A problem, how I made it a bigger problem, and the eventual solution:
This week was exhausting. Devastatingly, heart-disease-causing, soul-wrenchingly exhausting.
Something is shaking Butter awake at night, at least once an hour, and making him scream as though his head were being severed from his body with a rusty grapefruit spoon. Ear infection? Teething? Intense training by the CIA to see how I react to Guantanamo-levels of sleep deprivation? I don’t know. He’s often asleep as he starts yelling but wide awake and responsive when I talk to or touch him. I ask if he hurts, he says no. Blood-curdling scream. Do you want a cuddle? No. Wall-shaking scream. Do you need to pee? No. Neighbor-ending scream. I pat his back or cuddle him or get him up for a drink of water. He screams then cries then grabs my hair and pulls it, then kicks me until I explain the mechanics of loving mamas and their limits, then eventually gets so tired he falls asleep. For about half an hour.
It was so bad one night (perhaps Thursday?), so terrible and painful and awful because I couldn’t understand and couldn’t stop him and couldn’t get more than 15 minutes of sleep in a row without being blasted with the air raid siren in his adorable throat that at 4 a.m. I took him out of the bed (he comes into our bed around 1 a.m. most nights, but by 10 p.m. this week), put him on the floor, held him by the hand as we walked to the hallway, then shut the door behind him and let him scream in the hall while I stumbled back to bed.
Nice? No. Terrible? Yes. Feel more than free to judge if you have slept fewer than three hours a night, in short bursts punctuated by emergency-caliber adrenaline rushes. For a week. More sleep than that and you may unleash your judgement for my many other failings but shut yer piehole about the late night choices I made.
[Also? Pushing a screaming toddler out of my room because I was going to kill him otherwise? Totally woke older child and made him grouchy the next day. Just FYI when you’re considering horrible and heartless ways to nighttime parent a small, confused, helpless creature. I let it go on for about 15 seconds, but that was too long for everyone.]
I also tried sleeping on the couch at 2 a.m. one morning, but Butterbean cried so piteously about my departure, for so long while Spouse tried in vain to cuddle him, that I couldn’t sleep and returned to the lion’s den.
I’m 87% dead. How do I know it’s not 100%? I can still make coffee. How do I know it’s more than 75%? I can’t be bothered to work on my book.
So what? you ask. Big deal. Raising kids is exhausting and hard and mysterious and punctuated by phases of awful. We all know that. Those who don’t will find out. The diaper ads reveal only the copious amounts of cute brought to a household by a baby, moments of which are absolutely true, but the montage of which is doubtless gleaned from hours of regular baby stuff, which is one part cute, one part gross, one part infuriating, and one part heartbreaking.
So you know genuinely soul-sucking nights are normal. Me, too. Why blog it?
Because I learned something about myself this week.
I’m a raging asshole when tired.
Now, those who know me understand that the baseline of my unsavory personality characteristics is pretty low. To be a raging asshole is actually my default. And so, since becoming a mother, is being tired. I have two naturally wakeful kids and have not slept through the night in more than seven years. When Peanut started sleeping through the night at age 3.25, I was in heaven, skipping gloriously through my days, and got pregnant that week. Butter has still not slept through the night.
So I’m running on empty and I’m not nice.
But this week pushed me over a precipitous edge to a dark place. I yelled at my kids for every single thing they did. Fighting? Let me yell at you for that. Not listening? How about I yell at you. Asking for a lollypop? I have this riot act I will herewith read you at the top of my angry voice.
I was a cartoon of grouchy, impatient nastiness by Thursday. I took out on these delicious young people all my dissatisfaction with the week’s lowest moments.
So today I took today off. I’m getting a cold, borne I’m sure, of a week in which I slept twelve hours total. We had a full day of family activities planned…all delightful and full of people we enjoy.
But I knew it was today or never. Other times that I have been really sick, Spouse is often out of town. Or has the sort of work obligations he absolutely can’t back out of. Today was full of optional, awesome, fun not-obligations. So I told Spouse last night to prepare for a day of solo parenting. I told the kids this morning I would not be getting out of bed.
I’m sick. More honestly I’m sick and tired.
And for the first time in my life, I refuse to push through. I finished a triathlon with a stress fracture. I finished a client deadline and wound up with carpal tunnel syndrome. I finished both my degrees in minimal time with highest honors.
But I’m not going to a birthday party today.
Spouse made me soup. It was perfect. Peanut read to me. He was perfect. Butter sat on me and rolled all over me and tickled me and threw the cat at me. He’s two. Everything and nothing they do is perfect except when they grab you in big, sloppy, off-balance hugs.
