Friends, Living in the Moment, Music

Dance Myself to Sleep

The remarkable sifter and curator, DMF, over at SyntheticZero posted a comment to Everything is Music with a link to Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Paul Simon playing Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes.

On the eve of an unwelcome anniversary and bracing for another night fighting off the devils that eat sleep, here I am in bed now, singing and dancing — yes, dancing alone in bed! — with the warmest thrill from smile to toes.

Now this word from Ernie & Bert:

Thank you for the most buoyant lullaby a girl could hope for, DMF. (And thank you, lambies.)



Children, Love, Parenting

Happy 100 Days: 26

In the two and a half years since my husband and I split, sleep has eluded me. A night or two of peace might pop by for a brief visit before fractured restlessness moves in for an extended stay. It is relentless. Anyone who suffers from insomnia knows the agony of half-functioning (if even half) for days on end. Usually the affliction doesn’t strike someone whose life is straightforward, so the difficulty of everyday tasks is compounded by the strained cognitive and physical function of sleep deprivation.
In the past year, I can remember one deep, delicious night where slumber was down in the lowest cave, safe and silent, exactly as it should be. I still remember the stunned feeling of waking the next morning, fogged and groggy and perfectly thrilled that the sun was halfway up in the sky. A single June night over six months ago. It was that good.
The night came to me as a surprise gift on a Pennsylvania hillside after a long day on the road. Bug, Giovanni and I had packed up the Jeep and headed out in the direction of Lake Erie. We tried to make our way into Baltimore to see the ships and found ourselves foiled by crowds. To quiet Bug’s disappointed sobs, we stopped at a McDonalds instead. He was still young enough that two Happy Meals were a fair trade for tall ships.
We found a state park with a lake and a playground and a gazillion kids. It was summer. We swam and warmed in the sun, Giovanni and I taking turns keeping an eye on Bug in the brown water teeming with humans with no lifeguard on duty. It was like vacationing on the Ganges. Bug loved every second of it. We drove on, following the map to another state park with the small triangular icon. We called ahead, found out sites were available, and pulled in a little before dark.
Bug was tired and testy, I was ready to stretch, and Giovanni was focused with laser precision on putting the tent up before dark. We all tripped and sniped over each other. Bug and I fussed and eventually made our way to the bath house as much to give Giovanni room to finish as for us to clean up. When we stumbled back, the tent was up, the fire was blazing, and the camp chairs were warming in the amber glow. Giovanni’s fingers were already striking the steel strings. Wagon Wheel lifted up to the topmost branches.
Somewhere in that deepening dusk, I hear the first whipporwill of my life. We all stopped together and listened to the call, another, back again. Whip-POOR-will. The cry was as unique as my son’s sigh.
Bug and I crawled into the tent first. We read and sang by lantern light and he fell asleep pushed up against me. Giovanni came in soon after and tucked himself around me from the back. We three, a row of spoons cast on a rocky Pennsylvania hilltop, died out long before the embers from the fire.
Even though the clearing was on a slight incline covered in sharp stones, even though Giovanni and Bug both let their jaws fall open and their snores rattle the tent flaps, even though the whipporwill called well into the wee hours, sleep came and ferried me away. Nothing remained to be fixed. Nothing needed my attention. Finally, my weary mind could surrender to night.
Wrapped up between my two boys, I was home.
Tonight, I lay down next to my boy and sing him under as I do every night he is here. He is charging me for kisses, droopy-eyed and giggly. “Kiss me again, Mommy,” he says, pressing his soft cheek to my lips. I do as directed. “Now you own me $300,” he grins. Then he turns his lips to me and presses them on my temple, my head, wherever they land.
“How much do I get?” I ask as he breathes and snorts into my skin, drawing out the long moment.
“Nothing! It’s free! Now kiss me again!”
I plant one on his ear.
“Hah! Now you owe me $600!” And by 300s, we make it up to a debt of $1200 before he takes a last breath and drifts off. His mouth falls open against my neck as I sing the final verses of Big Rock Candy Mountain. His snores tickle the song as it rises from my throat.
I’m bound to stay where you sleep all day
I let myself drift off next to him for a few delicious moments. Oh, sweet surrender. What freedom it is to believe there is nothing left to do!  In this place right here, maybe it’s possible that everything is as it should be.
Now, it’s just Bug and me. My boy. No one slipping his arms around me from behind. The cocoon into which I can tuck my love and my wishes was just a husk, after all. As such things do, it fell away when it was time to hatch. Still. I remember that night. I remember when I slept because everything was in its place. My man, my boy, me.
Now, I get to learn to create that quiet place just for the two of us. On my own, I will tackle what is perhaps the third of my twelve labors. I kiss my sleeping boy (he can’t charge me for this one) and decide to believe I am capable of small miracles. I can make us a home. I can give us our sweet rest.

Co-Parenting, Growing Up, Happy Days

Happy 100 Days: 44

Rest comes easily now. Finally, after all these years, the dreams are sweet.

