Wednesday, April 29, 2015

This is How We Rest

I am hastily straightening out the covers on my children's beds. Ruby’s bed takes little effort to pull together. When she sleeps, she hardly moves. Dylan’s bed has no blankets and half a sheet. Things were wild in there again last night. It was clearly another restless evening.

Dylan has always been my most restless sleeper. Relentlessly curious, he tosses and turns throughout the night, waking pre-dawn. He spends most of the night awake and thinking.

My husband and I are always in search of the next great thing that is going to “cure” him of this tossing and turning that often leaves him bleary eyed the next morning. We have invested a near silly amount of time and energy researching special blankets and sound machines and sleep masks and anything else we can think of. But all of this stuff circumvents the central issue: that he fundamentally views sleep as an extended length of time to swirl about in his own head about people and places he loves or misses.

It is an inherited trait. Indeed he comes from a long line of over thinkers like me and my father. Much like Dylan, there is almost always a running thread of questions, concerns and to dos that uniquely pulls at my mind and heart when it is quiet and dark. Indeed, in the most narcissistic and sometimes unfortunate ways, our children all too often reflect some piece of ourselves. They are like tiny dressing room mirrors with the horrifyingly honest fluorescent lights. Whose patterns am I fighting to change? Mine or his?

Truly no amount of sleep masks, rainforest music or sleep training will, I suspect, ever change Dylan's inherent restlessness. It never did with me. I begin to wonder if the problem all along has not been Dylan's inability to rest, but my obsessive need to control this piece of him and how he "should" do this. I am the one who needs to rest, to let this issue rest and let him settle into himself. 

I was thinking about this the other day when I took my youngest to her baby class. Another baby climbed up on a trampoline and then immediately dove off of it without warning. The mother seemed shocked and unprepared and said, “When should they outgrow this? This need to just jump without warning?”

I looked equally shocked. In 37 years, I’ve never outgrown this instinct. I still jump without warning. It’s just how I’m wired and as far as I can tell, all three of my children are wired exactly the same way. We don’t outgrow our instincts. We grow into them, into ourselves. This is what we're doing here: teaching our children how to build a life and social construct around them that makes sense for how they are hardwired. This makes much more sense and requires substantially less energy then trying to rewire them.

Somewhat ironically, last night I lay awake in bed turning much of this over in my mind. My body is wrapped up tightly in my blanket while my mind floats and dances and swirls above me. Maybe it's not the wrong way to do night time. Maybe it's just me. It's a relief to think this way, to finally lift one of life's many "shoulds" off of my shoulders. My pillow feels cool against my the back of my neck, and I let myself sink into it.

Suddenly, I find him at the foot of my bed. It is 1:45AM.

“I’ve been trying to sleep all night,” he says. “I just can’t.”

I start to say, “You should be asleep.” But I catch myself. Instead I say this:

“I understand buds. I feel the same way.”

I tuck him back in with his special blanket and sleep mask and his favorite stuffed animal and promise him he doesn’t have to sleep. He just has to learn how to get comfortable, to settle into himself.

This is how we rest.



  1. Loved this post. My son and I are in the same boat. This is a keeper, thanks.

    1. Thank you Helen. So helpful to hear when others can relate!