Monday, February 23, 2009

Sleep and Growing Up

I feel like I have been focused on sleep for nearly 12 straight years. I am not proud of that and it doesn't feel like that long focus has gotten me anything at all. It began when I was pregnant with Noah. Sleep was hard to come by and I worked hard on getting comfortable so I could rest a bit here and there. Thrilled to be expecting, I did not complain. I knew I wanted to be healthy and well and strong, so effort was spent on finding a way to get the rest I needed. To this day though, I remember that whenever I prepared myself for rest, that sweet little baby would come fully awake and begin his nightly Yoga practice, stretching and moving and holding his pose.

Noah finally born, I no longer focused as much on my sleep as his... knowing full well that finding a way to rest my baby would lead to greater rest for me. Right about the time we were certain that Noah could fall asleep nicely on his own... and right about the time we were sure we were brilliant parents able to teach our first born how to peacefully sleep through the night, I began to feel a little queasy. Sure enough, just 18 months after we first faced the sleep issue, we were met with an adorable, energetic bundle of boy that would teach us EVERY night how very little we knew. Where Noah was all about the wonder in every newborn moment, Benjamin was overflowing with joy. Much to our dismay however, that joy was found right around 2:00 AM when our sweet, little smiley boy would gurgle and coo and begin to fuss until we peeked up over the crib. Seeing how powerful his voice had become, his face would light up and spill forth his precious, toothless grin. Fun as he was, he did not sleep through the night til he was 2 years old. We worked and tried and nothing mattered. Sleep ruled our world... or better put, the NEED for sleep ruled our world.

Completely exhausted, we held at two children for a good long while. They shared a room, Noah and Benjamin, and Mark and I would tiptoe down the darkened hallway sometimes and eavesdrop on the conversations of preschool brothers only a year and a half apart. When they were really little, those bedtime conversations consisted of language lessons by Professor Noah.

"Benjim," he would begin, "Say light!"
"La!" Benjamin would shout with glee.
"Good job, Benjim! Now say bed!"
"Good job!"

These sweet early conversations turned into secrets shared in small voices full of innocence and dreams.

"Benjamin, tell me again about the time you saw Santa's sleigh..."

And maybe we were still sleepy but there was something amazing about listening in on the beginning of a friendship that will live past us.

Years went by and Josiah was born. Benjamin was 4 and Noah was 5 and Josiah LOVED to sleep. We felt again that we knew a little something, which of course we know now is a dangerous train of thought. There is something about a baby that sleeps that makes it easy to think about adding another to the mix. So, off we went to China to bring home the daughter we knew God had planned for us... the daughter we had prepared for since before Noah's birth.

We placed our baby girl in the crib her brothers used... but the bedding this time was pink. The bed however was used in a whole new way by Elizabeth and we found we were back to living with a child who did not sleep. Elizabeth's reasons for sleeplessness were very different than Benjamin's and we could see on her face, and hear in her cry, a history of loss that predated us. We struggled to help this newest little one to find a way to rest her body and rest her mind and find healing and peace in the only place she was ever meant to be. It took three years. And by the time we helped her through it, we were mighty tired again.

Over the years, we have learned a lot of things... the first and most important is that each little one is different and will sleep in his or her own way. I need to meet them there. It was a lesson hard won because we mistakenly believed that once we learned how to help a child sleep, we could use that lesson more than once. Silly us. : )

We are in a new place now and I find myself wishing there was a book to read that would help us adjust to what life and sleep look like now. With our boys all sharing a room (yes all three of them...), we have had to strike a balance between late night brotherly chats and their true need for rest. Making a change from one strict bedtime to a staggered plan helped a lot to work that through. Bedtime took longer but our children began to fall asleep at reasonable times. It looked like this:

Elizabeth 7:30
Josiah 8:00
Benjamin 8:30
Noah 9:00

In theory, one boy would be asleep before another one climbed in to an adjoining bunk. Turns out it was possible but not probable... One slow poke would throw it all off and back we were to sleepy boys in the morning after a long, late night chat. And those bedtimes kept getting pushed back. Before long, we realized that telling a nine year old boy (who doesn't need much sleep anyway) that his bedtime is 8:30 leads to a boy who starts to get ready at 8:30 and goes to bed at 9:00... after time spent cracking up his brothers with his one man show, he was clearing 9:45 before actually dozing off. Not good.

And then there was a new challenge... and one I did not see coming. At the end of the day... the ever lengthening day... I was absolutely exhausted. When the boys were really little and everyone went to bed at 8:00, Mark and I had the whole night ahead of us to talk and relax and watch a favorite show. We most recently found ourselves playing sleep police until way too late and by the time all is quiet upstairs, we are too tired to form intelligible words.

