As I sit down to write this, it’s 2:31 AM and I can’t sleep. Just down the hall, I have a room full of middle school girls all catty, giggling and carrying on. Sleepovers are the worst, if you’re a parent. I can almost hear Samuel L. Jackson’s voice running in my head as he narrates the children’s book Go the F*ck to Sleep. Why does losing sleep have to be a hallmark of parenthood? When they’re babies, you learn to wade through the days as a functional zombie until they can sleep through the night. When they’re sick, you’re the on call nurse; up at all hours. And such is the same with sleepovers. It’s funny that in every other area of life sleeplessness is classified as a disorder, but in this case, it’s called being a parent.
Oddly enough, I’ve always found marriage easy – well maybe not easy, but much less challenging than being a Dad. I’m a father of four. These little babies of mine (that aren’t so little anymore), are each a gift and yet a burden in their own respect. Maybe I shouldn’t call it a burden and use a different word like privilege or responsibility. But at 2 AM, it’s definitely a burden. I remember the first time I saw each of my children. When I held them, so small and new. It’s an odd feeling to hold such a tiny package of life in your hands; each filled with such hope and promise. Those are the glory moments that keep you going; the tent poles that keep you moving past the dirty rooms, the endless whining and relentless carpooling to the next glorious picture worthy memory. In that sense, I guess parenthood is much like using heroin. There’s always the ecstasy of the good hit… the high. But that’s followed by letdown which leads you searching for it all over again. Heroin, like parenting, ages you, leaves you paranoid and consumes all of your money and time. But that’s simply a sleep deprived analogy that only belongs in 2 AM moments of being a parent.
The longer I journey with them, I have come to realize that parenting is more about letting go than holding on. Much like teaching them to ride a bike for the first time, the ride doesn’t really begin until I let go of them. Sometimes that’s the hardest realization of all. At first, being a parent seems to be all about control. You feed them, dress them, make your house child-proof and try to teach them rules and the difference between right and wrong. You guide them, scold them and ground them all in the hopes of molding them into the person you want them to be. At some level, parenting is about making amends for the mistakes you made along the way, not wanting to repeat history. Or in it’s simplest, you’re trying not to be who your parents were to you. Teaching them to ride the bike soon becomes teaching them to drive a car. And before you know it, they’re off on their own. That is the joy, the loss and the pain of parenthood.
Back to being awake at 2AM. I should end this piece by writing about how through all of the pain of sleepless nights and all the rest… that it’s all well worth it. That would be a cop out and the middle of the night is no time for such sentiment or sappy closure… those are for bright mornings with croissant filled brunches. I know that’s not what we want to hear, but these are those moments of raw honesty as I yawn and stretch here sitting in the dim glow of the computer screen wearing ugly plaid pajama pants. I’m tired and it’s cold. I wish I was sleeping and know I must wake up early in a few hours to feed everyone and start the whole cycle again. Parenting is hard and in it’s simplest form, is about loving well and letting go well in equal measure – all with no guarantee of the outcome. That’s simply it and something I’ll continue to wrestle through. No one ever mentioned that in those stupid books like What to Expect When You’re Expecting. I’d rather hear the truth… from Samuel L. Jackson. Well, such is life and such is being a parent awake at 2 AM.