This weekend, I met a new someone deep down in the valley sleep. He was a young man with red-blonde hair and a curious, distracted gaze. He clutched a hardcover book. Maybe he is Bug in 20 years, maybe the whisper of a companion I will someday greet. Maybe he is just that friend of mine I am learning to be.

We sat near each other on a deck built over a creek and the water burbled just beneath our feet. He opened the and the corner of it touched my knee but he was too absorbed to remember to turn it towards me. We spoke our breathless dance about a text neither of us quite understood. I let my fingertips fall on the back of his hand where it grazed the page. He did not reach back for me. I was happy regardless. He turned the page. We talked on.

Proximity can sate hunger. So, it seems, can distance.

I woke up smiling even though he was gone.

Continue reading “Happy 100 Days: 44”


Happy 100 Days: 65

“Mommy, I’m scared.”
Twice already, I have shooed him back to his bed with clipped reminders that his body needs a good night’s sleep and that there is nothing to be scared of. And anyway, if he keeps getting up, he is going to lose his nightlight. These approaches aren’t worth spit. I take a deep breath and remind myself that the kid does not need consequences. He needs a hand.
“Baby, it’s two hours past your bedtime. Sleep is the only thing that will make you feel better. There is nothing to be scared about.”
“But I just am scared.” His eyes well up and his little voice rises to a sob. Boy, do I know that feeling. Logic is about as effective against it as a wet noodle.
“Oh, sweetie, come on. Let’s go.” I set aside the shirt I am folding and try to shake off the list of unfinished tasks squatting on my shoulders. I put my hand on my little boy’s chest, turn him and guide him back to his room. “Hop up, into bed.”
He crawls under his Dora blanket. His lips are quivering. In the gentlest voice I can manage, I say, “I know you are scared, but it is just a feeling. There is nothing to be scared about.” My words are a stroll along the riverbank. My palm draws lazy circles on his chest. “Your grandma is here, your grandaddy, your mommy. Even your doggy and your kitty. Everyone is here in the house with you. We are all getting ready to sleep. You are safe.”
“I know,” he squeaks. “But I am scared of what is under the bed.” He tenses again and starts to shiver.
I don’t change my tone of voice or the quality of my touch. Dull and rhythmic. “Only happy things are under the bed. Your box of gold coins. Your yellow Sit & Spin. Some books that have fallen down the side. A bunch of loose legos.” I take a deep breath and blow it out. “Breathe in warm, quiet air,” I whisper. “Then let it go.”
He turns to the side and presses his back into my hand. “Let your mind wander to all the happy things we did today. We baked sourdough bread together, mixing and kneading and watching it rise. We played that silly running game when we walked the dog. We made the lego horse trailer. We found the rectangles and the crescents.”
“The star,” he says with a yawn. “I found the octagon.”
“Breath in the happy things,” I whisper. “The warm, quiet air.” I do this myself. “Then let it go.” I blow out my breath. I do this again and then again. I feel his shoulders loosen under my fingers.
“Remember how we cuddled on the couch and read that new book, A Prairie Dog for the President, and how Lewis and Clark made that animal pop up out of its hole. That was so funny. We laughed and laughed.”
I take another round of deep breaths. “So many happy things happened today. Just breathe them all into your belly and let them swirl around your body. Then,” I whisper, “you let all of it go.” I blow out a long breath. “Let all those happy memories float away with the air. Breathe in, fill your tummy. Breathe out. Release it all.”
He nuzzles down into the pillow and after a sigh, his jaw goes slack. I take two more deep breaths just in case, then kiss his cheek and whisper my love into his temple. “Sweet dreams, buddy.”
He is out. So am I.

Divorce, Parenting

Parts, Whole

In the dark chill at the end of another wearing day, the third in a succession of days managed on five hours of sleep, I stand on Tee’s doorstep. Inside, my boy is wailing. It is dropping into the 20’s tonight, and behind me, a river of cars, cars, cars, rushing in every direction.

In the early fall, I used my tuition waiver to take a course on somatic skills for conflict resolvers. In intervention situations involving extreme stress, when the intense feelings of the conflict parties can blindside even the most seasoned professional, it is wise to remember the wisdom of the body. Lift and align the posture, raise and expand the vision, breathe into the belly. The full range of our intellect is more available to us when we root ourselves in physical balance. Now, as I stand on the doorstep, I make a practice of allowing my vertebrae to slip into place. I lift my chin. I open my eyes. Hearing the sobs before me and the roar of traffic behind, I breathe.

Inside, my son is a crimson-eyed nuclear meltdown. Tee tells me the boy did not sleep at school on a day disrupted by two field trips.  Bug yanks himself from me, rocketing up the stairs in his socks and t-shirt. It is late. Between this moment and the comfort of his bed is dressing all over again, another commute, dinner, pajamas. Tee and I try to speak calmly to Bug as he hides and cries upstairs. Whatever reserve of self-control the child has is tapped out. He twists himself away from us, flails, weeps. These days, such outbursts are rare. But what can you expect? Without rest, none of us is any good. I understand this. I am experiencing this, on my third overdraft from the sleep bank.