I have been focused on searching for sleep for almost twelve long years. I have learned a lot but realize now that I still do not know enough. But I know this... the set up we have is not working and I am too tired. So tonight, we held a family meeting to revisit this well-beaten dead horse.

"We need to talk about bedtime..." we began.

They rolled their eyes and prepared their rebuttals but I have an ace in my pocket they sometimes forget. I am the momma. He is the daddy. Together, we have a big job... to do what is right for all of them... and for both of us. We need more sleep. Tonight, we will get it.

So, what are we going to do? Plan ahead. Be clear. Read before sleep. Bedtime routines will no longer start at the given bedtime. Instead, we will start 45 minutes earlier, much to the dismay of my oldest tween. Take a shower, hug, kiss, pray... then climb into that bed and read. Lights out at your given time. Earlier downtime for Mark and I... in theory, anyway.

I am constantly amazed by how many things we must learn along the way. This parenting job is full of joys and full of struggles and full of issues that arise without warning or preparation. I had no way of knowing that raising tweens would leave me with 16 straight hours of hands on parenting each and every day. I had no idea how tired it would make me. But in a family meeting tonight, with babies gathered 'round, I listened to my 11 year old say, "But I just want some special time with you... time for a game... time to talk...". I am reminded again that some things are more important than sleep... like the smile of your baby in the middle of the night... like a preteen boy slipping his hand into mine and asking to play a round of Scrabble. We continue to look for the balance... what we need and what we want... what they need and what they want... and by the time we find it, we will be standing side by side, waving good-bye.

May we all have the wisdom to seek that balance, sleep when we can, and still pull out the Scrabble board when we are lucky enough to be asked for one quick game. Someday, I will be rested... but the house will be too quiet. Sleepy or not, I need to be in it tonight. Busy or not, frustrated or not, the joy of their laughter, the stories they share, the family history being woven right now is worth it all. And yet, so very easy to miss...

Friday, February 20, 2009

Locks of Love

A week ago today, I went into Salon Evangelos to get my hair cut. The plan was for me to cut 10 inches off to do a Locks of Love donation. Now, if you know me at all you know that getting a haircut, especially a major haircut, is not something I go into lightly. I went into the salon breathing deeply and reminding myself that it is a blessing, truly, to have the hair to give.

Vance has been cutting my hair for 15 years... though less so in the last couple as many things have been cut from the budget while we juggle these two houses. But, he knows how to cut my curls into something that works and I was grateful to have a new cut that works well with my crazy hair.

So, all in all, hard as it was, it went well and I am happy. Hopefully, the hair I am donating to Locks of Love will make someone else happy, too. : )

Enjoy the video!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Saturday Lesson

It started out as an ordinary day. Normal Saturday busyness... much to do, basketball games to play and watch, errands to run and the added bonus of Valentine's Day piling expectations for fun onto a day that was already much too full. Eggs and sausage for breakfast. The search for uniforms and missing socks. The normal rush to the van to drive way too fast to the church where the games are played. Ordinary... for us.

On Saturdays, three of my four children play basketball in a small church league. We like this activity because there is very little pressure but lots of fun and exercise. In the midst of a Chicago winter, these things go a very long way. The day can be a little tricky, however, in that only one child plays at a time. With Mark coaching most of them, this leaves me on the sideline juggling squirrely children who, while they love to play the game, would really prefer not to watch. We plan for this with books and papers and pencils and hope each week that the church will be kind enough to unlock the library giving kids who are not currently playing a place to hang, read, draw and relax.

The day began in ordinary ways but took a turn half way through the first game. Right in the midst of play, one poor boy slaps both hands over his mouth and throws up. He runs from the court for the nearest bathroom leaving a trail behind him.

Now, I don't know if we have covered this here but I have a bit of a problem with germs. Truth be told, I have a HUGE problem with germs. : ) I am one who always has hand sanitizer in her purse, never touches a handrail and would rather burst than use a public bathroom. I work VERY hard to keep my children healthy and so finding us in a church with a child who was not only feeling sick but actually throwing up, was a huge challenge for me. I was lost in the moment, feeling horrible for this sick boy, now being comforted by his mom but also hoping I could get my family through this activity without spreading this unpredictable illness to my four children.

An adult in charge threw a towel over the mess on the floor, dragged his foot across it, smearing... er... wiping it up, and play continued. On that same floor. The basketball that would touch the hands of all the children present there that morning, bounced freely onto the areas of the floor that had, just moments earlier, been covered with grossness.

