Earlier this fall I read a bit of the desert fathers, and one of the themes that really stood out to me was their enthusiasm for sleep deprivation. For those of us with kids, sleep deprivation is basically a part of life, but it is one that we always bemoan rather than celebrate. That's not to say that I don't appreciate those middle-of-the-night moments of silent prayer (not to mention the pleading to God, Mary, all the angels and saints, that the child will fall back asleep). But few of us who joyfully anticipate parenthood are prepared for the intermittent lack of sleep that comes with it.
I've found that, in general, cosleeping has allowed us to avoid the worst of the lack of sleep problems, but there are always those moments where you plan on a good night's rest only to find that your child is sprouting a tooth. Yes, parenthood is a lot of unanticipated opportunities for self-sacrifice, mortification, if you will, that the desert fathers purposely sought and that parents, however reluctant, can use to grow closer to God.
Christmas Eve in Iowa was "icey and dicey" as one newspaper warned. We managed to make it to a lovely Mass, however, at the small parish where I was baptized, had first communion, first confession, and confirmation. I enjoyed the service, but I also got a work-out holding onto Eva - up, down, up, down, to the side, under the pew, and you name it. As the service ended, Auntie Tricia and Uncle Jeremy offered to take Maia to see the Nativity set. She assented, then changed her mind and told her daddy that actually, she needed to vomit. Jeff, who is always attentive to the kids' health, fought his way through the crowds by using urgent announcements that our daughter was about to vomit.
Through the faithful, out the doors, leaning over the ramp (did I mention Maia wasn't wearing a coat?), Maia vomited into the snowy bushes. The next morning the first thing she said was that she was hungry, so we deduced the culprit was not of the viral or bacterial sort but rather, perhaps a bit too many sweets and unusual foods.
A few days later, we were on an airplane heading to Cleveland. Our "continuous with brief stop in Chicago" flight suddenly became a two-hour layover, switch to another plane flight. We were stuck having to eat dinner (or some kind of imitation thereof) at the airport, and instead of arriving right before the kids' bedtime, we arrived half an hour afterward. After the exhausting journey, and waking up at 5:00 a.m. CST (our kids were operating on EST) every morning for the previous week, I was thrilled to climb into bed.
Baby was sleeping in the portacrib, Dad and Maia were in a different room, different bed. At some point Eva woke up and I moved her to my bed. Then at some point I realized she had woken up again. She was crying but didn't want a drink. I reached out for her and encountered her just as I had a multi-sensory experience: the feel of warm, wet vomit on my arm, the smell of vomit, and the sound of a vomiting baby. I had picked her up, so she proceeded to finish vomiting all over our bed.
Is there anything that can improve upon the mortification of sleep deprivation better than coupling it with vomit? St. Anthony of the Desert would have envied this opportunity.
The situation necessitated my waking the baby daddy so he could hold vomit-smeared baby while I changed out of my pajama shirt. Jeff also stripped the bed for us and helped us put another bed onto the ground while I cleaned off (as best I could) myself and Eva.
The culprit once again seemed to be food - this time that funky, disgusting airport pretzel that marauded as "dinner" when we were unexpectedly trapped at Midway. Eva was fine the next morning, or, I should say, she was fine within an hour when she nursed the first of four times during that night. She doesn't usually do that these days, and, when she does, I barely wake up for it. This time, however, I was terrified of a vomit-repeat and slept uneasily each time after a feeding.
And as I lay awake preparing myself for the next round of unchosen mortification, I remembered another time, a similar situation. I was a full-time doctoral student, full-time mother, and Jeff was away at a conference hoping to land a job so that we might actually (gasp) have some financial stability. My sister and her fiance were to visit the next day, I had had an exhuasting week averaging four hours of sleep each night in order to get work done on my papers while also grading exams for my GA work. I had met with my spiritual director that day, and he was all sympathy and compassion, supportive of my endeavors and my spiritual stress and encouraging me to find some way take away some of the burdens of my dual vocation.
When I went to bed that night, I thought to myself, he doesn't know what he's talking about. Sure, I'm exhuasted, sure, I've taken on too much, sure, Jeff and I have tensions about all of our work, sure we don't have much money, sure, I can't be the kind of mom I want to be in this situation, sure, I can't be the kind of a doctoral student I want to be and, in short, it's been one heck of a week. But really, Fr. Jim doesn't know what he's talking about - here I am, curling up with my baby at 9:30 at night, eagerly anticipating a weekend off and the companionship of my sister. It's a lot of hard work, but life is good. Or as a friend used to say, "When the going gets tought, just remember you're living your dream."
I drifted easily off to sleep, only to awaken within a couple of hours to Maia vomiting all over me and the queen-sized bed.
But I digress and the details of that night are unimportant... as I lay awake several nights ago with a different post-vomit baby, I thought back to the wondeful ways that God has provided me to grow in holiness, from being vomited upon to having an unexpected two-hour layover during a "continuous" flight.
And, in the background of these thoughts was the gently playing melody of Adeste Fideles.