my 4:45am companion, with sound effects
I did not take photos at last night’s show. It was late for mamas at mid-week, a decade and a half older than the kids who came out to dance. But we mamas came out to dance too. And we still know how, despite our complaints about the lateness (so late!) and the loudness (first band, so loud!), and the “Oh God, I hope my hip holds out” (so lame!).
The dancing. It was really fun. We danced for the second band, but the really inspired getting down didn’t happen until Kidstreet arrived on stage. I love my siblings! Their sound is infectious, their performance is joyful and welcoming, and my sister is just the most gorgeous and composed creature on stage that you can possibly imagine (whether or not she can see it herself). As the set progressed, my dance moves got more adventurous, less fearful of will-this-hurt-my-hip? By the last song of the night, I’d shed that decade and a half, at least inside my own head. Walking home through the quiet of freshly fallen snow, I had to admit that I was limping ever so slightly. But when I woke up this morning, my hip actually felt years better.
Seriously. I could jog across the living-room without pain. How bizarre is that?
Let me tell you about the few hours between dancing and morning. I was gloriously asleep when the pitter-patter of feet woke me. CJ had gone to the bathroom by himself (yay!), returned to his bed and decided he didn’t like the looks of it (uh oh!), and come into our room lugging his water bottle and a giant sheep stuffie (noooooooo!). “I had a bad dream!” he announced, which is his new code for “I don’t want to go to sleep.” He attempted to climb into bed beside me. The sheep didn’t fit. Seriously, it’s enormous. We could all see this wasn’t working. I dragged myself upright, walked him back to his own room, explained about it being the middle of the night, sleeptime, etc., tucked him in.
Pitter-patter, pitter-patter. No sheep this time. “Is anyone downstairs?” he asks from the side of the bed. It’s pitch black. 4:45am. “Nope. We’re all sleeping. Because it’s the middle of the night!” He climbs in beside me, snuggles up. I’m too tired to object. We “sleep” like this for an hour until I just can’t stand the wriggling anymore. (I know lots of parents share beds with their children, and I just want to know: do those children hold still in their sleep? Because mine are like squirrels, if squirrels were much larger and not furry and had sharp elbows and hot breath and digging heels).
“Listen,” I said at last. “I can’t sleep like this. I’m going to your bed.”
“You can stay here, and I will go sleep in your bed. Or, you can go sleep in your bed and I’ll stay here. One or the other. Because I’m not getting any rest and I have to get up in an hour for a dentist appointment.”
“My blankets are too small.”
“Not the green one. The green one is plenty big. So what you do want: should I go sleep in your bed, or will you?”
Surprisingly, he chose to return to his bed. And then he slept.
And much too soon after that I was sitting in a reclining chair staring at beige ceiling panels, listening to top-forty soft rock while a masked woman scaled tartar off my teeth.
If I were sketching a trajectory of pleasantness upon a graph, say, from midnight until nine this morning, it would look like a ski hill. High to low, baby, high to low. The nighttime bed-sharing was definitely several graph points above the hygienist prodding exposed nerve endings between my teeth. At least with the bed-sharing I got to snuggle up to a hot-breathed, wriggling, pointy-elbowed creature of intense dearness. With the dentist all I got was a return appointment a week from today to fill a cavity — my first in TWENTY YEARS.
See. Straight down. Like a ski hill.
It’s a life.
What to do, what to do?
What do you do when you’re feeling less than inspired?
This morning was my “sleeping-in” morning; naturally Kevin decided he’d get up early and spend about five minutes rustling around in the dark looking for his clothes. I stayed in bed until 7:15 but shouldn’t have bothered. It’s not like it made me happier. Downstairs, AppleApple greeted me with beautifully brushed hair and a packed schoolbag: “You’re always grumpy in the morning, Mom, so I decided to try to have everything ready to go, so you wouldn’t be so grumpy.”
Gee, thanks, kid. A hint: don’t tell your mother she’s grumpy if you’re trying to lift her from her grumpiness.
Truth is, it’s probably more anxiety than grumpiness. Is it the lack of light? General Novemberishness? The sudden onset of Christmas? Whatever it is, this is not my best time of year; never is. As the light recedes, I’m dark with indecision.
**What thoughtful and possibly homemade gifts can I devise to spread cheer and joy this season? Can I find stress-free ways to fulfill our family’s seasonal rituals and traditions and meet everyone’s expectations?
**Should I skip supper and try out that running club tonight? How can I fit a club’s schedule into my own? Maybe that’s why there are no women my age at running club — maybe we’re all at home eating supper with our families and trying to keep a finger on the pulse of each kid’s well-being.
**What the heck book am I writing right now? I keep finding characters and abandoning them: sorry, don’t want to spend the next six years with you.
I’m thinking in massive chunks rather than manageable morsels. I’m thinking an entire book rather than a page or two.
Know what I mean?
As if every tiny individual choice has to fit into a larger whole, has to be a stone in this solid structure I’m building, this thing called Life. And if I go off piling stones in the wrong place, the whole thing is going to be ruined. Hm. Office as metaphor: Remember how the windows were the wrong size? How upset I felt? And how unexpectedly easy they were to change? It took some work, for sure, but it wasn’t impossible or disastrous, and ultimately only cost a day’s labour.
So what to do?
Today, I’ve set myself a small task. I am writing a song for a character in The Juliet Stories. She’d probably write a much better song herself, but that’s okay. My brother Karl has a new recording studio and when the song is ready, I can go and record it, which is pretty cool. It doesn’t add up to anything particular. It doesn’t fit anywhere else. It doesn’t answer a single question. It’s just something I want to do.
It’s just a little pile of stones I’m making in the middle of a field I happen to be passing through.
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?