Tag Archives: Insomnia

The Words Are Back

Damnit.

They’re back. A blessing and a curse. I’ve learned with practice to get out of bed and write them down. Otherwise, I just lie there for hours as they pulse behind my eyelids.

It’s 2:23 AM. I should be asleep. One hundred and twenty little people wait for me tomorrow, ready to run, jump, and play outside. Anxious to know if I’ve learned all their names. Try as I might, I haven’t. Once a week just isn’t enough. I still have about 30 to go. It’s always the ones I don’t remember who ask. Always.

The four hours of sleep won’t be enough. I must let out the words and close my eyes again. Maybe the two droppers full of Passionflower tincture will help. The Melatonin is too strong. It leaves me grumpy in the morning.

I used to awaken in the middle of the night years before she was born. I went through a period of what I now accept must’ve been depression. I didn’t know how to escape my cubicle. I felt stuck. I worried I would never discover a job I loved. Life seemed long. My stomach ached and the doctor suggested anxiety. I didn’t believe him.

Now I have too many vocations calling my name. Life feels short. My husband is contemplating a tattoo reminding him to focus. Maybe I need one too. I don’t want to give up my time at home with my daughter. I teach games class at a Waldorf elementary school. I’m attempting to run my own business. I write. I lie awake in bed and contemplate signing up for yoga teacher training. Like I really need something else.

I expect her to summon me back to bed any minute now. “Mommy!” shouted into the darkness. A siren song. She knows when I disappear downstairs to let out the words. At best she gives me 45 minutes. A crib is headed to our house as we speak, on some airplane or truck or train or sitting in some warehouse ready to be picked up. 19 months of mostly co-sleeping and it’s finally time to try something else.

Even so, I wouldn’t have done it differently. It helped me bond with a colicky baby, connecting us in a way that only the warmth of bodies and shared dreams can. The relief of no more screaming and no need to crawl out of bed to nurse. In a way, it saved me for a very long time.

But now, my shoulders hurt from lying on my sides and I’m hopeful extra space will buy us all more rest. Or at least me, since everyone else seems to be asleep around here. However, I know the words will still drum in my head, pulling me downstairs much to the confusion of two sleepy dogs on the couch.

Yes, for better or worse, the words are back.

And, right on cue, I hear her stirring. My time is up.

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Be Brave: Teaching Teenagers

I’m not sure when a room full of teenagers became as scary as giving birth. However, as I lay awake the other night, contemplating my decision to take a secondary sub job, childbirth somehow became my mantra.

You gave birth, you’ve got this.

Ironically, my fear didn’t just keep me awake, it also prevented me from powering up my cell phone to hit cancel on the automated sub page. I can’t stand the idea of letting my anxiety stop me from doing something I’ve always wondered about. In some alternate reality, I must be a high school teacher because I’m drawn like some poor insect to a flame.

The upside of fear-induced insomnia is it creates time for reflection. As I lay awake, I asked myself where all this anxiety was coming from– what is it about teenagers that is so darn scary? I find it necessary to interject that this particular population of teenagers is more on the side of something you’d see in a movie where the teacher is first reduced to tears and then toughens up, but the reality is that even private school teenagers have made me hesitate from pushing send on otherwise attractive job postings.

Which brings me back to my question. What’s the worst that could happen? Sure they might not listen to me, profess hatred, or pull some stupid prank, but even then, I’d only have to last through one period at a time for just one day. I’d weathered the same from 4th and 5th graders for entire years. Heck, I’d given birth, which used to be one of the scariest things on my list of probable life scenarios worth fearing.

Still, somehow, the older kids were much more intimidating. I’d seen them yell and scream profanities and not listen to their teachers on the same campus where I used to teach. I even shared a wall with a class that made me feel lucky to have students I didn’t have to climb onto the planters to talk over. And this was the very same school where I’d impulsively hit “accept” on the secondary sub posting…

So, when 5:50AM came around, I dragged myself out of bed and resisted the final opportunity to use my fussy, teething infant as my excuse for not showing up. As I put on my most drab teaching attire and pulled my hair into an austere bun, I practiced my game face. Despite my slight frame, I managed to look somewhat menacing if I scrunched my features just right. And, unlike prior days, where I’d filled my commute time with blue tooth banter, I quizzed myself on teaching techniques and played music that made me feel adequately tough.