I cannot stand to see my child so miserable. I pull Tee around the corner and whisper, “I would be fine if he stays here tonight. We can trade a day. I’ll help put him down. I just hate to drag him out of here when he is so tired.” Tee stares, blank. The response, or complete absence of one, is so typical of this man that I am surprised to find myself surprised. His passive face calls up no indication he has even heard, let alone can summon a thought. One beats, two, three, four. No words. Until this: he steps back around into the stairwell and calls up:

“Come on, Bug, time to get your shoes on and go.”

And then I am up, hefting a giant tornado of a boy without a lasso, wobbling down the stairs. I am splayed in my work skirt in the foyer of Tee’s house with this arching, spitting 40-odd pound wildcat on my lap. I force his shoes on, and the heels of them, flailing, crack me several times on the shins. Tee sits on the bottom step an arm’s length away, silent, watching. Bug’s body wrenches with sobs. He is speaking in gobbledygook, wanting everything and nothing.  I long to lift my child and carry him up to his bed. Crawl in next to him, let him surrender to my strength, sing him “Friend of the Devil,” rub his back. But that bed is not his tonight, no matter how badly he wants it or I want it for him. There is nothing for us to do but drag ourselves out on the serrated night.

I finally have to wrap the full power of my embrace around Bug’s torso from behind, force him still, all while doing the one and only thing I can remember to do: breathe, breathe, breathe.  My grip tight, my core willed to softness, I whisper into his prickling scalp. “Deep breaths, baby. Shh, shh. Mommy’s got you, you’re safe, you’re okay.” Against my own rising fury, I speak these comforts. Anointing Bug with my scant supply of serenity has a cooling affect on me. The waves of rage at this passive man so close and so remote, and waves of distress about my own insomnia-wrecked body, and the waves of despair about the impossibility of rescue, they just roll on over. Without crashing into me or taking me down, they only pass by because I’ve got my boy in my arms, and I can breathe through them, and they cannot drown me.

I hope my love for my boy is enough to bridge these rifts in his world. A friend of mine, a hopeless romantic, tells me one of his guiding quotations is this:

Love, in the purest sense of the notion, can only be given and received completely. Anything less may be of great value, sustainable, and appreciated, but it is only a reflection of love.

He is childless, of course. Still, I marvel at the sting of the sentiment.  My heart swells, aches, bursts open for my son. What could be more pure than the love a mother has for her child? And yet, do I truly give it completely? I deny him the single home, the one bed, the place he is always safe where both his parents are there to carry him to his sole sanctuary when he is unable to get there himself.

I wonder if I am capable of such pure generosity. I choose to follow a calling which carries me away from a man who cannot fulfill his promise. Bug is the one who pays for this choice. It would have been so easy, at any point during the past eighteen months, to say, “My heart can endure its own loneliness. It can even bear intimacy in the absence of faith. But it cannot stand my son’s suffering.” I could have asked Tee to stay, and offered our child that one, concrete gift of happiness. Is mine a true love, if I offer my boy only a fraction of what I have to give?

Without warning, Bug surrenders. He puddles, his skeleton and muscle dissolve to brine and beginnings. I pour him into his sweatshirt, gather first him then his backpack and my keys, step into boots, fumble with this shifting cargo out the door into the where traffic growls and pounds against the night. All I want is to slip my boy into the cocoon of his becoming, close his ears to all of this noise. I carry him, still sobbing, then drive him, still sobbing, through the tangled knots of congestion. Home, home. And when we come in, he is almost sobbed out. I am thankful for the small favors of grandparents who let us stay, for a warm and lit house, for someone to dust  the toast with cinnamon and slice the apple. My boy, wrung out, eats in bed, slowly but with an insatiable appetite. I read to him from The Secret Garden and sing, finally, the song about running from the law straight into the arms of temptation.

Today, a poem called “Descartes in Love” lands in my inbox from The Academy of American Poets:

 Love, accepting that we are not pure and lucent hearts, ricocheting towards each other like unlatched stars—no, we are tainted with self. We sometimes believe the self is an invisible glass, just as we believe the body is a suit made of meat. Doubt all things invisible. Doubt all things visible.

Because I hear no pulse up on the scarred surface of things, it can seem as if nothing living is left down below. Then, on pure chance, I tap a buried vein. Up flows nourishment almost too rich to stomach. I have neither the courage to trust in its permanence nor the strength to claim its limit. Faith in the moment as it slips through my fingers is the best I can do.

I am still more tired than I have ever been. But my boy sleeps now, his belly full on my breath, his soft spine curled into my unbending one. I will keep vigil. My love may be an imperfect force, but for this one night, its current is constant; its source, bottomless.


Ken Chen’s “Descartes in Love” is part of the series, “Brief Lives.” It came by way of Poem-A-Day from