From the day he was born, Benjamin, my four-year-old, has fought sleep. No season of my life has been as difficult as the newborn days of exhaustion we faced as we attempted to care for an infant who never slept. He had to be sleeping on one of us or sleep simply wouldn’t happen. When he was awake, he was crying , because he was just so tired.
After reading a great piece by Auntie Leila over at Like Mother, Like Daughter that offers explanations for why kids are whining, I started to pay more attention to behavioral differences between a well-rested Benjamin and a tired Benjamin. At four-and-a-half he still desperately needs a nap because he only sleeps 8-9 hours a night (and no, if he skips the nap he doesn’t sleep any longer). When I started to pay attention to the difference between napping days and days he refuses to sleep, I was startled by how obvious it was: the whining and meltdowns happen because the poor kid’s exhausted. When he gets a decent nap, he’s cheerful, cooperative, and delightful (ok, MOST of the time.) Naptime is a must at our house. Even if he can’t fall asleep, he’s expected to play with LEGOs quietly in his room and listen to audiobooks while I rest with the baby or get some work done.
Naptime to me means accomplishing something: whether catching up on sleep or catching up on writing. But lately, I’ve been paying attention to these thought patterns and reminding myself that motherhood isn’t about productivity. And I love what Calah said recently about learning that parenting isn’t what’s important, being a parent is: so stop obsessing over methodology, be the parent your children need. I’ve been thinking about that.
I was feeling irritated when Benjamin was calling out for various things at naptime last week: a glass of water, a different CD, more stuffed animals. “Just put your head on the pillow, bud! Close your eyes and go to sleep!” I barked. “But Mama! I need you!” I closed the door and walked away annoyed, convinced he just wouldn’t fall asleep and I wouldn’t get a break.
But then I remembered my son as a baby, needing me in order to fall asleep. “But Mama! I need you!” and I felt compelled to go back in, to stop trying to accomplish something and just be his mother. I climbed in bed with him and put my arm around him. He grinned and sighed, “thanks for snuggling with me!”
His body relaxed, he started breathing deeply, and in two minutes he had passed out. In his sleep, he readjusted his limbs and put his little arm around me. I knew I could sneak out, get something done: write a post, work on the book, tackle the laundry and dishes and sticky floors. But I just stayed there, breathing with him, drifting in and out of sleep until Baby Gwen called out for me.
Now that we’re starting to move out of newborn survival mode into a daily rhythm, I needed this sweet reminder to simply be a mother and not do mothering. To stop doing and start being. To “waste” time with my babies, like Pope Francis tells us to do, so that they know that “love is always free.”