The Miracle of Enough Sleep

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It is a breathtakingly beautiful early summer morning – sunny, cool, dry – and for once I do not have mixed feelings about being awake to appreciate it. I am not a morning person. Never was, never will be. I am awake because I have to be but I can also say that I have had enough rest. This is new.

Last Friday night I slept for 12 hours. I don’t think I’ve done that in the 20 years since I had my first child. We had an early dinner and I fell asleep on the sofa, moved upstairs to bed at 1am and then woke up at 8am. I was aware of bedtime routines and kisses good night but everyone seemed to know what they were supposed to do and follow through. After a week of 5-6 hours a night, that sleep was not only needed, it was transformative. I faced a busy weekend not with fantasies of a nap but with energy and enthusiasm and a sense of emotional flexibility that often just isn’t possible.

SONY DSCI thought about the parents who have gone for years without even those 5-6 hour nights I’m whining about, and I am thinking about them again this morning. Sleep deprivation plagues many people for many reasons. For those who are awake because they have a sleepless child who requires constant supervision, the exhaustion is complete and relentless. Even on nights when the kids manage to sleep through the predawn hours, parental eyes pop open anyway, expectant of the footsteps that may or may not patter down the stairs. Knowing that the child is asleep doesn’t mean going back to sleep for another hour or two. Usually, worry fills in until they do wake up. It’s a hard pattern to break.

For those of us who face the day bleary eyed and worn out, I hold out for the promise and possibility of the restorative power of sleep. We don’t create sleep deficits on purpose – many children on the autism spectrum have intractable sleep issues and keep parents up until all hours, and we use the few hours while our kids do sleep to do things they can’t get done when the kids are awake. It’s just as important for our kids that we are rested as it is for us – people who’ve had enough sleep have more patience and make better decisions. If you can find a way to accomplish that magic 7 hours of rest, it is worth striving for.  Jane Brody wrote an informative essay on the health risks posed by sleep deprivation – it’s good tool for advocating with family and caregivers to let you cobble together a longer night or a decent nap.

SONY DSCI can’t blame autism for my sleep problem entirely. My boy is a better sleeper than most; it is the other obligations (obsessions?) and the worry that keep me awake.  I enjoy the quiet, peace and dark of late nights. I love being awake when everyone else is asleep. Books and movies are more fun in the dark. For years I sat in the dark on the floor of my boys’ room, waiting for them to go to sleep. As much as that process was driven by necessity, worry and confusion, I genuinely loved those moments sitting (sometimes writing) by the glowing night-light and waiting for the steady breathing and gentle snoring that arrived with their slumber. By the time I tiptoed out, no matter how crazy the day had been, we were all in love again. I wanted to savor that feeling and not go to sleep right away myself. I needed some time to wallow in the normalcy of sleeping children and talk to my husband uninterrupted. Still, there were times when I konked out on the floor before they did.

One gift of adolescence is that it brings kids who sleep in, when school allows it. This break in our summer program leaves my boy in bed at 9am still asleep. I never dared to hope there would be a time when he would master a self-directed bedtime routine at reasonable hour and sleep in on a sunny morning, even with sun streaming through the skylight directly on his bed. It might not sound like a miracle, but in its way it is. It gives me time to write this, time to think up some structure for this unstructured day, time to appreciate the breeze though the open windows after a week of hot and humid weather.

Peace of mind and enough sleep – I don’t think I can have one without the other, and having learned this lesson (again) I am going to try not to forget it.

PS: This is my 100th post. Woot.

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Snow Day: Living by Snowlight

Breakfast by snowlight

Breakfast by snowlight

I love the quiet of a house buried in snow. Skylights are blanketed so it’s a little cave-like and the only light is what comes in from the blizzard outside. And because it’s March there is a bit of warmth to the white, and the assurance that it will all begin melting tomorrow. The bitterness of winter is gone, in ways I cannot begin to explain right now (it is a snow day after all – we have some serious laying around to do). The boys are happy, and when Dad and daughter arrive later everyone will be home and “tucked up tight.” Those small phrases pop into my vernacular all the time (scripted speech? Probably).

by Gail Haley

by Gail Haley

The older the children get, the more we seem to quote the books we read to them when they were small. Perhaps this one most of all: A Story A Story – let it come, let it go.

