It has been a rough week for sleep here in the Soukup household.
This past weekend we went on a retreat with several families from our church. Knowing all too well just how poorly our youngest daughter travels, we were hesitant to commit. The plan was for all the families to stay in separate rooms in the same lodge. The thought of subjecting other people (or ourselves) to two nights of near-continuous screaming wasn’t exactly a thrilling prospect. But then, at the last minute, after much coaxing from our friends, we decided to throw caution to the wind and give it a try. Who knew? Maybe this would be the trip where she finally did okay.
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Alas, it was not to be. The trip was an unmitigated disaster. She did indeed scream. All. Night. Long. She kept not just our family awake, but the rest of the families too. Just like we were afraid of.
You see, little Annie has never been one of those kids who could just roll with the punches.
I consider her my life lesson, because I’m pretty sure God had just a few things he wanted me to learn:
Lesson 1: You are not in control
I can admit that I tend to be a bit of a control freak. I like to be in charge, I like things to go the way I want them to, and I like to have a plan. Maggie, my oldest, was the child who fit my Type-A parent paradigm. I could predict her schedule to the minute, from naps to meals to bedtime, it all went according to plan. Except when it didn’t. And then I would become frantic over the fact that she was “off her schedule,” certain that all hell was about to break loose (which amazingly enough, it never really did.) I drove myself crazy trying to keep track of it all and fitting activities only in between naps and mealtimes.
From day one, Annie has flat-out refused to be confined to any sort of schedule, and believe me, it wasn’t for my lack of trying! For the first two or three months of her life, I tried desperately to get her into some sort of predictable routine, re-reading the BabyWise book every chance I got. It just wasn’t to be. I finally gave up and then started to realize that a lack of schedule meant a lot more flexibility. I started to learn how to roll with the punches and just take it one day at a time. I stopped stressing out about the fact that she wasn’t napping when I thought she should, and started appreciating more the moments when she was peaceful.
Lesson 2. Attitude is everything
Several years ago, in one of our heart-to-heart chats, my sister made a profound observation: a mom sets the tone. What she meant by that is that if the mom is crabby or depressed or out-of-sorts, than every one else follows suit. Over the years, we’ve had to remind each other every once in a while, but it is so true.
It would be easy for me to wallow in the fact that Annie is, well, a challenge.
It would be easy for me to feel sorry for myself when I only end up getting 3 or 4 hours of sleep because she has kept us up all night. Again.
It would be easy for me to get very irritable after spending the day listening to her yell. And scream. And cry.
All. Day. Long.
And I’m not gonna lie, sometimes I do wallow or feel sorry for myself or get irritable.
But I try not to. Because it doesn’t help. It makes things worse. And really, truly, there are many people who have far worse problems then a miserable child. I’ll survive. And she’ll grow out of it.
When I find myself up at 3am and unable to go back to sleep, I try to make the most of it. Knowing I will probably feel tired later in the day, I take advantage of a quiet house and get as much checked off my daily to-do list as I possibly can.
By 5:30 this morning, for instance, I had already cleaned the girls’ room (since Maggie had snuck into our bed in the middle of the night), sorted out a load of toys to put up in the attic, cleaned the bathroom, dusted the entire house, windexed all the windows, swept the floor, unloaded and reloaded the dishwasher, drank 3 cups of coffee, checked my email, written much of this post, and boiled eggs to make egg salad. It is hard to feel sorry for myself when I feel like I’ve actually accomplished something.
Lesson 3. Stuff really isn’t all that important
I like nice things. I like my house to be pretty and clean. There’s nothing wrong with that. Except when having nice things becomes the most important thing in my life.
Last week Annie gave me a very clear reminder that stuff is just stuff when she took a Sharpie to my brand new leather ottoman. (For the record, a Magic Eraser should not be used on leather.) It was completely ruined.
I was upset.
But now I’m not.
Because it is just an ottoman.
Lesson 4. Relax!
When it comes to this little munchkin, I have learned not to sweat the small stuff. In fact, my rule is that if she’s not choking, screaming, or in danger of drowning, I’ll probably just let her be.
She is that kid, the one that puts everything in her mouth, and for my own sanity, I’ve simply learned to let it go. She ate dog food every single day for six months. Not just a piece here or there, but whole handfuls. The first ten or twenty times, it really bothered me and I did everything I could to stop her, to no avail. Anytime she’d see the laundry door open she’d make a mad dash for the dog food container, which she had figured out how to unlatch by 10 months old. I finally concluded there wasn’t much I could do about it. So I stopped trying. And eventually–thankfully–she got tired of it. In the course of her short life she has eaten gravel, dirt, sand, crayons, markers, day-old half-eaten chicken nuggets, beads, window clings, and probably a whole lot of other things I don’t even know about. And you know what? She’s fine.
She is also the kid that empties every drawer, every cabinet, every box, every basket, every bookshelf every single day. She can’t seem to help herself. She will push chairs, stools, ladders, the now-ruined ottoman, and anything else she can find to where she needs it in order to get to what she wants. We have resorted to child-proofing the house as much as possible and then letting the chips fall where they may.
Lesson 5. At the end of the day, love is all that matters
I continue to be amazed at the infinite capacity of my love for my kids. Even when they drive me absolutely crazy, I love them more than I could’ve ever thought possible. They are the reason I get up in the morning, the sun, moon and all the stars. No matter how naughty, how annoying, how infuriating, how frustrating, they are mine and would I move heaven and earth for them.
Annie is a challenging kid, but she also has many redeeming qualities. She is funny, adorable, charming, sweet, loving, smart, beautiful, sensitive, goofy, strong, inquisitive, observant, loyal, & generous to a fault, just to name a few. But even if she wasn’t any of those, I would still love her more than life itself.
And honestly, I don’t think I could’ve possibly understood God’s love for me, a hopeless screw-up, until I had her.
Because as much as I love her, God’s love for me is even greater.
It makes sense now.
And yet it doesn’t.
I’ve probably got a few more lessons yet to learn.
UPDATE 1/30/14: It has been three years since I wrote this post, and I cried when I looked at these pictures of my funny little girl. I don’t miss the sleepless nights–she didn’t finally end up sleeping through the night until she was almost four years old–but I do miss having a little one around. My naughty little toddler has blossomed into a sweet and funny little Preschooler, seemingly overnight, and I wouldn’t trade her for anything in the world. The days are long but the years are short. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.