It’s 4:30 am when the first alarm goes off in my house. While it is technically still night, I have conditioned myself to believe this is a reasonable time to start the day. I sit up in bed and listen as my husband descends the stairs.
I already know his plan. With military precision, he will attempt to float his 6 foot 4 frame over the 3rd and 5th stair. They creek the loudest. He is also holding his breath and willing his left ankle not to make a cracking sound. The night before he laid out every knife, spoon, coffee cup and piece of clothing he could possibly need. Nothing can rattle, nothing can squeak.
Why such effort and strain? Since birth, our two-year-old has rarely slept past 5 am. She will wake to the slightest shift of energy or any sound that suggests movement. Due to having a preschooler who falls in the night owl category, if we want any shred of silence and self-care in our day, we must move like cats through our morning routine. We meditate, set daily goals, work in some quick yoga, and drink coffee. We consider it our biggest success of the day if we get even 20 minutes in before her big blue eyes fly open.
Babies and young children often go through ups and downs with their sleep and us parents go along for the sleep deprived ride. We strategize, create plans, research sleep methods and do whatever we can to understand sleep difficulties and solve sleep difficulties. I walked this sleepy path of frustration overdosing on coffee while consulting books, sleep consultants and in the end a pediatric chiropractor (which did wonders for her pattern of night waking’s). I kept her up late, I put her down early, I gave her warm baths, I ran her up and down the yard, I fed her before bed, I fed her in her sleep. Nothing worked. After becoming weary to the bone by months of starting my day highly frustrated, I finally stopped. I stopped trying to fix what I perceived to be a problem and let go into a place of acceptance. Acceptance of her natural sleep rhythms and acceptance of the fact she is, and probably always will be, a consistent, steadfast, never to waver early riser.
By trying to understand and solve what I perceived to be a “sleep problem” I was coming from a place of ego. Meaning, I bought into the belief that I could only be happy and content if my child was doing exactly what I expected her to do. Our ego can gives us agendas and an endless supply of automatic thoughts centered around frustration and anger, especially when someone gets in the way of how we believe things should be. Even if that someone is two. In finding this acceptance I unearthed mental and emotional rest and let go of the dark emotions that were stealing the joy that comes from being her mother.
In her bright eyes, 5 am is a wonderful time to rise. She wakes full of excitement and soaks up our time cuddled in her rocker reading her favorite books. She is mindful, present, totally grateful and abundantly content. For me to be fully present along with her in these early hours I now practice letting go of my expectations. Expectations like, she should sleep because I want to sleep. That she should be tired because I am tired. That I need time to myself and she should give me that. To be fully present I let the “shoulds” go and embraced who this beautiful child really is.
With this shift, I can now see what she truly needs as she rubs the sleep from her eyes - uninterrupted connection. By clearing away my ego’s demands of her I am able to soak in her tiny hands on mine, her warm body needing to be held, her love of books and the color blue, and her desire to be collected and held tight before the swirl of the day begins. I am now able to give her what she wakes at 5 am to receive.
Acceptance is not always easy to access but with daily meditation and the practice of mindfulness I find it easier these days. While I never thought I would have gratitude for such an early hour, I can officially say these days I am learning acceptance thanks to 5 am.
Julianne is the mother of a toddler and a preschooler, a Masters educated Social Worker, and a Certified Positive Parent Educator. Read more about her work at www.parentingcalmlivingconnected.ca