A Week of Milestones

The first week of July is full of memories; for most everyone this is likely true with the holiday but this year I am compelled to make a list:

  • 90 years ago our Mother was born (July 3)
  • 59 years ago our beloved Foxleigh was born (July 8)
  • 34 years ago we had our last 4th of July on the River in Cedar falls (July 4)
  • 34 years ago we moved to Saint Louis (July 8)
  • 30 years ago J&J were married (July 3)
  • 22 years ago I started my job working for the President of MIT (July 1)
  • 20 years ago Dad threw a 70th birthday party for Mom; that trip was the last time I saw him (July 3)
  • 19 years ago we bought our house (July 1)

And this year we took our boy to sleep away camp for the first time. It is hard to say how pivotal this year’s milestone is, but I am more conscious of it here in the moment than any of the others, that’s for sure. And the image that goes with it is of our garden, where 19 years ago the only blooms to be seen in early July were the lilies on the right; all of the rest we have planted and tended ourselves with the expanding sunlight, a lovely cascade down from the elegant Japanese maple. We found that by taking down a birch and a pear tree we freed up enough water to sustain the maple, green the lawn and provide sun for the perennials. We didn’t plan it that way, it just seemed right to trade shade for sun near the house and all of the other things followed.

Before the Moment Passes

As the Easter Season winds down and we put the harbingers of Resurrection away, I must recognize the egg tradition as it plays out here.  This year, our boy chose to dedicate his annual painting of the wooden eggs to his trains and tugs.  Borne of my desire to avoid the smell and potential disaster of eggs and vinegar dyes, the wooden eggs painted by all of us over the past dozen years are scattered throughout the house.  Each year, it brings the renewal of the spirit home for us.

Tyranny of the Snowflake Plates

We have plastic plates with white dots on them that look very much like snowflakes, and this morning my boy came in and said, “Mom, you need to put these snowflake plates away.”  All of the holiday stuff was stowed last weekend, but I usually keep these plate out because, well, it’s still winter.  “They are TOO Christmassy.”  he says. “How about we just think of them as polka dot plates?” suggests my clever girl.  Nothing doing.  “Put them away,” he says, “they make me worried.”

Everything its place at its proper moment; this how he keeps from being overwhelmed and thus he structures our lives for us by compelling us to manage the details properly. Sometimes, just so he knows that change is doable, we will do something really crazy like have hamburgers for lunch at home (“It’s not dark!  They are only for dinner!”) or ask him to take a shower in the morning (“HMPH!”).

But this time, on this subzero no school Monday holiday (“No PJs all day, right, Mom?”), I will store the plates away until the day after Thanksgiving, when he will undoubtedly ask for them.

I should probably take the Christmas wreath off of the front porch, too.

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PS  The cookies in the photo are salted shortbread cookies and the recipe can be found here.

Raison d’être

September brings out the manager of children in me.  I realize, as I do every year while filling out forms and calendars, arranging transportation, and purging all of the stuff from last year, that they are my job, my passion, my center of focus.  This year, just as I hit my stride, they show distressing signs of growing up.

As we approach the dinner hour on this first day of school I survey the scene of everyone doing their own thing – one draws and watches streaming TV (Dexter, probably) in front of her computer, one belts out Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting on guitar hero and the third lobs a question from the next room “Mom, is mist like baby fog?”  These days, in which I am privy to what all of them are doing in a single moment, are going to get scarce.

Rice simmers, grill heats, and summer slips quietly out the screen door to the strains of Stevie Wonder’s Superstition.

Last Day of Summer

I wonder how many posts with this title are running today? Everywhere the light is changing, calendars are flipping, windows are opening to let in the first cool dry breezes of fall, and parents are rejoicing and mourning the impending first day of school.

Tomorrow we go the high schools – new teachers, new principals, new schedules to conquer. An urge to volunteer for everything and nothing. An itch to get to all of those practical things we meant to do on a rainy day this summer and the bittersweetness of having to do them in an empty house.