Hamster Wheel Days

It’s 7:30 a.m. I’ve just tucked my fourteen-month-old, Sam, in for his first nap. Yeah, I know. That’s early for a nap. But we’ve been awake since 4:30. “It’s another hamster wheel day,” a voice tries to tell me, after a series of events like teething, traveling, and sickness that just won’t let us get back into our sleep routine. But then another voice replies, “Maybe not. You don’t have to live constantly struggling to catch up and never getting anywhere. You have choices.”

I have choices.

I’m not blogging this morning to complain. Well, maybe a little. But I’m making a big effort not to complain to my husband this week, or ever again…and I also have a need to express my feelings in order to work them out. I have expressed my feelings to God numerous times, and I am trying to make him my foremost confidant. But a blog audience is a nice audience to complain to, if you need to complain. I can talk about my struggles without being tempted to attack—like I am tempted to do with my husband—and I usually get some encouraging comments from my sweet readers. If nothing else, pounding the keys of the keyboard does something good for the anger inside me.

God is doing a work in me. He continues to do a work. Through this motherhood gig, he is pointing out sins that I wasn’t previously ready to confront.

Hello, selfishness.

I can keep blaming other people and circumstances for my frustration—there are always plenty of excuses. Or I can take responsibility for my actions and my attitude.

The fact is, I’m not (mainly) frustrated because Sam’s sleep is erratic, or my babysitter cancelled again, or my husband doesn’t help with meal cleanup. I’m mainly frustrated because I am selfish, and I have not planned for “interruptions” in my plans.

I am selfish, and I struggle to see motherhood (and wifehood) as my first duty and calling. I am selfish, and I have tried to neatly portion out blocks of time that are “mommy hours,” and blocks of time that are “me hours.” I am selfish, and I have not lived as Jesus Christ, giving my whole self—my body, my time, my attitude–as a living sacrifice. I am selfish, and I have wanted motherhood to happen on my own terms, not on God’s terms.

I have been deeply convicted that my failure to love and appreciate my husband and son in the midst of inconveniences or upsets in schedule are rooted in selfishness. So I am putting my eyes back on Christ—because I need his supernatural patience and love to get me through these “hamster wheel days.”

I have choices.

I can’t right now choose the time of day I want to study my Bible, or choose how long, or even totally choose what hours I want to sleep. (While I am doing what I can to sleep train, factors outside of my control like teething, sickness, and travel back and forth from Texas are legitimate struggles that cause regression and necessitate some babying.) But I still have choices.

I can choose to own this stage of early mornings and night wakings not as a tragedy, but as an opportunity to grow patience and self-sacrifice. Practically, I can also choose to nap with Sam on the really hard days, and realize that the world won’t end if I don’t post a blog or cook homemade food on those days.

I can choose to get my eyes off myself and focus on others who are going through struggles much worse than mine. I can look to mentors and good influences to lift me up. And I can celebrate all the good around me, like the fact that my friend just gave birth to a new baby.

Getting off the hamster wheel means simultaneously lifting up my eyes and lowering my expectations. I must do this—I will do this—so I can stop running on empty and be still sometimes…at flexible times, at whatever times Sam takes his naps. I don’t know what kind of a day you’d call that, but it sure beats the hamster wheel.

Call Me a Desperate Housewife

I’m not gonna lie. Even though I’ve had what I call an “attitude change” about motherhood, I still have days when I feel like a desperate housewife. And not the sexy, Hollywood kind either. See below for the depressing details, but then keep reading…this post ends well!

sleep deprived 1Picture me bedraggled and frumpy as I haul myself out of bed at 1:50 a.m. to change a poopy diaper, administer medication, and give a bottle. At 3 a.m. he cries because he doesn’t want to go back to sleep. At 3:30, I cry because now I can’t go back to sleep. Sometime in the 4 or 5:00 hour I fall into an uneasy snooze, but by 6 a.m., the telltale wakeup cry pierces the monitor again.