Upon arrival, the Dean of Discipline armed me with positive incentives and detention slips. He also warned me they’d be challenging. Great. Maybe I already wasn’t exuding the toughness I’d hoped. As I set up shop in the front of the classroom, I let my eyes stop on the note from the previous day’s sub, cautious not to read so much as to psyche myself out. A quick glance revealed cursing, attitudes, help from admin.

What did I get myself into?

One day was regrettably not enough time to morph into Michelle Pfeiffer and build lasting relationships with these kids. Still, there was no getting off the ride now. First period, 11th grade. The oldest, and biggest of the kids for the day. Straight into the deep end.

I shook each of their hands as they entered the classroom and felt tiny looking up at 6-foot-tall man children. Still, most of them made eye contact and smiled. Maybe I could do this. As I started busting out my hard-won teaching strategies, I realized I didn’t need them. Sleepy eleventh graders came in and did their job with little prompting. I didn’t even have to finish a single countdown. What a relief. One period finished and nothing to report other than an hour of near-perfect silence.

Next up, three periods of 8th grade and at least thirty familiar faces from my year of resident teaching. Maybe that was part of the secret to my success. Many of the kids knew my name and some even remembered me fondly with warm hugs and excited faces. But that wasn’t entirely it. These were the kids the other sub had written such copious notes about.

Second period came into the room as a hot mess. Laughter, chairs squeaking to unassigned spots, backpacks flying across the counters. I doubted myself for a moment, although I’m certain they didn’t see it. A loud countdown did the trick and for the most part, the kids listened. Check marks and detention slips helped. A long period of silent work was achieved.

Third and fifth period repeated the same scene. The sixth graders at the end of the day were louder, but just as responsive to a strong voice and the promise of both negative and positive consequences. Sure some individual students required more interventions than others, but overall the classes were all right.

The worst that happened? Two boys handed me a hall pass dipped in toilet water, but I didn’t let them have the satisfaction of an emotional response. I calmly washed my hands in front of the class and asked them to go to the office. I’ve dealt with worse.

It turned out that teaching older kids wasn’t so different than teaching fourth and fifth graders. It wasn’t easy but I survived. I talked directly to teenagers and they (mostly) did what I asked. I used a strong voice and looked them in the eyes. I came home tired but triumphant. I’d let go of my fear.

Now I just have to work up the courage to try Kindergarten…

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The Old Lady at the Door

An old woman knocked on my front door this afternoon. She knocked and knocked and when I did not answer, she knocked some more. At first she knocked on the door and then she knocked on the window with her keys and then the door again. The dogs howled and still she did not leave. Instead she sat in one of the wicker chairs on my front porch and made herself comfortable in the hundred and ten degree heat.

Reluctant, I opened the door, baby in arms, dogs still growling. I knew who she was. She was the same lady who stops cars dead in the middle of the street for a ride. I have picked her up on the corner before, her arms waving back and forth like it is an emergency. My husband has taken her to the farmer’s market. My mother-in-law waited for her to walk up and down each isle of the grocery store just last week. When she stops you, she gives you no choice but to let her in your car. She does not budge.

So when I opened the door, annoyed because I was trying to get the baby down for a nap, I told her I could not take her. I knew she could manage for herself. Sometimes I sit and watch her stand in the middle of the road until someone lets her in his or her car. She is quite capable and here I am, standing on my front porch in the heat with a sleepy infant who does not like the car, listening. The baby smiles, giving her more fuel. Inside I groan.

There are no apologies for waking the baby or causing such a ruckus. Just a straight face and a lot of complaints. Her knee, the blazing sun, her small social security check, her need to go to the store, (which we have learned is always followed by the bank and the post-office and the…). No sympathy when I tell her the (smiling again) baby is fussy. Instead stories about her grandkids making millions of dollars and those years she worked for Harry S. Truman and how her name is Bernice.”Like our street?” I ask. She does not respond.