I did not parent them. I loved them and enjoyed them and shooed them out of the room when I’d had enough and wanted a nap. But I did not parent them.
And I don’t plan to. Not at all today. Eat nothing but cookies if that’s what your father proposes. I’m sick and tired and I don’t care about anything but your joy. Brush teeth or not. I’m sick and tired and I don’t care about anything but your overall well-being.
If When you fight you find solutions or let your father help you. I’m sick. I’m tired. There’s no benefit to any of us if I engage in that nonsense.
I will not tell you how or what to do. Because until I recharge my dangerously depleted batteries, nothing I say is of much use to you.
I learned this week that I have nothing to offer when I’m depleted. And this was a hard-won and stark reminder that I must refill the tanks or I must shut my mouth and let them run around like wild hooligans. Because there is nothing to be gained by hanging on by my fingernails and then bringing them down with me.
So. Who wants to eat ice cream in bed with their totally abdicating mother?
[Note: I vowed not to get out of bed, but the second they left the house I cleaned out my closet, reorganized the garage sale pile, cooked dinner, read a chapter of a nonfiction book, paid the bills, did the dishes, watered the plants, and organized the photo files so I can make this year’s photo albums online. All with a horrible headache and a sore throat. I’m really bad at this relaxing thing. But I’m proud that I at least said I would. Baby steps.]
That sounds hellish. Good for you for staying home, even if you didn’t ecactly stick to bed rest (I would’ve done the same thing, without doubt).
I truly hope you feel better soon, and that no one else in your house gets sick.
Thanks Kristin. I’m sure everyone will get sick. I’m sure Butter brought home something from school, that he has an ear infection and is screaming in pain at night, and that Peanut will get it and be miserable.
Grand scheme, it’s a mild beginning to the school-winter-sick season. But holy crud am I shell-shocked from the nights.
I have no words. I can’t imagine that level of exhaustion – well, there was one weekend when my 3yo was a tiny infant and had a raging, screaming fever, but that was only a few days – so no, I can’t imagine.
Sending you alternating cups of coffee and chamomile tea and my deepest respect for asking for what you needed and still being able to write such a lucid post in spite of your exhaustion.
Kristen…oh newborn. Newborn sleep is so hard because it’s so new to be awakened every hour. Ow. I have newborn PTSD. Don’t we all? First cold PTSD. Teething PTSD.
Thanks for the coffee and tea. I’ll need them.
Oh honey I’m so sorry for the little nutter. And you, dear gawd. Whatever you want, you get. If I could package up a luxury yacht vacay complete with whale-watching, diving for sunken treasures, and black sand beaches, the works… I would. And when I win one of those luxury vacays, I’m taking you. You are in my thoughts. Big hugs, as always.
Thanks, magical one.
Whalewatching sounds awesome. Beaches. Yes.
I’ll just focus on that instead of my zen be-in-the-moment stuff. Times like these escapism is much, much better.
If I were in charge of things that go viral, I would send this one ’round the world. It’s the best of what you offer: humanity, brilliance, honesty, and good old-fashioned type A mama trying to take care of herself. If I lose one night of sleep, I become a stabby, homicidal mess. I can’t stop or get any perspective. It’s horrible. It’s also why there will be no more babies, unless one accidentally sneaks in my womb. Because it’s too damn hard. You had a tough week. I am glad you took the day off. That is so hard for me to do. “And for the first time in my life, I refuse to push through. I finished a triathlon with a stress fracture. I finished a client deadline and wound up with carpal tunnel syndrome. I finished both my degrees in minimal time with highest honors.” Time for a break, my friend.
But doesn’t it kill me, my similarly Type A friend, that it took a Two-Year-Old to do me in?
Weak and old. Weak. Old.
But soon to be whalewatching and lounging, if the unicorn has anything to say about it. So there’s that.
Ouch. Big hugs to you. And big big sleep wishes. Sleep-deprivation is awful, evil stuff…
A hug is such a generous offer, Macondo. Thank you. If I had a private jet…
Oh, that level of not sleeping is the worst. Scooter is NOT a good sleeper–she only recently started sleeping through the night in the last 2 months, and she is 2 in December. I can handle it for a while, but then I START FEELING A LITTLE CRAZY. And I am so not exaggerating.
I know you’re not exaggerating. I know that crazy. It’s like thinking through pudding with no controls on your emotional life.
It’s like being Two, I guess.
