Friday, May 29, 2015

When sleep was just a thing

Before kids sleep was just a thing that I did.

Sometimes I did it more and sometimes I did it less.  But overall I assumed it would always be there.  Waiting for me.  Every night.  All night long.

Then I had my first baby and everything changed.  Sleep was no longer just a thing that I did.  It was my obsession.

It all started the night I went into labor.  You see, my water broke around 9 pm and I had Aiden around 9 am, so you can do the math to add up the ZERO HOURS OF SLEEP I got that night.

But when I went to catch up on my lost sleep this crazy thing happened.  They gave me a baby.  An actual one.  One who I needed to hold and change and feed every waking, and sleeping, minute of my life.  They gave me a baby when all I wanted at that point was a good night's sleep.

But good night's sleeps were a thing of the past. I know because I charted it.  Yes really.  I did.  From the second he went to sleep to first wake up, second, third, fourth.... In case I somehow duped myself into thinking I was receiving an adequate night's rest, I just referred to the chart.

Honestly, I didn't think human beings could survive on such little sleep.  But it turns out, we can.

And of course I heard a million trillion times to sleep when your baby sleeps.  Which left me with a terrible, anguishing decision every single (much-too-early) morning.  To drink coffee.... or not to drink coffee.

Should I sip that delicious life-giving beverage and feel for a short moment like an actual person, or should I stumble zombie-like through those early morning hours and attempt a 15-minute nap with my baby.

Oh, and the days I skipped that morning cup, only to lay down and not fall asleep... ugh, I shudder to think of them.

Sleeping, or, more accurately, not sleeping, became everything.  I thought about it from the moment I woke up to the moment I fell, exhausted, into bed, to an hour later when I was forced awake yet again.

I remember one Sunday at church complaining to a mom with grown kids about the utter lack of sleep.  How it felt impossible.  How I thought I would never sleep again.

And do you know what she said?  "You will never sleep again."

She told me that.  Straight up.  And I know it should have made me feel terrible, but it didn't.  It made me feel better.  It made me stop obsessing over the hours of sleep I was missing every night, stop wondering desperately how I would ever make them up, and embrace my new reality.  The reality of motherhood.  I would never sleep again.

She was both right and wrong, of course.  As the kids get older I do sleep more.  I sleep better.  But I'll never sleep the same.  Not as before, at least.

Last night I finally got Benjamin to sleep around 9.  From 9 to 10 I ran up and down the stairs, trying to relax in front of the TV for the first time that day while simultaneously attending to my eldest, with sleeping troubles of his own.  My eyes were barely open by the time he fell asleep.  So I closed them.  Which is always a mistake.

The next two hours were spent drifting off to sleep and waking to Finn's sudden, frantic screams.  These night terrors happen fairly often, but I still sprint to his bedside every time, heart racing, expecting the worst.

Most nights, though, I get "enough" sleep.  My new definition of "enough," of course.  But I'm finding the sleep obsession just shifts a bit as my kids get older.

I used to obsess over my sleep.  Now I obsess over their sleep.  Are they going to sleep early enough?  Sleeping the whole night?  Waking up naturally?  How will they make it through the day with that little sleep?

I wonder if this obsession will ever end.  I distinctly remember calling my mom in college, chatting about friends and classes and always, always... am I getting enough sleep?

At the time I didn't think much of this question.  But not now.  Now I realize the full implications of such a question.  My mom was still worrying about my sleep in college.  In college!

And it's got me thinking, perhaps it will never end.  When my boys are waking with babies of their own, I'll probably still be worrying about their sleep.  And their baby's sleep.  And the sleeping worries will only compound and grow until they take over my life!

Okay, probably not.  But it's quite possible that sleep will never again be just a thing that I do.

And, let's be honest, I could get more sleep if I really wanted it.  But there are these glorious hours every night when the kids are asleep and the house is so quiet and my head isn't spinning with children.  There are these hours of peace that are mine for the taking and I'd be a fool to sleep them away.

