Mom Goes Bump in the Night

Who needs a margarita?  I’ve got sleep deprivation, thank you very much.

I can’t remember the last time I slept all night.  It wasn’t this month.  It wasn’t the month before, either.  I honestly have no recollection of the last time I crawled in bed and remained there until the morning.

Researchers now say that a person with sleep deprivation suffers some of the same hazardous side effects as being under the influence of alcohol.  Getting less than 6 hours of sleep a night, like drinking, can affect coordination, reaction time, and judgment.  Six hours or less?  That’s pretty common for me.  What does all this mean?

I’m drunk, even without a drop of alcohol in me.  Who needs a margarita?  I’ve got sleep deprivation, thank you very much.  My oldest will be seven in January, and I’ll classify the last few months of pregnancy as rotten sleep, so that makes seven years of drunkenness, no bar needed!

I’ve personally conducted extensive longitudinal trials on sleep deprivation over the years.  While I conduct my personal research in flannel pajamas pants rather than a white lab coat and my time is free of charge, my findings are just the same.

The four accomplices that keep me up at night, in a Halloween lineup: Ladybug, Mighty Thor, Iron Man, and the Tooth Fairy.

After particularly rough nights, I often wake up with what feels like a hangover: exhaustion, bleary eyes, a pounding head.  Unlike a big night out, though, I have no wild stories to show for my exhaustion.  Although, sometimes my late nights do involve stories of people throwing up in strange places.  But when the people are my kids and it’s my job to clean up the mess, there’s not much entertainment value in recounting the story to my friends after the fact.

Theoretically speaking, I probably should get to sleep through the night by now.  Our baby is now 18 months old, but she still usually wakes up once a night.  All sorts of people tell me their wonderful children started sleeping through the night at six weeks or something magical like that.  Sometimes I just don’t really believe them, and sometimes I feel a little envious.  Other times if I know them well enough, I put on my mock horrified look and jokingly exclaim, “Are you sure that’s normal?!  Is the baby getting enough to eat??”  I believe in equal opportunity, and even parents of perfect kids should have the chance to feel unsure of their parenting techniques, right?

The joy of a sleeping baby.

Truthfully, though, it’s not just our sweet baby girl that is the culprit for my sleep-deprived state.  She has three other young accomplices.  The beauty of sleep-deprivation, though, is also loss of memory.  When I wake up in the morning and I try to recall why I’m so knackered, often I can hardly remember.  Usually the nights are a blur.

In the last week or two, though, I began to keep track of my late night escapades.  Well, I sort of keep track, with no financial backing for my sleep deprivation study, I’m not exactly fastidious about documentation.   Oh well.  Below are some of my recent sleep interruptions:

1.  God Was Bowling:  The recent colossal thunderstorm that came through with lightning and thunder all night brought a wonderful amount of rain and a pitiful amount of sleep.  My three-year-old wandered into our bedroom scared of the storm.  I tucked him back in bed, explaining that the loud thunder was just the sound of God up in heaven bowling.  When God does a really good job knocking down the pins, it’s very loud, and the angels use their cameras to take pictures.  That, of course, is why we have lightning.  I added in ridiculous sound effects and a cheering section to make my story more convincing (all the while not waking up his brother in the same room).  My little boy went bowling twice in the last month, so he is quite an expert about all things bowling.  The notion of God bowling was enough to keep him in his own bed for the rest of the night.  Score for Mom!  Back to sleep.

2.  Puke in the Sink Makes me Happy:  (Sorry folks–Just skip reading this if you have a weak stomach.)  Last week my five-year-old coughed hard enough in the night to make himself nauseous.  He wandered into my room saying his “throat felt funny.”  I took him to the bathroom thinking a sip of water might get rid of the tickle in his throat, and as soon as we walked in, he promptly threw up in the sink. I cleaned him up and held him until the shakiness went away, and tucked him back in bed with a big bowl next to his pillow.  Afterward, I scooped the mess out of the sink.  A wave of gratitude came over me in addition to my own wave of nausea from the task at hand.  At two in the morning, I felt so grateful to be cleaning a mess out of the sink.  Had it happened a few seconds earlier, my bedroom carpet would have been the disaster site.

3.  Running from the Bulls:  A few nights ago my six-year-old came to my bed, telling me of her terrible bull dream.  Part of me felt secretly a little pleased and nostalgic.  I clearly remember scary bull dreams as a child.  And in the 4 AM haze, I thought to myself, “how wonderful, my daughter is truly growing up in the country.”  I don’t know what the standard scary dream is for an urban area, but I certainly do know that big scary bulls are pretty standard dream fare in rural places.  I initially felt inclined to tell her, “Don’t worry, you’ll have many more scary dreams about bulls,” but even in my sleepy haze, better judgment won out.  Perhaps I’m not completely “drunk” after all.