I roll out of bed scowling and muttering. Buc, my husband, is in the shower and will be gone by 6:30, and it takes every ounce of self-control I have not to blame him for how I feel like a single mother during the workweek. When he emerges from the bathroom, I break my vow to speak peace and instead pounce, listing all that’s wrong with my world. These are the only words he will get from me for the next twelve hours until he returns again. This is his sweet sendoff. Man, I feel terrible. This is where I realize yet again: I am a desperate housewife. Desperate for sleep, yes, but also desperate for wisdom to handle these days when adequate sleep is but a dream.

About four months ago, or half of Sam’s life ago, I made the remark to a fellow parent, “At least the hardest part is over.” He only laughed at me. Now with Sam’s mobility, I know why. Yes, the sleep is better some nights. But not always. And days have gotten 100% harder. Now during waking hours, Sam needs constant supervision, because he will almost certainly hurt himself if I’m not there to catch him, redirect him, or take something away. When does this phase end?

About two months ago when I noticed my attitude consistently lurking in the pits, I recognized a desperate need to get back to the basics. Hence the attitude change I blogged about a few weeks ago. This change happened as I committed to using my “spare time” to uplift my soul, as I paid attention to everything I fed on, from food to books to music and television. I made sure I put good “fuel” in my brain, such as Christian radio programming, the Bible, and other inspirational books. And it helped. Tremendously.

sleep deprived 3aBut then Sam started having trouble sleeping again. And it didn’t matter what nuggets of wisdom I found time to gobble up (not many, by the way), not as long as my hunger for sleep went unsatisfied. Despite my prayers and good intentions and promises to myself that I would not be unpleasant, I often woke up a witch.

Things came to a head as this weekend hit. By Friday, not only had Sam strung together several bad nights, but my babysitter for that day got sick and canceled, and then I started to feel sick. I fought to get Sam to nap in the afternoon, but my best efforts only resulted in a half hour siesta for both of us. Late Friday afternoon found me, head buried in hands, moaning, “I’m a failure,” texting Buc at work and asking if he could sneak out of the office early to help me. I was tired, I was sick, and I felt like a failure as a mother.

I had read enough books to know that babies can be trained to sleep well, and I knew several moms whose babies slept well every night, but I had obviously failed in that department. “Lord, help me!” I cried. I was, indeed, a desperate housewife. And until I got Sam’s and my sleep sorted out, I knew the desperation would continue.

To make a long story short, Buc stepped in like a champ this weekend to give me a much-needed break, time to regroup, and time to tune in to the wisdom God has placed all around me. While he and Sam went to church Saturday morning and to my in-laws’ for Saturday lunch, I rested, read the wisdom of Proverbs, and refreshed myself on what the sleep experts in my parenting books said.

sleep deprived 2The verse that spoke to me in Proverbs was: “Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many counselors bring success” (15:22, NLT). Proverbs has a lot to say about fools, and I faced the fact that I’d been a fool on the sleep issue, too often going with my feelings instead by wise counsel. Ever since Sam’s separation anxiety (and his “mommy” attachment) manifested, I’d become lax on having him fall asleep by himself and instead often allowed him to fall asleep in the stroller, with a bottle, or in my arms. It was no wonder his sleep had gotten worse. I had been coddling him far too much. But being soft on the sleep issue was not kind to him or to me.

So on my sick Saturday morning off, I spent several hours poring over the wise counsel of the sleep experts (whom I’d silently shut away on my bookshelf), and then I wrote out an action plan for what to do at naptimes and bedtimes. I knew myself: if I didn’t have a plan, and if I didn’t rehearse it in my mind before testing time, I would resort to what “felt right” when Sam cried—and we would go on and on in our desperate, sleep-deprived cycle indefinitely. But I needed still more help. When Buc got home Saturday afternoon, I enlisted him as my assistant. I ran the plan by him, we tweaked it a bit, we prayed, and then we implemented it last night at bedtime and this morning at naptime. And guess what? It’s working!