So instead I will look back on those full nights of sleep with a certain affection.  A certain whimsy.

And then I'll sip my wine, turn down the volume, and bid them a fond farewell.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Some days

Most days I walk along here at an even pace.  I do my shopping and go for walks and I'm content, if not outrageously happy.

Most days I wake up in the morning and I look out at the green hills and I feel the breeze through my window and I'm satisfied.

Most days there is one point, a drive across the Chain Bridge, a hike in the forest, a coffee in the village, that my heart catches a bit and I feel so lucky.

But some days the walk is more like a crawl, each movement heavy and hard.  I do my shopping and I go for walks, and I'm surrounded by people, but I feel lonely.

Some days I wake up and the green hills look strange.  Foreign.

Some days there is one point, when I'm yelled at in Hungarian as I take a walk with my son, when all I need to finish dinner is one simple ingredient that I just can't find, when my poor Hungarian just confuses the waiter and I end up with nothing to eat at all, that my heart catches a bit and I'm fighting back tears.

My first year here I thought every day about life in the States.  I pictured myself there, what I would be doing first thing in the morning, after lunch, at bedtime.  I don't think a day went by that I didn't daydream of home.  I became addicted to Facebook, obsessing over my friends' updates, realizing that a few months earlier they would have been mine.

To be honest, though, I rarely imagine myself there now.  In the past four years this has become home.  My kids have literally asked if we can live here until we die, so I suppose they're fairly comfortable too.

But sometimes I have hard days, or hard weeks.  I did in the States, too.  Only then, there wasn't an obvious answer.  Here, there is.

If we lived in the States and someone shouted at me, I could defend myself.  If we lived in the States and I needed any ingredient at all, I could hop in my car, drive five minutes, and find it.  If we lived in the States I could order my freaking food and expect to actually get it!

I know a lot of these problems could also be fixed with a good understanding of the language.  Which I would love.  But with three young kids I barely have time to use the bathroom, which makes popping out of the house multiple times a week for intensive Hungarian courses, um, impossible!

So instead I use these frustrating moments to evoke a simpler time and an easier life.  A place where I was comfortable and could get what I wanted, whenever I wanted it.  A place where I was happy all the time.  Right?

And if for some reason I wasn't at the top of my game, I could go to Panera for unlimited hazelnut coffee.  Or to the library for story time.  Or to the gym where I could drop off my kids and watch TV while barely breaking a sweat on the elliptical.

And that would make me happy.

Or would it?

Because I had down days in the States too.  And a trip to the gym did not, in fact, fix it.  Story time didn't make me feel any better.  A hot cup of coffee at the park?  Well, let's not get crazy here.  That helped.

I have found a yearly trip home necessary to my mental health here.  It's the time when I marry my fantasy of life in the States to reality.  It's when I realize life is both good and hard anywhere... everywhere.

By the end of our year here, though, I start to forget the hard.  I start painting a picture that highlights all of the good and blurs away the bad.

But then we go and I remember what it is I love about life here.  I treasure the simplicity of it, the community, the life we've built for ourselves as a family, striking out on our own for the first time.

I love our walks to the butcher and the milk shop.  I love enjoying an ice cream in the square.  I love walking hand in hand through the city and coming across a new playground, watching the kids scurry off to climb and dig and play.

It's good.  Really good.  But it's not perfect.  And sometimes, even four years later, it's hard.

But we didn't come here to escape hard.  In fact, we came here fully intending to embrace it.  Because there's beauty after the hard, and oftentimes right in the middle of it.

Like a mid-week escape to the pools with squealing, shiny-faced toddlers.  Like a real, honest conversation with my eldest and the sound of his lighthearted laughter afterwards.  Like my hidden smile when I tell my toddler it's time to go and he balls up his little fists and says, "Neber!"

