If a single emotion represented motherhood, it would be love. Blinding, unconditional, beyond-your-wildest-dreams, never-ending love.
That said, if two emotions could represent motherhood, the second one would be guilt. Loud, persistent, never-ending mom guilt that causes you to question whether you’re ever truly doing enough, or doing it right, or even coming close to hitting the target. Oh my God, it’s so powerful and it’s never NOT there, even when I’m momming the hell out of life! And on my off-days…yeah. I’m the worst.
I blame this inability to cut myself any slack on two very specific things: a genuine desire to raise decent human beings, and over six years of sleep deprivation.
My children are presently four and five years old, and yes, they still manage to wreak havoc on my sleep patterns. As a lifelong night owl who has never exactly kept “business” hours, I can’t blame them entirely – but I can blame them for a large portion of this, and I will.
As infants, my kids didn’t sleep well. They’d wake up to nurse, to cuddle, to yell at me, and once, to poop explosively on the wall beside the change table at 2am. (Life lesson: if you think your baby is ready to be changed into a fresh diaper, wait a minute to be sure….or like, ten minutes. And let’s be real; even then, you’re not safe. You never are.)
As toddlers, my children had night terrors and as preschoolers, they transitioned into nightmares. Those were different but equally exhausting phases! Fortunately, things are better now, unless someone has a cold or is told by their sibling that the sound coming from the vents is DEFINITELY a ghost.
Most nights, we all sleep. Or at least, my kids and husband sleep while I stay up late reading books, mentally redecorating my house and writing things on the Internet. But as every parent knows, there are nights where the silence of the house is broken by the sound of a child waking up from a nightmare, falling out of bed, or violently puking all over their room. The latter is the obviously worst of these, and thankfully, a rare occurrence in our home. Knock wood.
On these interrupted nights, I often end up sleeping with a child wedged beside me in bed, stealing 80% of my pillow space and breathing directly into my mouth. My covers will be stolen and I will be kicked repeatedly in the spine. My husband will be several feet away, snoring, but will later insist that he was up all night as well. I have yet to prove or disprove this statement, but regardless, we will both be grumpy and spend the first twenty minutes of the day glaring silently as we procure the strongest of coffees.
Sleepless nights are hard, and being stabbed in the spleen by your five-year-old’s inexplicably pointy toes is brutal. It’s exhausting, it’s frustrating, it happens over and over again…and yet, I let it happen. Yup, I totally allow it, and my husband does the same damn thing. Because truth be told, we could probably spend a few minutes comforting our nightmare-stricken son or daughter and then settle them back into their own bed. I’ve been a mom for almost six years – I can cradle a sleeping child in my arms, rocking them gently as I walk through the house, tucking them into bed with a song and a whisper and then BAM, I’m out of there like the nightmare never happened. I CAN TOTALLY DO THAT. But I don’t, most of the time.
There is something about those first moments when your child crawls into bed with you, sleepy and in need of your loving reassurance. It pulls me back to when they were newborns, when I’d practically run to answer their cries in the night. I can feel the memory of each baby as a soft, warm little bundle in my arms, and remember rocking them back to sleep in the dark. It’s the same quiet, loving sort of contentment now, feeling one of my kids snuggle up against my spine as they steal the blanket and drool on my pillow. It’s a little bit of torture, yes, but it’s the sort of magical, soothing love and comfort that they won’t allow forever.
Sometimes, my need for sleep and an unbroken spine wins, and I carry my kids back to their own beds. I get up and walk slowly along through that dark hallway with them in my arms, willing them to stay asleep or at least cooperative, and place them right back where they started. A kiss, wishes for sweet dreams, and I’m back down that hall and into my bed. But then, without fail, there’s a moment where I slide under the covers and feel the warmth where my child was snuggled up beside me just moments earlier.
That’s all it takes – an accidental reminder that completely ignores how carefully and skillfully I just got that kid out of my bed. And there it is, all the mom guilt and love I can bear, until I finally fall asleep.