It’s 3am, the dog is barking at what might be a serial killer or a simple burglar, or a leaf. A lanky teenager occupies the space next to me in bed and a bleary-eyed preteen hovers over me. I don’t really care which reason the dog is barking, or why these interlopers are here, I just long for a peaceful night’s sleep, which I can’t remember having in my adult life. The little wants to cuddle so badly that she makes a move like she’s going to just curl up uncomfortably on the prickly rug that is next to my bed. I angrily jump out of bed, cursing, to all who will listen. Storm down the stairs declaring that this is the last GD time this is going to happen, these are children after all, not infant triplets. Why won’t they go the F to sleep?
I am not good at cuddling, I do it out of guilty obligation and an overwhelming belief that it is a short term solution to the nightly interruptions of what is already fitful sleep. It must feel that way to my girls, or maybe I fool them, or maybe touch feels the same whether it is begrudging or mutual.
One of the dirty aspects of being a single parent is that you are always on duty. Day, night, sickness, health, tired, angry or hungry. It’s hard for everyone to get their needs met in any meaningful way, I offer love and support of the drive-thru variety. It’s quick, it’s low quality and it’s offered through a window as you pass by. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be on the other side of the equation. To have needs that you’ve recognized are going to remain unmet, or in the best-case scenario, met primarily in moments of crisis. Of deep hunger or hurt. It’s unsatisfying for both parties.
Still we muddle through, catch love, or sleep when we are able and frankly periodically experience the kind of wealth that you can only appreciate if you’ve been disadvantaged.
This is how we are. Doing the best we all can under strained conditions. And, speaking of wealth, we are fortunate that in the hierarchy of needs, we are in search of satiating our emotional needs. We have the luxuries of other wealth, but emotional poverty is powerful and debilitating in ways that often feel more immeasurable.
Fortunately, I’ve discovered that I am extraordinarily adept at responding to some emotions, even the ones that erupt in the deep darkness of the night. Anger is easier than sadness for me. And sickness is permissible, though not welcomed. Apparently there is a law that states that if a child is going to vomit, it will be around 3am and it will soil every piece of bedding they are near and probably divert away from hardwood floors to land on carpet. But I don’t manage the fears of my children particularly well. Partly because the only way I know how to overcome fear, is to ignore the source of it. Whether that is thunder, or nightmares, or just the fears that curl up with you as you fall asleep and rattle you awake in the middle of the night.
Sometimes saying, ” Everything is all right.” Is the worst possible answer when everything feels not all right. But in the sleep deprived state that these fears often arise, they are the only words that rise to be spoken, that and “Go back to sleep.” And apparently, ” God dammit”. Which now that I think of it is probably a worse response than ” Go back to sleep. ” nothing like having your childhood fears be a catalyst for your only parent’s anger.
And the worst part is, if I could find breath in those moments, enough breath to squeeze past the expletives and just put my arms around them and give them the tiny gesture they need to feel secure, I know it could be better, better for everyone probably. But what I find instead is guilt over not being able to conjure that breath, frustration over my inability to fulfill this expectation.
These are the realities of being a part of this life. This life where I’m underperforming my own expectations of what is minimally acceptable, even in the states of sleep deprivation. Where the tension is not in being unaware of what would make things better, but in being too emotionally tired to accomplish them. It is the pain of watching your children having to suffer through what cannot possibly be enough. And what is not their fault.
And it is the knowledge that we will all survive these circumstances, and some days not only survive, but thrive. This life can also be about understanding need, hardship and doing without in a way that creates a situation where we are able to appreciate the infrequent riches of love and selflessness. This life can be about valuing the brief and uncommon cuddle. This life is a space where love is in the guilt of inability rather than the wealth of stability.
We can all long for the lives that we do not have. We can lament the absence, of not just highest success, but of nominal satisfaction. Certainly we can strive to be better and apologize when we fall phenomenally short, but we can also spot the upside of loss and the advantage of deprivation.