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Running On Empty: Surviving the Sleepless Infant and Toddler Years

After a lot of sleepless nights the past few weeks with sick kids and insomnia, I’ve spent a lot of time just thinking.  I guess, mainly trying to stay awake and focused as caffeine pulses through my veins like blood forcing my eyes open and my feet to keep moving.

In my early 20’s, I spent my fair share of nights out around Atlanta.  I could stay up til 3′ or 4′, stumble in, crash for an hour or two, shower, throw coffee in a togo cup and grab a  bagel walking out the door and never miss a beat.  Night.  After.  Night. 8am call with clients in London, appointments lined up all day – no sweat. I didn’t bat an eye.

Now… If I crossed paths with my former self – I’d punch me. Like for real…like hard. What in the hell was I thinking?

Months worth of sleep I just totally missed out on. People tell you when you have your first child – sleep when they sleep. Who are they kidding? You can’t sleep – ever. Especially not if you are a compulsively hovering helicopter staring at the monitor until your eyes cross, watching to see if they are breathing. Wait — did I blink or did she breathe? Start over… And this whole number wasn’t just when the kids first came home–it’s every single night. My twins are almost 4. So, basically–I haven’t slept in 4 years. I’ve spent every night for four years staring blankly into my ceiling or scrolling mindlessly through Facebook waiting – anticipating – one of the 3 kids waking up. And they do…every. single. night.

Nora usually wakes up between 12 and 1. It takes a good two hours to get her back down and Olivia’s middle of the night meltdown over her night light stars shutting off is usually around 3am. By the time I’m back in bed around 4 or so and get settled back down – Ken’s alarm goes off at 5 something.

So what’s my point?? Yea – we all know moms don’t sleep – it’s part of the gig.
Got it – no problem.

Here is the problem: my patience level, my mental state, my anxiety levels, my temper, my volume, my tone —- everything that would embody a “good” mom, decreases exponentially with the amount of sleep I get. After several nights with no sleep — it completely escapes me. I become a frustrated angry troll that rages and screams and puts kids in time out for singing too loudly. Like really – my migraines set in – and their volume just sends me over the edge.small_frazzled-mom

I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t have insomnia – but there is a drastic difference in insomnia and total sleep deprivation. The combination of the two is detrimental, especially to a mom that’s gotta bring her A Game all the time or kids lose a finger or smack their heads or run with scissors or fall off things – like stairs or just in general torment the hell out of one another.
Then on like the eighth night of no sleep my almost 4 year old daughter wakes up in a mortal fit – like an exorcism is needed to help her regain her sanity (a nightly ritual for her) and when I make her lay back down despite her pleas that her eyes are wide awake and just can’t close because the dark is almost gone —- she humphs and mumbles under her breath as I walk out of the room — “Mommy is just awful – she’s just awful.”  All…because I am making her sleep/or at least stay in bed in the middle of the night.

And now my child thinks I’m awful…? Great – I thought this started in their teens. Apparently, as always – I was mistaken. Oliver told me last week that “You are NOT my favorite anymore Mom!” Granted – he was in timeout and recanted that statement about 3 minutes later when I let him get up…  So, basically. I suck. I’m tired. I’m exhausted. My mind is fried. My energy is shot.  My whole body aches with fatigue.  My head is pounding. I look like I have NFL style zinc lines under my eyes. I haven’t worn makeup in week – or real clothes. I think I showered yesterday, maybe – that’s a plus. And my kids hate me.

At 3:30 am I was in no frame of mind to confront that comment – my eyes were barely open – so I stumbled back into the babies room -where I had been since 11:30 and would be the rest of the night – trying to sleep on the floor below her toddler bed with a tiny boudoir size pillow and a “throw” blanket that wasn’t nearly big enough to cover both my ass and my feet at the same time.

Basically at this point – I feel like something out of a Rob Zombie song and am running on nothing but fumes – and Starbucks–there is that. I think I’ve spent about 18 dollars there today.

So how do you get past this stage? Literally, how on earth do you survive this stage of motherhood with toddlers physically – mentally – and emotionally? More so – how do you both survive it and do a competent – even good job – of raising your kids? Most days – really seem like a crash and burn.