I look at her clothes, a wool jacket and long pants. I am sweating in just shorts and a t-shirt, anxious to get back into the air-conditioned house. I feel sorry for her but still do not have the time or energy to take her all over town. After all, I have a trip to get ready for, a messy house about to be listed for sale tomorrow, a baby who should be asleep. I accept her phone number and tell her next time I leave the house without the baby I will give her a ride but warn her it might be a bit, I am leaving tomorrow. She finally gives up.

I ask if she has asked any other neighbors, she says no. The new neighbor pulls into the drive and she yells across the yard, the girl stares back uncertain if the woman standing on my porch with me and my baby is really yelling at her. I shut the door and shake my head. I call my husband and complain. I feel bad but she makes no attempt to be understanding. She is not like the other old lady who lives down the street, the one with the old cat who has now passed, who thanks me and apologizes every time she knocks because she remembers what it was like to have a baby with barking dogs.

This old lady pushes, so I push back. It is my nature to push when pushed. But now it is 4AM and I am awake while everyone else sleeps and I wonder if just maybe I should have been a little kinder and done something for her. Growing old sucks. Growing old alone is worse. Maybe I would be that pushy too.

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Month Four: Awake.

I am awake. It is 4:16 AM. She is asleep. I should be too but instead the hum of the fan is pounding a hole straight into my head. Insomnia is not fair when your sleep revolves around someone who is four months old. I take it back. Insomnia is never fair. The sleep gods must have a strange sense of humor.

I get up and turn off the fan, worried I might wake my husband who sleeps restlessly in the Sacramento summer heat. I creep back to my spot, her small hand reaches out to make sure I am still there. During the fourth month she has shifted her preferences and now refuses to sleep in her bassinet. Instead she has to touch me. I don’t mind. I actually revel in the closeness. Her soft skin helps me sleep, her quiet breath a lullaby.

Often I feel attachment parenting is as much for me as it is for her. People like to warn us we will regret it later. We just smile. For now shared sleep buys us extra hours and strengthens our bond as a family. We know we are not alone. Many of our friends sleep with their babies. I don’t know why it is such a shameful secret. In other cultures it is normal. Separation after all those months in one body is what feels wrong, for me at least. We tried the other way. It only partially worked and was exhausting.

Without the fan I can now hear everything. My head no longer hurts but I am aware. The dog’s claws scrape the wall where he sleeps under the curtain, desperate for a little cool air from the open window. Birds chirp and then disappear. A large truck moves somewhere blocks away. My husband breathes rhythmically, the other dog snores. I listen as the dog beneath the window goes to the kitchen. He huffs. Shit. He needs water. I should get up.

The words of this post begin to sift through my brain, but I lie in bed, enjoying the feeling of her skin against my arm, listening. The other dog continues to snore as the first patters past the open window, outside. Shit. He is going to bark. I hear him huff a couple muffled yelps, his attempt at self-control. Then he lets loose. I jump out of bed and stumble into the door of his open crate. I make more noise than he does. My husband stirs, the baby is still.

I get the dog inside and give him water. He twirls in appreciation. His bowl was empty. I sit in front of the computer, 4:18 AM. The crinkle of my granola bar wrapper awakens the other dog. They both breathe rhythmically by my feet as I type, asleep again. I am the one still awake. Twelve minutes have passed. I no longer care.

I will pay tomorrow, but in this moment the price is worth it. The cycle of sleep, play, feed, repeat is the most beautiful gift life has given me, but it leaves little time for anything else. I know it is a season, a brief span of time where I am needed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I feel rebellious stealing these few minutes for myself. I am like the teenager on the phone in the middle of the night when the alarm clock looms just beyond the horizon and my parents have given up on telling me to go to bed. Tomorrow I will show up to life with black circles.

Oh right, tomorrow is already here.

