I roll over and feel her standing there. I jolt awake and reach into the dark to feel the long, lean body of my daughter. "What's wrong now?" I mumble.
"I just really, really, really, reallllly miss you," she replies.
It's all I can do not to audibly groan. Maybe I do - who knows? It's the third time tonight she has come in our room and I'm exhausted.
Every night, she comes with an array of sentimental bedtime excuses - some are preconceived and calculated, but most have only moments before been vetted by her innocent but shrewd 5-year-old reasoning.
How this child - who does not stop talking all day - can slip out of bed like a whisper and magically appear before me, I'll never understand. Sometimes it's downright frightening. I'll look up and she's standing there like an apparition with her silken nightgown and long hair.
It happens time and time again. The late night excuses and the forays into our room. I take her hand and whisper what I always do, "I'm right here. I'm always with you. I miss you, too, but I'll see you first thing in the morning."
I carry her back to bed and beg her to sleep through the night. Tonight I am calm, but there are an equal number of OH MY GOD, WE WILL NEVER SLEEP AGAIN moments, and fervent whispers of, "What the *#$%@! hell!?" exchanged between me and my husband.
There are early morning lectures and afternoon reminders and evening rules.
But still she comes.
So, what is a sleep-deprived mama to do? Are we seriously expected to survive on coffee for the better part of two decades? I honestly don't know. I'm too freaking tired to think about it. But here's the extent of what my hazy mind can grasp - it's all about having some perspective.
Trust me, I get it. Telling a mom who isn't sleeping to have perspective is like telling a hungry lion to leave that zebra alone. Ain't gonna happen. Lack of sleep is a form of torture and if I had one wish, it would be for mamas everywhere to get as much beauty rest as my husband seems to every night.
But, since that will probably never happen, I figure perspective is all I've got. And boy, do I have lots of it.
Two years ago I found myself wide awake in the middle of the night. I was in a strange bed, staring at the video monitor with the same rapt attention I now give the show Empire.
Through the screen, I watched our new life unfold. Our infant son was writhing and moaning in pain, and I was unsure if I should go in for the seventh time that evening.
My husband leaned over and sighed, "I don't know what to do." The tears came then - hard and fast, full of anger and despair. We were both so utterly exhausted and depleted, just days into a nightmare that would end up robbing us of far more than sleep.
Our boy had been diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia two weeks earlier, and within 24-hours we were relocated to Memphis so he could receive treatment at St. Jude Children's Hospital. We spent the first twelve days in the hospital and were in the midst of our third night at patient housing.
This new diagnosis arrived 13 months after he had been born with Down syndrome and a congenital heart defect that would require open heart surgery. We had grown accustomed to living with little-to-no sleep, but this was different. This time we weren't sure how we would make it through.
Due to the chemotherapy, our son was often unable to sleep. He would stay up all night, uncomfortable and restless. Interminable nights in the hospital brought with them tangled wires and incessant beeping and the endless sound of drip, drip, dripping.
There was illness and infection and infinite medications - prescriptions to lessen the side effects of a prescriptions. There were surgeries and wound care, occluded IVs and ripped out lines that evoked a midnight massacre. We contended with vomit, hazardous diapers, unbound wisps of baby hair, and an overwhelming, ceaseless terror.
Our now 3-year-old boy is in remission. When we check the monitor, we are filled with gratitude at the sight of him sleeping peacefully in his own bed. Perhaps due to months of being unable to rest, he now goes down with delight. When he squeals, "Nigh! Nigh!" it just about makes my heart explode.
And so, when my sweet girl comes in each night, full of the worry and uncertainty that was in part manifested during those first frightful years with her brother, I try to have some perspective.
I try to remember that we are all home, in our own beds, free from illness and insecurity and fear. I try to think about the families who are not so lucky and remind myself that there will come a day - sooner than I want - when my daughter will cease to come searching for me in the night, and I'll lay awake wishing she were there to tell me how much she missed me.
When I am at my lowest, most exhausted, most irritated, I try very hard to remember that things could be so much worse than losing sleep. I take a deep breath, grab her little hand, and lead her right back to where she belongs. I shake off the frustration, fall back into bed, and dream of a different type of IV drip - one that is attached to me and dispenses a never-ending supply of coffee.
Clearly I'm going to need it.
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