The Benefit of Sleeplessness

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I used to be a runner.

Going out for a long run by myself on the country roads that led to and from my parents’ house was one of my favorite things when I was a teenager. I used that time to think, to reconnect, to let go, and regain.

Until this morning, I hadn’t been for a run in probably a couple of years…at least.

My daughter, Ava, still wakes up at least once a night to nurse and thus incomplete sleep patterns are a regular part of my life. I have had troubles sleeping since I can remember and when Ava wakes me up in the middle of the night (today it was 3 am) I often have troubles going back to sleep. I drudge out to the living room, sleepy-eyed and hungry Lady Bird in tow and I inevitably turn on the television and cruise Netflix for something to watch to keep me up long enough to finish feeding her. If I don’t watch anything I will almost certainly fall asleep and wake up a few hours later still holding my daughter in a nursing position with an arm that fell asleep along with us two ladies and a sore neck — as has happened on numerous occasions. That is why I have taken to watching things like chick flicks, lame tv shows and the like (which I, for so long, abhorred) just so I may put her back to sleep in her own bed, rather than her getting used to sleeping in my arms on the couch.

The trouble is I often can’t get back to sleep. Either I shamelessly get wrapped up in whatever silly show I am watching and can’t tear myself away from the distraction, or I simply cannot turn my brain off enough to lay peacefully and still in bed to actually get the rest my body so badly needs. This morning after I laid my Lady Bird in her crib at around 4:30, I was in a state close to complete anxiety. My heart was racing and I just felt like I needed to go somewhere…and fast.

So I did.

I put on my scarf, my coat, my hat, and my gloves. I dusted off my old hi-top Chuck Taylors and checked the temperature outside. A chilly 29 degrees almost made me stay inside. Almost.

Besides being a runner….I used to also be a morning person.

I used to get up at 3:30 am at least 5 days a week for either work or school. As much as I hated the lack of sleep I inevitably suffered…I absolutely loved being up by myself in the mornings before the sun even came up to greet me. Getting up early and functioning at ungodly hours makes me feel sort of in control. And Control (with a capital “C”) is something I have grasped at my entire life. This desire to control myself and my surroundings has been self-destructive at times — yet it has given me the drive to be willful  disciplined, and dedicated.

For the past few months I have dedicated myself to my health. It can take weeks of smoothies and yoga and vitamins and supplements and bone broth to get myself to a point where I feel pretty darn good. Yet it takes only one day of putting myself on the back-burner…and perhaps having too much wine…to throw everything off.

I get upset with myself for lack of focus…not just with this…but with anything. I feel like I always have to be on top of my game. In control. I always have to be the most patient and loving mother…the most devoted wife…the most fluid writer…the most fun and creative teacher… I don’t like to admit that I cannot possibly be all of those things all of the time. It makes me feel weak and vulnerable — two things I have been in the past and never want to be again.

I am recovering from an “off-day” just a couple days ago and this morning I thought I would benefit from my sleeplessness. I took my racing heart and anxiety and I pounded it beneath my feet into the crooked sidewalks in my neighborhood.

My solitary nature reveled in the fact that I saw not a single soul in the 30 minutes I was outside. The chilled morning air burned my throat as I ran but I cared none. I felt like with every pace forward I was putting my life back together. I exhaled the vulnerability and delicacy of my health into the darkness and quiet and left it outside when I was finished.

I don’t enjoy falling off the wagon…but I certainly enjoy feeling strong enough to get back on.

Sometimes…

**This is an archived blog post from August 2, 2012**

I’m going to be completely honest… Sometimes I wonder if I am doing the right thing. By homeschooling, I mean.

It’s just after 10 in the morning, and we were only a couple minutes into our first lesson of the day (Math), and already J.J. is sitting a time-out. And it was a struggle to get him there.

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Sometimes I wonder if homeschooling is what is best for J.J. I know we are only in our second week (of our second year of homeschooling), and I (to an extent) expected these fights…these battles of the wills. He and I are both stubborn and expect things to be a certain way, and our expectations are often at odds.

Sometimes I understand his struggles and why he fights against what I expect of him. Sometimes it is tough…I get that. He needs to accept that not everything is going to come easy to him. He is used to being able to easily memorize things and recite them, but when it comes to actually doing…that can be unsettling for him.

Sometimes I don’t understand why he fights. “Pick a color [pencil] to write with.” Why is that so hard? Maybe it is simply what he does not want to do at that moment, so he moans and groans instead. Maybe he realizes that once he chooses his colored pencil he will be expected to write or draw or solve math problems… I don’t know. All I know is that it is extremely frustrating and brings into question everything I am doing…everything I am working my ass off to achieve with and for him. No amount of yoga or chamomile tea can stifle my frustration at times.