I know, not the point of this post and i’m sure you have thought of this, but it sounds like night terrors? I don’t know much about what to do about them, but have heard they are awful and you cannot wake them.
The sleep deprivation is by far the most torturous element of parenting. I don’t have good sleepers either. (I’m scared to type this, but Z, now 3 is pretty low maintenance at night but that just happened The 20 month old is up a lot. And of course, should we hit a period of good sleep and think for even a second that we have entered some sort of new stage (or grown out of another one) someone gets sick and all goes to pot. No. Not that kind of pot, silly.
So glad you took the day off. Take another. These small beings are trying to kill us…one sleepless hour at a time!
I wish to everything that I could have another day off. But Spouse is off to the daily paid grind and I’m back to the relentless unpaid grind.
I know what you mean about phases that you secretly hope are permanent. And the ones you every single day hope end that very day.
He’s awake, it seems, by the time I talk with him. I’m watching for night terrors, though. A friend’s kid had those. Awful. Terrifying. And impossible to do anything about.
I am the exact same way.
And now I understand how and why sleep deprivation is used as torture with POW’s.
My third child had night terrors. We never had this with Baby #1, Baby #2; we had the short bursts of sleep, etc. but NEVER the night terrors where he’d scream and I’d shake him and couldn’t rouse him.
After 8 months of this, we took him to the Dr, for serious consultation. He had been checked for ear infections, stomach problems, constipation, everything.
We were told he’d outgrow it. I couldn’t wait.
I did research and found out and decided to try a few things that worked for us. Or maybe he just outgrew it, I don’t know – but it was over at a year’s time. This happened between the ages of 3 and 4 . It was a year from hell.
I had never felt so out of control and hanging on to sanity in my life.
If you need anyone to listen, or just say “I know, mama, I KNOW,” I am here to virtually rub your hair while you lay your head in my lap.
Well, damn it, I just burst into tears at the thought of a lap I could crawl into. Thank you for the offer.
I was just reading Emily’s suggestion that it might be night terrors. I don’t think so. He makes eye contact and answers me. I’ll go get an ear check tomorrow, though my otoscope clears him on my end.
I’m so sorry for your year from hell. I’m so very sorry. Parents I know of night terrors children are so deeply traumatized by it. Glad you find joy in teenage sleep patterns. ;-)
You are–and I say this with utmost sincerity–the most mindful, present parent I know. And I have seen first-hand how patient you are with your children.
Sleep deprivation is the worst, and it can make even the loveliest mother into a fire-breathing ogre. I’m glad spouse made you soup. I wish I could do the same. You deserve it.
Re: night terrors. Miss D. had them and they were awful. Sometimes she didn’t know I was there (which totally gorked me out), but sometimes she did respond, often violently. I know C. Kane’s daughter had them as well, so I don’t know if she has anything that might give a clearer picture.
I love you! I’m sorry things have been so rough.
If you and CK and Alexandra all had night terror babies, maybe the experience makes mamas funny and talented and generously friendly…hook me up? No. Not worth it.
Thanks for the soup intentions. Almost as good as the real thing.
Oh poor you, that sounds miserable. My youngest is now 8 so I only get the occasional nightmare scenario, but I know all too well how hard it is to function on no sleep. And then to be sick. That blows. I hope you get some rest soon (and if you want, you can come organize my house ;)
Oh, I do love to organize. You watch the toddler, I’ll nap then tidy. Then nap again.
Sympathy coming your way!! This too shall pass. This too shall pass. This too shall pass. That is my mantra for not-sleeping children, teething, toilet training, homework, …
This too shall pass. This too shall pass. This too shall pass.
I’m getting the hang of it!
Waving the surrender flag and crawling into bed is sometimes just what the doctor ordered. I am glad Spouse was there to allow you to indulge. Even better was when he was able to take them out of the house and allow you some sacred alone time. I hope that your house is having more restful nights this week.
Oh, thank you. Such an improvement this week. Sleep is better, I’m nicer, and there’s less chance of a walkout. ;-)
I’ve done that a couple times. I call it going on strike. But, I usually pull a you, and end up doing a bunch of stuff anyway. Feel better.
Thanks. The secret would have been to go pantsless.
On an airplane, the safety instructions tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before helping anybody else. This may feel like rudeness, but it’s a life-saver.
Not rudeness, Matt. A dear friend has said that since just before Peanut was born. She still says it. And I still get it only intellectually. I just can’t get that into my body.
You are one my favorite voices of reason, so maybe you saying it will make me internalize the very simple wisdom.
Just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s easy. :-)