She often sleeps through the night now, or for eight hours at a time. I seldom go to bed with her, so somehow it still does not feel like enough before I have to pull myself out of bed to feed her. If I am lucky, she will go back to sleep and I will somehow find eight hours myself. If I am not so lucky, she will open her eyes and smile and I will still be lucky anyway because she is mine and for the moment my only job in life is to take care of her.

On second thought, I better try to steal a few more minutes of sleep.

People like to warn us we'll regret sleeping with her later because we'll never get her out of our bed. We just smile. Some experiences are just to sweet to pass up, even if we might have to do a little extra work later.

Hard not to be happy sleeping next to this sweet being.

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To Be With You

Hurtling down an unknown highway, sitting in the middle of a crowded minivan filled with people from various points in my life, I died in my dream tonight.  As I was declared gone, all my lives were listed off, some men, mostly women, a ratio that was oddly pleasing.  However, as the list was read, I panicked.  I was afraid there was no turning back.  I still had so much to do, I still wanted to be with you.

Then I was reassured we’d still be together, in time, if that is what we wanted.  Once I trusted this was true, I was alright.  All the while, “To Be With You” played loudly in my head.  As if on cue, my husband crawled into bed, waking me, rousing me to say, “I have good news… I’ll still get to be with you.”

Then I cried, knowing how much I hoped my words to be true, because deep inside all I want is to be with you.  Song still playing loudly in my head, I grabbed the laptop, and we watched the music video together, the lyrics forcing more tears down my cheeks.  The moment passed, my husband quickly fell asleep, cat and dog breathing quietly nearby, our sweet little family that I never want to give up, me still awake, softly singing, maybe even still crying.  All because someone emailed me a lip sync rendition of that song yesterday.

I share because I’d like nothing better than for this to be true.  Also because I hope the thoughts will stop swirling through my head and that now I’ll be able to go to sleep.

Hold on, little girl
Show me what he’s done to you
Stand up, little girl
A broken heart can’t be that bad
When it’s through, it’s through
Fate will twist the both of you
So come on, baby, come on over
Let me be the one to show you

I’m the one who wants to be with you
Deep inside I hope you’ll feel it too
Waited on a line of greens and blues 
Just to be the next to be with you…

Good night.

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Familial Insomnia

It’s 10:43 and I should be asleep.  I get up 7 hours and 17 minutes from now.  Anything less than 8 hours of sleep does not work for me.

However, I’m wide awake, obsessed with the concept of how many direct ancestors are responsible for me being here, typing this tonight.  Maybe I should not have slept in until 11, or taken that nap, or shared some of Alex’s mocha after dinner…

2,048 direct ancestors in the past 10 generations, to be exact.  Two parents, four grandparents, eight great grandparents, 16 great great grandparents…  I feel like I have the Math Curse that my students love so much.

Oops on the 2,046 instead of 2,048… Apparently my mental math isn’t as good as my fourth graders’!

Ten generations probably only gets me back around 300 years, (conservatively assuming each generation has children about every 30 years).  That means, we really have thousands of direct ancestors, far more than the 2,048 that I was patient enough to calculate.

This blows my mind.

And, it does not even take into account all of the great aunts, second cousins, etc. that we’re genetically connected to, (or their thousands of separate descendants).  The more I start to think this way, the more I start to feel like the whole world must somehow be related.  I guess it doesn’t help that my dad found some MacKays related to us in the 1600s, (I don’t think this automatically qualifies me as being related to my husband, right?).

What I also find interesting about all of this is that even though I connect most with my paternal last name, I really have countless last names in my background that are just as responsible for me being here.  According to my dad’s recent family tree research, which gets a couple of our lines back to the 1600s, I am just as much German, French, Prussian, and English as I am Irish, but since my last name is O’Bryon, I’ve always connected most with this piece of my heritage.

It’s fascinating to think that we’re really the result of so many people from so many backgrounds.  I have ancestors that lived in the original colonies, ancestors that were Native Americans, ancestors that migrated only a couple of generations ago from Prussia.

I am so many people.  You are too.  The math nerd in me can’t get over this.

A partial list of the last names in my background over the past few hundred years, maybe we’re related!
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