BUT — the way we survive in our house – the way I muddle through and keep hope and keep going and keep my cool….is that one night, that one glorious night (like every third week – or every other month – where they all three sleep – all night. I wake up rested and refreshed – and feel like that for about a week. It’s amazing what one good night’s sleep can do for you. During that following day or the next week – we make the most of it – I’m on a mom high. We do projects, we cook, we go to the park, we play outside, we read books, we dance, we paint, we twirl, we sing…. It is like super mom invades our house. The laundry is done, the house is clean, dinner is cooked. And in all honesty….right now, I live for those days. The rest – I’m just treading water. Just trying to keep my head up gasping for air.  If you are at that stage too right now – here are a few things that help me get through the day — the 99/100 days that I am most definitely not – super mom.

1. Water…lots of it. It helps keep me refreshed and alert.
2. Coffee … lots of it. It helps me stay focused and awake.
3. We keep moving – keep some activity going or stay on the go. If I stop or slow down – the tired sets in – and I start to fade, I’m not alert or quick enough to react when Oliver jumps off the back of the sofa or when Olivia snags scissors from the drawer for her “art” in my decorating books. So we keep moving – and I stay on my toes.

4. Talk – I call my husband, mom, sister or a friend when I’m starting to crash. I sit and talk to the kids, and tell them animated dramatic stories, or listen to their stories — out on the porch or in the yard if it’s good weather, so I’m not slumped on a sofa.

5. Focus on the kids. Kids. Kids. Kids. Forget the laundry, the dishes, the toys…  They are all a distraction. A reason to get frustrated. With so little attention span or ability to focus — I don’t do anything that takes focus away from my priority and causes undo stress or triggers me to snap.

6. Don’t start any major or important projects. They can’t have my/your full attention. They take needed focus away from the kids — and if I’m not playing with a full deck there is a pretty good chance I’ll fudge something up…just creating more work….or do something awful like forget to feed the kids or something actually important (not saying I’ve done that-just that it’s possible in a flustered state…no judgement if you have).  So steer clear of the Pinterest driven DIY  booby trap.  They. Will. Suck. You. In.
7. We keep the TV OFF. If I am tired and I sit down with the kids – I will get sucked in just like them and I can’t take the risk of dozing off and the three of them left awake.
8. We don’t go anywhere more than a couple of miles from the house. Driving can make you drowsy itself – so I try to stay away from any distance that will make me drift or cause the kids any sort of frustration in the car that in turn frustrates me.
9. Let the kids play their butts off – at the park, on the playground, in the play room, in the basement – where ever I can get them – I want them moving. I want them tired so they can get to bed early tonight…which also means I am moving – I am chasing them and running and playing – and NOT falling asleep.
10. Small bites or snacks during the day – all day really – it keeps my energy level up a little better.
11. Exercise – walking, running, whatever – anything to get the blood flowing and make me breathe deep…and stay awake

12.  Avoid people outside of my emergency contacts and immediate family … like the plague.  I can’t form sentences well rested— sleep deprived, I just walk in circles super fast, accomplishing nothing and talking nonsense ramblings like 90mph.  So…If I knew you in high school or from the car pool line or ballet or soccer…..please don’t take it personal if I bow my head and turn in the opposite direction if I see you in Target — im not being bitchy or stuck up or rude – I’m just trying to get in and out in one piece without anyone wondering how in the hell I even manage to keep my kids alive.   The last thing I need is to embarrass myself and leave you standing awkwardly thinking what in the world did she smoke this morning for you to roll your eyes and run the next time I bump into you

13. Cuddle with those babies every single chance I get —-  then when they do tell me they hate me – I know they don’t really mean it ….  and if/when I snap and yell — they know they are still loved, deeply.
14. Pray. Hope. Cross my fingers. Light a candle. Whatever works for you…. This too shall pass.

Good luck – hang in there. I know we are all battling through and will surprisingly miss this one day. Like when they say I hate you and they mean it … For more than 2 minutes.

For now…. we will all power through and look forward to amazing days of absolute mom bliss.

Now, I must retrieve my caffeine loaded Starbucks refresher from my 17m old – that I mindlessly handed her instead of her cup. This juice will never do. The important things…focus. Focus, Bridgette.