So yes, sometimes I question why I am doing this. Yet when I think of the alternative…Public School…I know that I am doing what is best…for J.J. Just because it is not easy (for either of us) at times does not mean it is not what is right. Maybe, sometimes, it is rightbecause it is difficult.

In any case, he is now calm and it is time to reconcile.

Then…back to work.

Making It Count

**This is an archived blog post from July 24, 2012**

Some days surprise you with how good they turn out to be, and others surprise you with how terrible they turn out to be. In the past two days, I’ve had one of each.

Yesterday, J.J. and I got off to a great start for his first day of the school year. I found my internal stores of patience and fun…and I was able to be “in the moment” with my kiddos for what turned out to be an amazing day.

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We played “Pin the Beak on the Owl” for Science to experience the loss of one of our senses and having to compensate with our other senses.

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We read a tale of Ancient China for Social Studies and created things with tangram pieces.

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J.J. practiced reading aloud for Language Arts, we played the recorder, knitted, and read poetry together. We also made time to bake a snack for ourselves to make use of our ripe bananas.

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Even Miss Ava set aside her troubles until later in the evening so that we could all have some fun together.

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Although today was much less of the fulfilling sort, it was a great test of my willingness to do what needs to be done…and doing it with as many smiles as I could muster for my children. That is what makes each day, good or bad, count.

Ready for Another Year

**This is an archived blog post from July 20, 2012**

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It is time for another school year! I am beginning early this year to allow for more breaks within the school year and to create a more “year round” schedule of learning for J.J. I have several goals for myself as a parent and teacher this time around, now that I know more about homeschooling with a Waldorf-inspired curriculum.

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Haven’t heard of a Waldorf Education? It is based around the education philosophies of Rudolf Steiner, a great thinker of the late 19th and early 20th century. A Waldorf Education aims to harmonize what the child learns and experiences with the different developmental levels and spirit of the child. If I could describe this method in one word I would say it is “holistic”. I love it for several reasons, but mostly because it seems to embody the way I want to raise and educate my children. It is creative, nurturing, and it puts a lot of emphasis on nature.

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The particular curriculum I use is from Oak Meadow — an online school from which you may also choose to purchase only the materials in order to teach your child on your own, which is what I do. I find the syllabus and accompanying materials to be very reasonable in price, especially for the quality you receive. Also, they compose their lessons on a weekly basis instead of daily, so it gives the parent/educator more flexibility and freedom in their daily rhythm and schedule with their child. They do give recommendations on how to set up each day, such as beginning each day with a “Circle Time” in which you read an Opening Verse (a simple rhyme to be used for the whole year), a Movement Verse (to be chosen by you or your child from a large compilation of different songs, rhymes, and fingerplays), and a Closing Verse (another simple rhyme to be used the whole year).

Throughout this summer I have been doing more research about Waldorf Education, as I went into the first grade curriculum last year knowing next to nothing about it. Since I plan to keep using a Waldord-inspired curriculum, I figured I should know more about it so that I may use it to its fullest potential. So far, I have read “You Are Your Child’s First Teacher” by Rahima Baldwin Dancy and I am currently reading “Waldorf Education: A Family Guide”. I would also like to do more research on Rudolf Steiner, as he had many valuable views and philosophies about several aspects in life.

I plan to post more about the curriculum, Waldorf Education, and Rudolf Steiner as I learn more. I am always aiming to better myself as a person, mother, wife, and teacher. The introduction to the Second Grade Syllabus from Oak Meadow says it well:

“We believe that, as a Home Teacher, you should be continually striving to unfold the potential within yourself so that you can respond more deeply and spontaneously to your child. In working with children, it is never the techniques you have learned through the years that cause children to develop their capabilities. Rather, it is the strength of your being, the light of your understanding, and the love you have for them as fellow beings that draws the latent spark of individuality within them into active manifestation. It is this that makes teaching such a difficult endeavor. To be an effective teacher you must persistently seek to unfold and refine your own strengths before you can ever hope to unfold and refine the strengths in your child.”

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I whole-heartedly believe every word of it, and it is for the sake of my children above all that drives me to “seek to unfold and refine” my strengths. They are my love and my life.

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The Value of (Good) Mornings

**This is an archived blog post from July 11, 2012**

There are some mornings that start off badly…we all know what that feels like. We wake up late, we rush to get ready for the day, we don’t get enough sleep, or we just simply wake up in a funk.

Then there are the mornings when everything seems to fall into place and the rising sun seems to smile at you as if to say: “Yes…this will be a great day.”

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My ideal mornings are the ones in which I am up at least a half hour before anyone else in my family. I love peace and quiet in order to center myself, have a few sips of coffee, and mentally prepare myself for the day ahead. I also love to accomplish monotonous tasks, like dishes, laundry, or tidying up in these quiet moments so I won’t have to be rushing around to get things done while one or both children inevitably need me for something for the entire rest of the day.