4.  A Towel is Almost as Good as New Sheets:  A few times a week, we have wet sheets from a kid or two.  I help my kiddo change into dry pajamas, and then the sleepy mom in me just spreads a thick towel over the wet spot, making a dry place to sleep.  Maybe it’s sleep deprived poor judgment to not change the sheets immediately, but I know I’ve still got pretty good reaction time.  A towel gets us back to bed in just a few minutes and it does the job until the morning, when I change the sheets with daylight and slightly more coordination on my side.

5.  Home and a Kiss:  Last night I brought our crying baby into bed.  Usually she just wants a quick pick-me-up of nursing and then I return her to her crib in about ten minutes.  This time, though, I zonked out.  A few hours later I woke up to a baby head hovering over me, with eyes wide open in the moonlight.  She looked at me, leaned in and gave me the softest little kiss on the lips, and then snuggled back in next to me and went back to sleep.  I fell back asleep, too.  A little while later she woke me up when she quietly mumbled, “Home.”  She understands what home is, she says it with excited relief when we pull in the driveway after being gone.  And in the middle of the night with the security of finding herself wedged in between Mom and Dad, she knew she was home.  That kind of sleep interruption makes my heart melt.

So after seven years of bad sleep, when my son vomits in the sink, I think “wow, that’s lucky,” when my daughter has a scary bull dream, it reminds me of my youth, and a wet bed?  Well, that’s  just a whole upgrade from a pile of barf, right?  Researchers might call that “impaired judgment,” but I’ll just call that seeing the silver lining in life.  And if a baby wakes me up in the middle of the night to kiss me, well, I certainly can’t complain about that.  Someday, we’ll all sleep through the night. Someday.

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Shiny Red Bicycle Adventures

As a kid, I remember wanting so badly to finally be an adult and do whatever I wanted.  Like every kid, I knew that adulthood would be the life equivalent of a sweepstakes shopping spree:  go anywhere, do anything, any time, and nobody says no.  Ever.  Because you are an adult, and adults don’t answer to anyone.

No one tells grown ups what to do.  Nobody even tells them when to go to bed.

Grown ups could just hop on their bikes anytime and ride anywhere they want.  Without even asking.  Except, they don’t want to, because they’re old, and they don’t even like to have fun anymore.

Shiny and red, this little lady loves a nice, smooth stretch of paved bike trail.

And now, firmly wedged in the grown up phase of my life, I sit here wishing somebody made sure I went to bed at a good time every night, because part of me is still a reckless kid.  When the actual kids go to bed in our house, suddenly I feel unleashed.  And then I stay up way too late doing things far less productive than I imagined when I wistfully dreamed of that “after the kids go to bed” time of day.

On the plus side, as a grown up, I do always get to pick my own bedtime stories.  Riding my bike, though, is a different story.  I don’t need to explain to anyone that a mom with four kids (ages six and under) doesn’t just hop on her bike and head off for parts unknown at any given time.  So much for that Grown Ups Just Do Whatever They Want notion.

Much of the time, my shiny red bicycle sits patiently waiting in our shed.  Sometimes I take it for a spin around the yard for a few times until one of my kids needs something urgent, like help with tying my kitchen utensils to the back of a toy tractor to make a trailer.

On Saturday, however, something magical happened.  My kindergartner had a birthday party to attend at the city park in Lanesboro, MN.  Suddenly, I was stuck for an hour and a half in the town that everyone else in the world drives to for scenic bike rides.  Eureka!

Minivans, in addition to being great kid haulers, are exceptional shiny red bike haulers.  I loaded up my red-headed boy and my red bike, and we headed to town.  I dropped him off in the capable hands of several sets of parents, where the birthday girl’s dad informed me that in addition to lots of playground time, he would be filling the kids with all sorts of sugar before sending them home.  I told him that sounded perfect, and I went back to unload my bike.

I hopped on my bike, and suddenly, I was free.  No, FREE!

Turning after the cool restaurant with the colorful chairs, then heading over the old railroad bridge, I was off on the trail all by myself.  Well, by myself, along with every other person who, like me, wanted to cram in as much outside time as possible on a nice Saturday in late October.

