My sweet second born has been dripping with snot and sorrow for the past 3 days and seems to find comfort only in my arms – or more accurately, clawing up my back – lying in out bed at 3 am. And 4 am. And 5 am. He is a special, special boy whose universe is going to be rocked and rolled come Yuletide, when a smaller, more persistent screamer will be making her bedside appearance in the form of a new baby sister.
I hate co-sleeping for a million reasons, the primary being when they are in bed with me, I. don’t. sleep. Oh, maybe a little bit of drunken slumber in between nurse-a-thons those first dark, hazy weeks, but I always wake up in a startle of sweat and hormone-induced panic “OMG where is baby where is baby what is that noise where am I which side is he on?” etc ad nauseum until the sun shines through the crack in the window shade and I stumble for the espresso maker.
I’ve heard it’s better to drop the wee bebe into a nearby bassinet or pack-n-play in your luxurious master suite, but we don’t have the real estate for that kind of set up, and if I’m going to heave myself out of bed to drop someone in a crib, it might as well be located 15 more steps down the hall.
Nighttime parenting is one of the aspects of raising children that absolutely convinces me of the vocational nature of mother and fatherhood. Being a well-fed, gainfully-employed American, there is simply no other area in my life where I come face to face with actual physical suffering on a regular basis, except maybe the delivery room itself.
But at night? Waking repeatedly and frequently against my will and having to tend to the needs of an irrational bundle of joy is the most arduous aspect of this family gig, at least for my flabby soul, and God knows I need the opportunity to practice self-denial.
I go to the gym, I make decent food choices, and I tithe…but I do all these things when I feel like it. Sure, sometimes I put a workout off a couple hours or skip it completely, but I make up for it by redoubling my efforts the next time. There’s no real virtue involved in it for me, though. Even in my more athletically ambitious days when I was swimming competitively and running half-marathons, I did all these things because I wanted to.
Parenting isn’t like that. Sure, the initial pink-lines-on-a-stick was the direct result of something I wanted to do. But the rest of it? Not so much. At least not all the time.
Being called to physically, emotionally, and mentally put myself, my needs, my preferences, and most importantly (for me) my comfort aside day after day is literally my only shot at becoming a saint.
Some days I’m certain it’s my only shot at ending up a halfway decent human being.
The way I lie in bed after the litany of complaint from down the hall has started, praying my husband will react first, or that the siren will peter out and I can roll back over and pass back out, the extra 10 or 20 seconds I keep staring at the computer screen after Joey calls to me “Mommy, look!” or even the disgust I feel toward the middle of each pregnancy, when baby is only half cooked but I already look fully inflated…all of these tendencies say far more about me any my own selfishness than they do about the “neediness” of my kids.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it here: thank God they need me so much. Thank God they literally need the Hell out of me day in and day out, because I’d literally be cooking happily to death in my own selfishness otherwise, watching re-runs of House Hunters and eating leisurely lunches involving cooked ingredients and green things. And maybe shopping at Pottery Barn just because I felt like it. Nothing wrong with any of those things, by the way, except for me these small, selfish pleasures would consume my entire waking hours, perhaps with the occasional charitable ‘event’ on the weekend to assure me of my basic decency as a human being.
God knew I was too lazy to practice any kind of asceticism, self-denial, or even good old fashioned discipline on my own. At least not where it counted, and not when I didn’t “feel like it.”
I can say with almost 100% certainty that I never, ever feel like getting up with a crying baby at night. But I do it. And every time it happens, maybe – just maybe – my tiny grinch heart grows a tenth of a size or something. Am I willingly taking up my Cross to follow Him? Well, still working on the first part of that directive. But every time I act “as if” and follow along anyway, I’m getting closer.