There are also beautiful mornings when I am able to set aside any of the things I wish to accomplish and I seize a moment to spend outside while the sun is still in the process of rising…and the air outside is crisp and refreshing. Not too hot, not too cold.

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I had one such morning a few weeks ago. I had been sitting outside alone for a few minutes, and when I came inside to grab my camera to capture the evening primrose before they closed up for the day, I was lovingly greeted by J.J. who groggily smiled at me when I entered the door.

ImageInstead of forgetting about what I had wanted to do, or trying to rush through it so that I could be inside with J.J., I decided to include him in my task.

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J.J. and I walked around exploring the garden and the early morning pollinators about their work. He had a good time “teaching” me about the different plants he could identify.

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We were only outside for maybe 10 or 15 minutes, but they were some of the most relaxed and lovely minutes I’ve had in quite awhile.

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Renewed Energy

**This is an archived blog post from July 8, 2012**

I just got back from a family vacation, and although the 25 hour car drive each way (crammed in a mini-van with my husband, my squirmy 6 year old, my teething and nursing 5 month old, AND my parents PLUS all our luggage) was rather trying, the trip was great. We were visiting my grandparents whom I hadn’t seen in years, so it was wonderful for them to see J.J. a little more grown up and to meet Ava for the first time.

I expected troubled times with J.J. considering the stress of travelling and how negatively stress and change can affect him and manifest itself in behavioral problems…but he really did an amazing job with everything. We had some troubles getting him to eat without a lot of his comfort foods around (like Chickpea Rice Soup with Cabbage which I made tonight as our first dinner back home), but other than that he seemed at home.

The biggest trouble we had with the trip was coming back to a garden decimated from the drought and unusually high temperatures we’ve had in our area of central Indiana lately. Even though we had a friend watering the garden for us while we were gone, the heat was too much to handle for many of our plants – including the 34 new Arborvitae trees we planted in the spring as a privacy hedge to replace a broken fence. Even though a good portion of our plants seem to have lost the will to live, we came home to newly bloomed sunflowers which, in the face of heat and drought, have given us something beautiful to lift our spirits. My husband lovingly collected some for a bouquet for me:

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Now that I have to get back into the groove of daily life full of cooking, laundry, cleaning house, and all the tasks of caring for my children, I thought I would feel weighed down with stress but instead I feel sort of renewed and recharged. I don’t know if it was the vacation or if it is my own realization that I should set weekly and monthly goals for myself to better manage and accomplish things I want to do and not just things I have to do… but in any case I feel like I can take on all that fulfills my life with a new vigor. So, like the sunflowers in our garden of despair, I will stand tall and bright in spite of any drought that surrounds me.

Satisfaction and Frustration in Sacrifices

**This is an archived blog post from April 5, 2012**

Two days ago my daughter, Ava, turned two months old. In these past two months I have gone through – and still am going through – this enormous transitional period that all mothers go through after the birth of their child. This period of time can be even more life altering if they are breastfeeding and staying home with the child, as I am.

I feel compelled to speak truthfully about how I feel about these first two months with Ava, specifically involving breastfeeding – or I will use the more inconspicuous term ‘nursing’. I’ve heard from so many women, read in so many magazines and on so many websites, that nursing is such a beautiful thing and can be this amazing time for you and your baby to bond and just bask in the extraordinary sense of love between mother and child. I would like to admit I feel none of that what-so-ever.

I plan on nursing my daughter until she is at least one year old, so I have quite a way to go with this. I just can’t fool myself into thinking that I love the act of it and how much time it takes every day. I am glad to give her the perfect nutrition for her to grow healthily – not to mention all the money I am saving by not having to buy formula. However, I am a person that draws a lot of satisfaction out of my days by simply getting things accomplished. And when you are exclusively breastfeeding…good luck getting even your basic responsibilities done sometimes.

This all plays into the general misconceptions that are fed to mothers about how they should feel about their child and all that it entails. It is supposed to be magical from the moment of conception until you keel over from old age basically, right? Each stage of their life is supposed to hold illusive keys to your happiness. I find that is half true. Each stage holds its own wonder, yet it is often riddled with difficulties.

I must admit Ava’s infancy has been infinitely easier than J.J.’s, as he cried inconsolably ALL the time – probably due to sensory issues. Ava is a good baby, but she does love to be held all the time and loves the comfort of nursing on top of having a very healthy appetite. Those are the extent of my troubles with her…just her wanting to be loved really. So what is my problem? I’m a person, a complete and separate person with my own wants and needs…and I can’t help but feel discontented at times when my sense of being a complete person seems to be lost in the process of being a mother.

If I live the average life expectancy, or hopefully longer, then my current sacrifices of self and time are minute compared to the grand image of my life and those of my children’s. And I love my children more than myself…so I will continue to do what is best for them, even if that means losing a few pieces of myself in the process. 

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