The only thing missing was a shiny silver bike bell to ring.  I have an overwhelming desire to come up behind others on the trail and give them a friendly but affirmative bring! bring! as I pass.  In fact, I’d ring my bike bell all the time until I’d either annoyed everyone or my thumb got too sore from bring-bring-ing.  Yes, I’m like that.  Maybe Santa will bring me my bike bell, but I digress.

Someday, you will be mine, shiny bike bell.

I pedaled down the narrow paved trail, a mini highway of happy bikers.  A canopy of trees formed an arch over the path, the branches now mostly naked without their leaves.  Passing by a family stopping for a snack, I asked the dad to take my picture.  I needed a photo of myself, the mom on her freedom ride.  Apparently, though, this bike ride was meant to be private.  Something was wrong with my stupid smart phone, and while it courteously made clicking noises indicating pictures being taken, no photos remained in the memory.  I guess the day was for my eyes only.

I came to an intersection with a gravel road,  and looking down the road, saw the Root River crossing below a cement bridge.  I pedaled over, and looked down at the water.  In the last month, I twice paddled under that bridge in a canoe, first with friends and then my family.  Now I stood on top of that bridge on my bike.  Not bad for a stay-at-home mom.

I headed back down the trail, smiling to myself as I overheard a conversation with heavy Minnesotan accents, “Oh, I doon’t know how you can watch a cat eat a mouse.” “Well, ya, but that’s what cats dooo.” (I do believe he should have added the obligatory “don’t cha know” for emphasis.)

After a few more minutes on the trail, I turned around and went back to the gravel road.  Too many friendly folks on the trail smiling and saying “hi” as I passed actually became a social burden, and I wanted some solitude.

I turned onto the gravel road and instantly felt better.  For a crazy minute I actually wondered if it was ok to be on the gravel road, since nobody else was doing it.  Then I felt ridiculous for thinking that.  I used to spend hour upon hour riding my bike around gravel roads, tooling around home here in SE MN, and then later in Montana.

That was back when I was that adult that hopped on my bike and rode anywhere I wanted, without needing to ask.  I’d regularly hop on my bike and ride for a few hours, quietly pedaling along, discovering new back roads and all sorts of things that I never noticed in a car.  That “no time constraint, no destination,  no problem” kind of bike riding came to a halt, though, with our first baby.

I have no regrets with my current life.  In fact, I quite like it.  But I certainly do appreciate all the more a long bike ride all by myself.  It’s a small epiphany to rediscover something I love that I haven’t done for a long, long time.

After my ride, I returned to the city park to find a happy boy on the swings.  I gave him a few pushes, then we picked up his candy-filled goody bag and headed home, both of us sucking on candy and feeling quite content with the afternoon.

All told, my excursion was only two hours away from our house, with commuting time.  But as I pulled into our driveway again, the enormous mental break made me feel like I’d been gone for a full day, a world away.  I came home hungry and happy, excited to cook and then devour a steak and potatoes meal with baked apples and ice cream for dessert.

What I didn’t really understand as a kid is that adults still have to listen to all sorts of people, and you are never your own boss, even when you are your own boss.  On the bright side, I used to be sure that adults barely even liked to have fun, but I am more and more pleased to realize I was completely wrong.  There is no automatic shut-off valve on the fun pipe of life.

An adventure on a shiny red bicycle will always bring great joy.    Brrring! Brrring!

To All the Blankets I’ve Loved Before

With fall in the air, the nip and chill makes everyone turn toward all things cozy, warm, and snuggly. It’s a deeply instinctual homing device. Something inside us says get inside, eat something warm, and get a blanket. What’s better on a fall night? In honor of the chilly season, I specifically salute you, warm cozy blankets. You make Minnesotan falls and winters so much better. If blankets had ears, I’d serenade them in a Spanish accent like Julio Iglesias, “To all the blankets I’ve loved before…”

Our two little ones wrapped up in the afghan made by my grandma, watching early morning Sesame Street.

My first blanket love was my blankie. Someone gave it to me as a baby gift, a rainbow of soft pastel rectangles on the front, a layer of fluff in the middle, and light yellow on the back. As far back as I can remember, that blanket was my everything: my rock, my shield, my fortress against every danger, especially the ones that lurked in the night.

Scared of the dark at night, I always brought along my blanket on the midnight bathroom trips. I held it up next to my face, and blocked the view of the open stairwell, so I couldn’t see the monsters and bad guys that lurked on the landing waiting to get me. My blankie protected me, because everyone knows that if you can’t see the monster, it can’t reach out and grab you. During the daytime, if I held my blanket, the spiders under the basement steps wouldn’t get me when I walked up.