This morning I took a walk with Benjamin.  It was cloudy when we left and I was afraid I'd be cold, as I often am.  But every once in a while the sun peeked through the clouds and warmed my arms.  It would disappear shortly, but I could still feel its heat on my skin.  And it seemed, every time, to hold just until the sun shone through again.

And so I guess some days will be more clouds than sun, and others perfectly clear.  And I suppose that's true here as much as it is anywhere.

Perhaps it's not a matter of perfect, 100% happy days.  Maybe it's enough to hold a bit of warmth until the sun peeks through again.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The disappearing in-between

Ah, Mother's Day.  What a nice notion.  A day all about Mom.

A big "thanks for everything Mom" where I can settle down on the couch with a cup of coffee and watch my children play from a distance while my husband scrubs dirty dishes in the kitchen.

It always looks so hopeful first thing in the morning, when Joel calls the kids downstairs so I can get a few more minutes sleep.  When I finally do roll out of bed and my two year-old yells, "Happy birthday Mom" as I wander down the steps.  When I'm greeted with hugs and kisses and a steaming mug, a soft couch...

On which I can sit for at most two minutes before realizing that even though it's Mother's Day, and perhaps even more so because of it, I am still the mom here.  And particularly with small children, though I imagine it never really ends, they still expect me to be Mom... on Mother's Day!

I'm not the kind that can honestly say just being with my family is all I want for Mother's Day.  Believe me, I've tried in the past.  It took Joel just one year of taking me serious to learn his hard lesson... that's not what I want at all.

I want a big deal.  A to-do if you will.  Homemade cards, constant reminders of exactly whose day it is, and of course some festivities that center primarily around food and coffee.

I want lots of time with my kids.  Just time that consists of giggles and kisses, of chocolate-covered faces without the sugar aftershock.  A day that looks a lot like a montage of all our best pictures.

But as most parents know, though we may seriously attempt to lower our expectations of any activities involving our children, these days never seem to go as planned.

Everything was perfect in theory.  A bike ride in the morning.  A long car trip with quietly slumbering children.  An amazing brunch at a beautiful hotel, delicious food, plentiful drinks, a fully-staffed children's area.

It had everything.  Brightly colored cards.  Appropriately extravagant festivities.

Even constant reminders of the day's true meaning.

"Aiden, stop kicking your brother... it's Mommy's Day!"

"Just eat the toast... it's Mother's Day!"

"Get off the floor, you're going to trip the waiters.  Come on guys, it's Mother's Day."

"Finn, you just peed all over the door.  Really, on Mother's Day?"

Believe it or not, my kids were still needy today.  Still rebellious and frustrating and whiny.

At the end of the day I turned off their bedroom light, fell into my own bed, and decided as they argued in the room beside me that tonight, Mother's Day night, they could put themselves to bed.

Some moments later, a tiny whisper.

"Finn, you should go make Mom feel better."

When I saw those small silhouettes in the doorway I held out my arms and let them climb into bed beside me.  And as I felt their slight movements beside me, listened to their aimless chatter, looked into those wide, brown eyes, my mind started scrolling through the day's pictures.

And in one of those surreal parenting moments, I saw only smiling, chocolate-covered faces, heard only giggles and squeals of excitement, felt only the weight of their arms around my neck and the height of their adoration.

It's a funny thing that happens with kids.  How hours and even full days of fighting and tantrums, of strife and pure, intense exhaustion, can be canceled by a single moment.  A small clip without a before or after, where you can almost hear the sentimental music filtering in, view the happy pictures fading and appearing before you.

I guess as someone's child myself, I am luckier for it.  Grateful that my mom tends to see all the good and none of the bad, and that I'm sure she views my sister and I's lives as something of a joyful montage (lacking many of the less-than-glamorous in-betweens).

It might seem like happy ignorance, and perhaps it is.

But I like to think it's magic.

From Mother's Day 2012

Monday, May 4, 2015

More than enough

When my first baby was born I cared about these things, in this order.