So, what does a momma with moderate germ issues do in a situation like this? Once I could control my harried breathing, I gathered up my waiting brood and wrangled them into the unlocked church library. Making sure that everyone had something to do, I explained that someone had been sick and that I wanted to be sure to try to keep us healthy. I explained that it was important to relax in this spot, read books, behave. Everyone settled down with a well-loved activity and I went back to stand at the gym door to watch my other child play. Every few minutes, standing within 10 feet of the library door, I would go back, take a peek and find my three non-playing children happily reading, drawing, writing. Life was good.

The game got exciting and I must have waited two minutes too long to check the library dwellers. The next thing I knew, I look up and see two of my three children playing in the hallway on the other side of the gym. The hallway that is carpeted and covered with one poor boy's puke. The hallway that I clearly told my children to stay out of... which should have been NO challenge since they were told to remain in the library! We will call these two children, in an effort to protect their young selves, Child A and Child B.

From across the gym, Child A catches my eye. He freezes. He KNOWS. I motion to him to come back to me and he does... with the look of a boy who fully understands he is in TROUBLE. I meet him half-way and ask him how this has come to be. He says these words to me: "Child B said I should come with him. He said, you would never know."

Did you just gasp? I GASPED. Now, Child A is the least offender here because of this new news. Child B... well, he is in more trouble than he has likely previously known. And why? Because he took his brother to a germy place? No. Because he left the library? No. The reason this poor boy was in way over his sweet head is because he led his brother to do make a choice that was fully contrary to what I had told them clearly to do... AND (this is the most important part) he said that this would be totally fine because "momma will never know". In one fell swoop, he led his brother to believe that right and wrong are effected, not by constants or rules, but instead by WHO knows you have done this wrong thing.

Now, I know that this bad choice was really not a huge deal... I get that. But, the potential negative lesson was one that filled my head with worries that would far outreach one ordinary Saturday in February. I had to face the fact that at least one of my children is thinking that there is a way around the boundaries my husband and I set. I had to face the fact that another of my children is easily led to do something he knows is wrong. I had to face the fact that while this situation was completely and totally benign, the decisions that could come from this type of thinking could be life changing... in very negative ways.

The game ended and Mark and I put all the children in the van. Two were completely overwhelmed by what was to come. Which was good and right. We took all the kids home and tried to explain WHY this situation was so upsetting to us. And then we set about making the lesson stick. Good choices lead to good things. Bad choices, not so much. Child C had made great choices all morning. He had one on one time with mom, lunch uninterrupted and a small, much coveted Lego item purchased just for him. Child A and B? Home with dad to do chores, sense loss, and fully understand where this path leads. We do not spank our children but we do believe that discipline is really important. Discipline teaches. They spent the afternoon learning.

By the end of the day, both boys could not only talk about what went wrong but about specifically what we need to see differently from them. Child B was reminded about how important he is in the life of his brothers... how offering a good example to them is so important. Child A was taught, likely for the first time, that when someone asks you or tells you to do something, you must think before you act. These are big lessons for anyone, huge if you are a child. But, if we can find a way to make them stick, they are life changing in ways that lead to many good things.

I think sometimes we get into a season of complacency in our parenting. We see our children, we feel good about where they are. We love them. We care for them. Day leads to day and it seems like all is well. I know this happens to us. Overall, our kids are pretty well-behaved and it is easy to become complacent in it all. And then, we get a wake-up call. A glimpse into what is brewing in our families. A peek into the minds of our children. A moment that shows us a small experience that could grow into something hurtful or negative. This was Saturday for us. It was not a discipline problem of great magnitude and I certainly could have brought my errant children back into the library and offered a "do-over". But, in doing so, I might have missed the chance to see something that I needed to teach them now. I might have missed a small infraction that, gone unchecked, could have been repeated in a bigger ways. And that is the one part that motivated us to take the situation seriously. What if they had gotten away with it? What would they do the next time, if they really believed that what makes a choice good or bad is whether or not "momma finds out".

For two of my children, Saturday was not a red letter day. Yet, we ended the day with our children on our laps, arms wrapped firmly around their sweet selves, reaffirming our unending love for them. We reminded them that today's troubles belong to today. Tomorrow is a brand new day. We told them that we forgive them... and that we trust them to learn from this lesson and move forward from here. And they went to bed knowing they are seen. And loved. And known. And accepted.

I do not want to be complacent. I want to look and see and pay attention to, not only the situation at hand, but the potential hidden in this moment. I want to be sure to look for lessons and to take the time to teach them today... because today is all I know I have. I know we get weary... I know you do too. But, this season only feels long... and it will pass before we know it. We need to take the time today to notice what our children are showing us, take the time to teach them what they will need to know when the decisions they make are really all their own, take the time to pull them onto our laps create a structure from which they can hang all these important lessons. In doing so, we show them that what we say is true. We love them more than they know.