When I was sick, my feverish state made my bedroom ceiling grow gigantic, high, and ominously confusing, but my blanket made it all ok. On numerous occasions, my mom wrapped a hot water bottle in my blanket to press against my ear in the long nights of ear infections. And on those completely disorienting childhood nights when I woke up and found the wall was on the wrong side of the bed after doing a 180 spin in my sleep, as long as I could pat around and find my blanket again, I would be ok, even though somebody had inexplicably moved my wall in the middle of the night.

In the mornings as a kid, I’d haul my blanket downstairs. When I was done with it, I hung it on the post at the bottom of the stair railing until bedtime, because that’s where blankets go. And I have to say, I was thrilled to see that the stair banister in our new house is identical in style to the one in the farm house growing up. I know just where to hang my kids’ blankies when they drag them down the steps in the morning.

A typical sight at our house, two favorite blankies hanging on the steps.

I used my favorite blanket far beyond the acceptable age to have security blankets, but I didn’t care. It’s role just changed as I grew up. In high school, I wrapped my good old blankie over my head to keep the sun out of my eyes as I slept until noon on Saturday mornings.

My beloved blankie is still around, up in my mom’s attic. After years of love, the puffy batting in the middle evaporated to just a few clumps in the corners, the cheery yellow on the back faded to off white, and if held up to the light, the blanket is but a thin, gauzy remnant of what it used to be. But a blanket like that is like the Velveteen Rabbit from the classic children’s story: it becomes much more as it dwindles to less. The most pitiful looking baby blankets are the most beloved. I remember a friend’s little sister proudly hugging her ratty baby quilt with missing strips of fabric, and announcing that the holes in her blanket were “full of love.” I believe they were. So many blankets are full of love.

On a similar vein, I often hear the expression that “food is love.” Making food to feed the ones you care about certainly is one of the highest forms of showing you love someone. I get that. Minnesotans don’t go around babbling “I love you” all over the place, that’s just a little too much. But making food to fill up someone’s belly, now that’s love. With that same line of thinking, I’d also add that making a blanket is love, too. A homemade blanket is the Minnesotan hug–warmth, comfort, love, and security against the harshness of the world outside.

My grandma was a blanket-maker extraordinaire. She crocheted an afghan for each and every one of her grandkids, well over 30 in all. Hours and hours of her day passed with a crochet hook and yarn in her hands, during Days of Our Lives and the news, day after day, always a crochet project in the basket next to her chair. She’s now 100 and her crocheting days have passed, but the afghan she made for me when I was a kid still looks beautiful. My three-year-old now uses it to stay warm in the mornings when he watches cartoons before breakfast, wrapping himself up in a yarn nest in the middle of the floor. It’s just yarn, but it’s love. I know it.

As a mom, one of my very favorite things is tucking my kids into their blankets at night. While they have mounds of blankets, each kid has one special blanket. There is never a question about what blanket is being looked for when we hear, “Where’s my blanket?” For all four kids, The Blanket is two layers of fleece, cut into a fringe on the edges, with the fringes from each side tied together to make a double-layer blanket.

My first daughter received her fleece blanket as a gift, and she loved it so much that I made a tied fleece blanket for our other kids, too. Those blankets are addictive. When brand new, they’re intoxicatingly soft and cuddly. Every time I’d nurse someone for a nap or bedtime, I’d grab the baby’s fleece blanket to keep us both cozy. After repeated use and lots of washings, the fleece blankets pill and lose the magical softness, but by then, it doesn’t matter. Our kids are hooked. Hour upon hour I’ve watched our four babies snuggled up next to me, nursing and holding the fringed edge of the fleece blanket, absent-mindedly rubbing fringes between their fingers until they fell asleep. It’s security and contentment, snuggled together in a fleecy package.

My oldest daughter’s fleece blanket used to be pink on the back side. Six years and a half years later, it’s now barely pink, barely soft, and far too tiny to wrap herself up in it. But like Linus, she still hauls it most everywhere. Wadded up into a ball and tucked up against her cheek, it is the perfect night-time protection against the wolves and bears she thinks lurk around our house at night. Judging by the fact that she loves sleep and loves blankets as much as me, she’ll probably still use her blankie as a teenager, to drape across her eyes when she sleeps in until noon on Saturdays. I understand that kind of blanket love, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

So, blankets, I salute you. For all the comfort you’ve given me, allow me to serenade you one last time with Julio Iglesias,

“To all the blankets I once caressed,
And may I say I’ve held the best
For helping me to grow
I owe a lot I know
To all the blankets I’ve loved before…”