The first two were achieved early on.  For the most part at least.  And so already I took for granted the miracle upon miracle that resulted in our perfect little boy and I started striving for, hoping for, longing for first.  For the early achievement of all significant milestones.  For validation that this baby who had turned my world upside down was 100% worth it.

And let's face it.  He was my first.  I was stricken by guilt if I left his side for even a minute, so there was little else to do but sit and stare and wait for something to happen.

And one day he rolled over.  I thought it was early and I imagined my baby was a freaking genius.  I mean, he rolled the whole way over.  All of that practice finally paid off!

I assumed he'd start crawling like a week later.  Being a genius and all.  And so I waited.  And waited.  And waited.

He started crawling at an age that was (gasp!) average.  Completely average.  Not early.  Not special.

But then he walked at ten months and I breathed a small sigh of relief and, although Facebook wasn't my thing at that time, I hoped beyond hope that someone, everyone would ask what Aiden was doing new.  And that I could casually mention he was walking now (while conveniently forgetting to mention that "walking" was three drunken steps to the couch) and cross my fingers that they would know how early and exceptional of a feat this was.

Our parents were in awe.  They seemed to fully understand the wonder that was our first child.  But beyond a few close friends and family, who were probably humoring me, no one seemed to really care.

Oh well, I thought, just wait until he starts talking.

And so I waited.  And waited.  And waited.

After a long wait some mumbled gibberish started to escape from his mouth and we'd pretend that they were actual words.  His brother was born a few months shy of his second birthday and I distinctly remember that he couldn't say the word "baby."  I started to panic a bit.  Not that he was behind.  But that he wasn't ahead.

It was finally official.  In this area, he wasn't ahead.  He wasn't exceptional.  He wasn't proving how smart we were sure he was.

He eventually started to talk in an understandable manner, of course.  But even then, not perfectly.  He started learning his alphabet, but not quickly.  He started reading, but not without agonizing for what felt like hours over three letter words that he had just read ten seconds ago!

In this area, he was not exceptional.  He was not ahead.

But seven years and three kids later, I like to think I've learned a thing or two.  I like to think I know in a very real way that all kids are different.  That they have different strengths.  And that the value of those strengths comes not from school and not from society, but from their family.  From us.

Because he might not read chapter books, but sit him down with a piece of paper and he can make anything.  Three cookies and two kids?  He'll just take one then.  Finn needs help adding 1,750 and 820 forint?  He won't just tell him, he'll teach him.  He'll walk him slowly and patiently through every step until he arrives at the answer.

If you asked me at what age Benjamin walked, without looking back at the video, I honestly couldn't tell you.  If you asked me when he started saying single words, or stringing sentences together... I have no idea.  And it's not that I don't care as much about Benjamin.  Not at all.  It's that I care much less about these things.  I've learned after three kids that he will walk and talk and potty train and read when he's good and ready.  And not a second before.

Three kids and each one totally different.  All three exceptional to us, and yet probably not to the world.

But what does the world know anyhow?  Because my goals for my children have both grown and shrunk in the past seven years.  I still want healthy, and happy, but I also want kind, and patient, and generous.  I want them to try hard and do their best and to know that's enough.

I want them to understand deep in their being that the world doesn't have to tell you you're great.  And, as hard as you try, it probably never will.  So listen to me.  Listen to your dad.  Listen to God as he whispers that you were wonderfully made, that he has a plan for you.  That you are who you are for a reason.

I'm sorry I once cared so much about the things I now hope and pray my kids care nothing about.  Or very little, at least.  I'm sorry that I viewed these sacred, little lives as a competition for first.  For the best.  For, likely, a validation of my own life and motherhood.

But the truth is, my sons, you are exceptional.  There is absolutely no one else quite like you.  No one with your exact mix of caring and spunk and humor.  No one who is quite you.

And that you, well, it is, has been, and always will be, more than enough.