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Midnight Mother and The Night World

Night is when it seems like anything can happen. We humans as a diurnal species have a strange relationship with night. Sometimes we can sleep through it completely, rarely delving into the dark mystery which seems so available at times, and sometimes, we find it so alien and strange. If you are a parent of a young child(ren), then the night becomes a proving ground, much like a Roman colosseum for gladiators. Which night demon will challenge our mettle tonight? And will we be victorious? Unfortunately, as the dawn sun peeks through the window, it sometimes sees signs of failure. My husband will tell you that I turn into a "badger" at night. What he means by this is that I get really grouchy, irritable, and generally irrational, however a badger is actually a nocturnal animal, so the comparison isn't technically correct..but the sentiment is. He's right, at night all bets are off. It's no wonder that if something bad happens it always happens at night. Night is the backdrop for every horror/thriller/vampire book or movie ever created. Without night there would be no mystery, no chance for the supernatural. Werewolves will only come into existence with the presence of the moon. 
On the other hand, the night can also feel sheltering; a deep comfort of safety in sleep. Our eyes don't work so well in the dark, so our brain tries to scramble for information, filling in the blanks with things from our imagination. How many of my fellow midnight mothers are braving the night for the sake of a restless or sick child? Or how many of us are plagued with insomnia; our brain being too hot with activity or worry to cool and settle into sleep? Everything seems less defined at night, things that by the light of day have little or no impact on us, ache and sting in the dead of night. It's as if my brain is screaming at me that to be awake at two in the morning is unnatural! It's unsafe! 
Children will often act strangely at night, either suffering from night terrors (which is its own brand of nightmare for all involved) or perhaps even sleepwalk. 
Who can explain the rationale of the subconscious? Because that is who is behind the wheel at night. Apparently my subconscious is black and white and has a bad temper. 

Show of hands please, who knows exactly how this midnight mother feels?
I remember getting up to nurse Nika almost eight years ago now and popping awake seconds before she would actually start clamoring for me. I would be totally awake, and completely ready to take care of whatever infant needs she had. I was super mom with super no need for sleep powers! (Hear me yawn!)  It was the same to some extent with Leo. Although believe it or not, this hyper mom instinct was less with him, even though his needs were greater and a lapse in my conscious decision making possibly more detrimental than with Nika. I wonder if this is because I was prepared to let Leo go. I knew that my mother instinct when it got down to the wire, was not enough to save him from death. With Nika, as my first born, my emotional charge was off the charts and I felt like her very existence hinged on my ability to feed her whenever she wanted, and my hyper sterile diaper changing technique. When she whimpered I jumped, when she yelled, I was ready to tear down walls to get to her. I'm not saying that I wouldn't tear down a wall or two if Leo required it, just that I, by that time, was able to discern and tone down my emotional response time. I'm sure part of that has to do with the whole hospice thing. Expecting the worst makes you not sweat the little stuff very much. I learned to trust others with his well being. Having other people save your child's life will have that effect, and not in a negative way: I haven't lost my own self confidence, though in the beginning it was a hard lesson to learn. I remember being plagued with nightmares that played off my helplessness and those other feelings of fierce protection and care that were stinted in the atmosphere of the NICU. Others knew how to keep my baby alive better than me. After that resentment faded, mostly after Leo's Big Deal Surgery when he was one, where I cowered in the corner and watched in horror as a team of strangers worked their butts off to keep him alive, I realized that we are all at each other's mercy, every day, and ultimately at the mercy of God. Perhaps I need to give my grouchy subconscious more credit. It's not all crabby, perhaps somewhere down the line it has learned that my mother instinct can only go so far, and that at some point I need to trust in something else, something way stronger and infinitely wiser than myself. 

This time of year I feel the power of the night world particularly keenly. Sleep is restless as unseen forces vie for energy and attention. What I mean by this is akin to the dark before the dawn, the last freeze before the thaw; before spring actually starts happening is often the most emotional and disturbing. Forces are starting to awaken deep inside the earth as the ground starts preparing itself for the massive amount of energy needed to bring forth fresh shoots and greenery. It is also a time of intense spiritual trial as most of us Orthodox Christians are heading into Great Lent, the time of care and abstinence before the joy of Pascha (Easter). It all seems to make sense somehow that this is the time of tribulation, when we too, suffer as our Lord suffered in his final days as one of us. 
I know our Lord was and is infinitely patient, and so should I be, but by golly, Leo lately is pushing enough to try a saint. At least a very sleepy saint...

Picture this scenario, after freezing outside in below zero temps for a good part of the day, I'm dead on my feet - I fall into bed- and in to sweet sweet slumber, only to be awoken what feels like mere minutes later by a cold draft, a pudgy toddler paw on my face, in my hair, up my nose and in my eyeballs and a loud demand for "WANT MAMA!" and "KISSES" and "WANT WATER," or "WHERE Heehoo?" (his seahorse) just millimeters from my buzzing eardrums. I grab the back of his fleecy jammies and haul him in, much like a giant fish on a line. He plops down in the bed and immediately proceeds to bulldoze my head with most of his body. It's like trying to resist the tide. If I push him off, he begins kicking my kidneys. If I point his legs elsewhere he begins to dig into my neck and head with his hands as if I had stored candy in there. If I lock him into his room that he shares with his sister than I risk the door being broken down and sister being roused into some kind of primal vengeful action against him. Between the yowling of her, her cat, Leo, and Justin who emerges from sleep like a spring bear (loud and confused), the least distributive method seems to be just toughing it out and praying that eventually, he's bound to fall asleep.
Which he does, eventually, with varying degrees of success and not until I've had to shove down the cranky badger and let my inner Midnight Mother out. Once she's taken the reins, things get better. Diapers get changed, sippy cups and Heehoos are found, animals are quieted, and Leo somehow is lulled back into blissful slumber.  But it's an effort. A herculean effort. An effort in quieting of my immediate self and an effort to resist the siren call of The Night World.

I'm reminded, later of course, once the sun is back up, that this effort is not so different that what it takes to get through this time, though life in general, with humbleness and with grace. 
Our whole earth, even during the day, is in the shadow of the Night World, and yet we are all called to withstand and withdraw from its allure. 
To be of the world, and yet not of the world...
To fast when we are inundated with desires and the promise of instant gratifications.
To call out the soothing Midnight Mother when the Night Badger is roaring and clamoring. 
To bring out compassion instead when our inner judge starts pounding the gavel.
It's hard. It seems impossible sometimes. But... sometimes it works. And every success, no matter how small, is a victory against the dark.

What are your midnight stories? Tip and tricks to get through the nights? Fasting and child raising/sleeping techniques? Let's talk about it. 


  1. I don't know if this is a tip or trick, but sometimes if I can't sleep (which I can't blame on kids or mommy duties) rather than fighting and cursing the sleeplessness, I just embrace being up. There can be something magical, subversive about being up when the world is asleep. It's also supremely peaceful. I find I can do my best housework at 3 am. I pay a price later in fatigue at work, but sometimes I just want to embrace the moment as I see the moon and the night lights through the window. Also, I'm mindful that sometimes you're better off with no sleep than a few minutes that don't get you through a sleep cycle. So I guess my hint would be that sometimes it can be good to embrace the insomnia and your inner night owl and get sometime done that you wouldn't have otherwise.

  2. I really like this analogy.. Midnight Mother vs Night Badger - this is exactly how I feel about the night and being woken by my daughter, in a very similar fashion. I have to pause and lock up the Badger and let the Mother out and only then take care of what needs to be taken care of. And it is so much worth it! It's great to know there is another person on earth who feels the same way about the night - as if you red my mind.


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