I don’t believe in “crying-it-out” indefinitely, but Sam can go five minutes, then ten, by himself. (I am relying heavily on the method known as “Ferberizing,” for those interested). So far, we haven’t had to wait more than about fifteen minutes for him to go to sleep. Of course, this morning after he went back down at 5:15, I was wide awake. But that’s okay. I had gone to bed early as a preemptive strike, I felt strangely rested, and I got to write in blissful silence for a whole hour and fifteen minutes!

How I have missed this! Not just the writing, but the quiet morning time. The settling, centering time before the day wakes. This is how days were meant to begin. This is what I need to refresh my soul. Quiet time with God and quiet time with my pen and the blank page.

parenting-quoteI’m glad I can admit when I’m desperate, because that’s when God can help me the most. He helps me by telling me where to go: sometimes to bed early, sometimes to the writing desk. He helps me by telling me who to talk to: this weekend, my husband. He helps me by telling me what to read: down to specific scriptures, and sometimes specific parenting books.

And he also talks by just whispering to me in his still, small voice: “You’re not a failure, my child. You’re just learning the ropes. And as long as you lean on me, you’re never a desperate housewife.”

So maybe I shouldn’t call myself a desperate housewife. But maybe I should. It made for a good blog title; and honestly, I never want to stop being desperate for wisdom. Because when I ask, God answers (James 1:5).

 

 

 

He Slept Through the Night!

IMG_0633

This is a headline every new mom wants to publish, but my announcement is even more gratifying because it came as an answer to a Bible promise I claimed two weeks ago. You see, two Sundays ago I sat down and wrote a blog post about lack of sleep that I never published…because I got too busy to polish and then too tired to post it. (As I’ve written more than once, sleep deprivation is one of the biggest drains on new mothers.) But now I can publish that post with a happy ending.

Two weeks ago…

In a recent post I wrote that I was having trouble with my God time, so I fasted from secular books and TV last week. The fast is over, and it was a blessing, but I also realized it’s not enough to fast. You also have to refill what you’ve taken away. As if mothers have a need to fill any more time! This is where it takes a conscious effort to include God in your day.

My husband took Sam for the afternoon, and I was tempted to take a nap. However, after lunch and a delicious lactation smoothie I’m trying this week [after two weeks it sadly hasn’t helped much], I was revived enough to sit down and talk to God. I told him that I was frustrated. It’s hard for me to focus on the Bible right now. The Bible seems too vast, plus, unrelated to my daily mommy mire. I told him I wished there were a Bible, or a gospel, specifically for mothers of young children. Sometimes I don’t want to sift through the biblical language to find a personal application.

I asked God what he would have me do. He told me he wasn’t asking me to be a Bible scholar, just to be faithful with the time I have. I was impressed to continue reading through the Psalms like I’ve been doing, and to memorize at least one verse from my reading each week.

In the past, the Psalms have spoken to me even when I had little mental energy for Bible study. The themes are simple—God is in control; the righteous prosper, the wicked die; God created me and cares for me intimately; God is the creator of everything—but beautiful and reassuring. Just like they were good for a frazzled first-year teacher six years ago, they are good for a tired mommy today. And you know what? As I looked over the Psalms I read last week, searching for one verse to memorize, one jumped out.

“I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Ps. 4:8). My Bible commentary told me this section pertained to when David fled from Absalom and feared for his life. The fact that he can lie down and sleep shows absolute trust in God.

As far as I can tell, my life is not in danger; but with a two-month-old, I crave to sleep in peace. It occurred to me that I could claim this verse for myself. I can trust God that he will help me sleep in peace, because he provides for my needs, just like he provided for David. I know it’s a somewhat silly comparison, but this verse made me feel loved by God.

I recited that verse several times a day for over a week…and within two weeks, Sam, eleven weeks old, slept 9 ½ hours two nights ago and then 7 hours last night. I was able to sleep in peace. God came through!

I am so thankful to serve a God who meets me where I am—even when that is a pathetically sleep deprived and droopy state. May he help me to continue honoring him with my time. If Sam keeps this up, it looks like I’ll be getting some quiet morning hours back—and I will do my best to spend them with God.