin or to run or to yoga. In my dreams, I would get up early five mornings a week, but in reality, four seems to max out my energy reserves. Yesterday evening, post-dishes, I sat down with Fooey to look through a book of baby photos (good grief, I had cute babies!), and when we were done the couch’s pillow looked like it wanted my head to rest upon it, and quick as a wink, I’d dozed off while Fooey and CJ played a game that involved using the angles of my legs and arms as rooms in an imaginary house. Clearly, the game did not disturb my sleep because I didn’t hear Kevin return from dropping Albus at piano lessons, nor did I hear him leaving again to pick Albus up, and therefore assumed I’d been “in charge” of the children all that time. I also assumed that I’d done a good job of supervising them, while asleep. Only to realize that any supervision had happened in dreamland. Sometimes when I’m asleep, I feel awake. And vice versa.
Long story. Very little point.
Today, a couple of things that are making me happy.
1. Albus at supper last night: “Guess what I got on that social studies test?” Me: “Was that the one in French?” “Yes. Guess what I got?” “The one on governments?” “I got an A!” Maybe he didn’t add the exclamation point. The kid prefers announcements by stealth, gotcha announcements. But it’s a big deal. It’s a big deal because usually he doesn’t seem to care, much. What makes me happiest about this result is not the mark, exactly, but the mark’s accurate reflection of his interest in the subject. He was the only one in the house truly excited about the recent provincial election results, and we let him stay up late to watch the polls report. We don’t often see our eldest get excited about things (aside from Lego, food, and high scores on wii games). And you want your kids to get excited about things. It means they care. It means they’re expressing themselves, exploring their own interests, developing unique passions and making connections.
2. Piano. Oh my goodness, but the piano playing is making me happy. Real music is being made in our living-room, people! This year, we implemented a reward system of stickers which has been enormously motivating (at least for those kids who need an extra boost of motivation; I note that though AppleApple practices almost as frequently as her siblings, she has far fewer stickers, because she forgets to add them. Obviously, for her the reward is as much the playing as the getting of something afterward.) But on that note, I’m beginning to suspect that the others, though outwardly motivated by stickers, are by stealth discovering and reaping the reward of regular practice, which is that YOU CAN PLAY MUSIC! I love this. I can’t even express how much I love it.
3. Participation. I also love seeing my kids volunteer and sign up and participate and try things out and expand their fields of vision and experience. Albus just signed up to play volleyball; practices are before school, so he’ll have to get up early on Tuesdays. AppleApple, of her own initiative, created an organizer to keep track of her daily tasks. She is notoriously distractable and understands that her life would run more smoothly if she weren’t always scrambling last-minute (or forgetting important items and events entirely.) And Fooey, who has long been my least-active child, who would take a stroller ride over walking right up until the end of kindergarten (ie. this past June), has suddenly burst forth as a very active soul: she started Highland dance classes, which involve a ton of jumping around (I’ve tried to follow her steps!), she walks to and from school on her own feet every day (more than a kilometre each way), and when we asked whether she’d like to try indoor soccer this fall, she immediately said Yes! And surprised all of us over Thanksgiving by wanting nothing more than to go outside and practice kicking the ball. Watching these personalities develop independently is downright thrilling. There’s probably no greater joy in parenthood.
4. Rest time. AppleApple especially has expressed a need for quiet time. She loves lying on the couch and reading a book for hours on end. So, we’ve been emphasizing that. Even on days when she has an activity, like piano yesterday, she can come right home afterward and flop on the couch with a book. For Albus, his down-time happy-time involves friends. He checks in every morning to ask, “Is today a friend day?”
We all love friend days. And as I write down these thoughts, I think, wow, everything on that list makes me happy, too, not just as a parent watching my kids do these things, but as a person doing these things. I’m happiest when I’m digging into activities and subjects that interest me, when I’m practicing regularly (could be writing, could be photography, could be yoga), when I’m widening my field of vision or trying new things or simply signing up and showing up, and when I get ample rest time, time to veg, time with friends, time to allow the brain to be fallow, and quiet, time to absorb experiences.
So that’s my question for today (don’t worry, I won’t always have a question of the day; sounds too much like homework): What makes you happy?
This was one well-planned party. I didn’t plan it, and neither did Kevin. It was planned in detail by the birthday boy, with some initial consultation (to whittle away at the more elaborate and impossible ideas). You can read the plan, on the right. In the end, the party went pretty much exactly like that (minus the 4am wake-up time).
Eight boys walked home from school together. They had a snack. They went to the comic book shop uptown and read comic books on benches (with supervision, I should add). They came back to a pizza supper, and made their sleeping arrangements in the basement. Outside to play baseball.
Ice cream cake served outside (the woman at the shop did not manage to put a “lego block” on the cake, as requested, but she may have been afraid of being featured on Cake Wrecks).
Then some boys played wii in the basement while others played outside til dark. Toothbrushing and pajamas. Reading in the basement (Albus provided a stack of graphic novels). Finally, lights out, a bit after 10pm. We expected talk, and there was some, but by 10:45 all was quiet. Though they woke early, they followed our rule: no getting up before 6. We provided a clock so they’d know for sure. They quietly got a movie started and had been watching for over an hour before we got up.
Kevin made pancakes and I made breakfast smoothies.
There was just time to open cards and gifts from siblings and parents before home-time. Kevin and I agree: this was in many ways easier and less-stressful than the intense two-hour friend party. The boys were very self-sufficient, and all such good kids. It felt almost leisurely. He’s spent the rest of his birthday, so far, playing with a new wii game, and putting together a Lego set he got to pick out himself this afternoon.
We also plan to have all-you-can-eat sushi for supper, and the older kids will get to go to a movie with their dad. And then Kevin and I will sleep and sleep and sleep. Thankfully, the weather was beautiful. I think that’s what made the party so successful. We were able to spend a lot of it outside.
And happy birthday, ten-year-old boy!
I’ve been neglecting to link to my twice-weekly triathlon blogs on Chatelaine.com, but here’s today’s: an ode to yoga, and to cross-training generally.
In other news, my eldest turns 10 tomorrow, and to celebrate, we’re going all out. He’s invited eight friends for a sleepover party. Already, overnight bags are collecting in our front hall. I’ll be heading up to school soon to supervise the walk home (but from a distance, it’s been requested). Albus has spent a lot of time thinking about this party. He wrote out a draft version of his itinerary, and then a good copy (if you know Albus, you know how unusual this is). The itinerary includes a walk to the comic book store uptown. The boys will then read their comics “on a bench or on the curb.” That’s my favourite part.
I’m not expecting much sleep tonight.
But I hope to rest a little bit this weekend in advance of the duathlon on Monday. My next big challenge. I’ve never raced on a bicycle before. But I did learn how to change a tire yesterday (hands on), thanks to this super-woman. In the words of a favourite children’s story: I think I can, I think I can, I think I can! The race is 4km run, 30km bike ride, 4km run. The bike course is described as “challenging,” and having biked part of it on Tuesday morning, I know why: hills and headwinds. It’s also supposed to be raining on Monday. My goal is simple completion. If I don’t chicken out, if I actually show up and do this, I will be a proud.
And now I see it’s time to switch gears and sign off. Writing day done. Full-on-mama again.