“Vowels are Important Letters”

posted January 5, 2010

“I think Jay is crying.”

“Really? I don’t hear him.” I pause. I press the tiny button on the side of my Timex. 4:28am. Tom and I are both on our bellies, our heads lifted in a pose I I believe to be called shalabasana, but I am hardly in the mood to practice yoga right now. I’ve been exhausted recently, and I was so hoping for a good 8 hours.

We wait. We listen. Nothing. Except a bump downstairs. Probably George Harrison. Or the arsonist.

“He’s not crying.”


We both get up to pee. The room is freezing. We hunker back in under about four or five quilts. Maybe Jay is cold. Maybe he shook off his blankets. Now I don’t hear him. Maybe he froze! But the space heater will turn on if it gets too cold. Maybe the space heater will start a fire! Maybe the arsonist will start a fire! I wish we had a fire ladder propped up against our house. But then maybe a thief would climb it and get in!

These are the thoughts of an anxious mind, AKA “2-5 am Mind.” Go back to sleep. I try all my tricks: I imagine the space between my eyes and pretend I’m a peaceful docile herbivore instead of a searching prowling carnivore. I imagine gravity pulling my body down to the earth. I relax my tongue.

I have a headache. I ignore it and try to space out. I imagine I hear Jay crying. I begin to wish he would cry just so I could get up and cuddle him. And not have to work so hard trying to fall back to sleep.

Tom lifts his head. “Did you hear that?”

I get out of bed. I go to the door. The crying is unmistakable. I tiptoe down the hall passing Elle’s room. Jay’s room is ice cold. He is whimpering on top of his blankets, my poor little babe! I scoop him up, furious at Tom who always sets the thermostat too low. I turn on the space heater to heat up the room, hoping to eventually put Jay back and reclaim an hour or so more of sleep. I come back to our room.

“It was freezing in his room,” I hiss, as Jay settles in by my side to nurse. My back is to Tom. “He is ice cold!”

“Huh?” says Tom, still dozy. “Who put him down?”

“YOU did!” I whisper.

“I did?”


I think back to the night before. I had a writing group. I never put the kids down when I have a writing group.

Except last night I put Jay down.

“Oh,” I say. “You’re right. I did. I’m sorry.”

Tom chuckles. Fortunately, I am married to a man who would chuckle at my bad behavior. Fortunately I learned the hard way that it’s really better to apologize right away and not try to weasel out of it, or worse take the opportunity when one is enraged and in a blaming mood to blame the innocent for some other long-ago crime.

I nurse Jay for a half-hour and then he pokes his head up, wanting to play. This is Tom’s cue to bring him back to bed. Jay howls as he is taken from me, and I bury my face in the pillow, full of guilt and remorse. I wish he could stay. I wish he WOULD stay the way he did when he was younger. Now he pretends to want to stay, but what he really wants is to pull Tom’s hair and say, “DA da!” and giggle maniacally.

I hear howls all the way down the hall. Then I hear a truly horrible sound. Two sets of howls happening at the same time. Then just one howl. A different howl.

Tom comes back with Elle. “I have a new customer for you,” he says, handing me my three-year-old.

“OK, Elle, you know the rules,” I say. “No talking, and lie completely still.” She snuggles up next to me and I put my arms around her, secretly delighted. But sleep does not return to any of us. Elle mouth-breathes in my face and whacks Tom in the head multiple times.

“Elle!” I hiss. Again with the hissing. “Lie still!”

“I’m just trying to get comfortable!” she says, wiggling around to bring her eyes right up to mine. She grins and her eyes turn into upside down crescents.

“You know, she got woken up, too,” mumbles Tom. Which is true and fair enough.

“I’m sorry, sweetie,” I say. “I shouldn’t be so mad. I’m just tired. Mommies and daddies really like to sleep.”

So we lay in bed and breathed together, her with her mouth-breathing morning breath, I with my attempts at pranayama, and eventually around 6am I got up and she popped up too. “I want a piggy back,” she said and climbed aboard. I made tea for me and poured her a glass of milk and we settled down to watch They Might Be Giants Here Come the ABCs. We both sang along to “Vowels Are Important Letters” which we agreed was the prettiest song on the DVD. A friend who knows I am awake at this time called and commiserated about the profound surrender of one’s time to parenthood. I told her I’d just heard the yoga philoposher Douglas Brooks say that the word “sacrifice” is a cognate of “sacred.” By sacrificing, we make sacred. I was also reminded of Thich Nhat Hanh’s great line about how we never appreciate our not having a toothache. Another friend recently said, “I need new tires! And I have money for new tires! What a great happy problem to have!”

Yes. These are sweet problems to have. My friend said, “Every morning I wake up and our house hasn’t burned to the ground I am happy.” Thank you, Arsonist, for that.

The arsonist, by the way, may be caught. I feel so sorry for him, by the way. I know he did a terrible thing (if in fact this person is the arsonist, which we do not at all know yet.) What an awful thing to know that you killed someone.

In my yoga teacher training, I am reading the yoga sutras. There are four parts, and I just finished part one. The text speaks of the purpose of yoga as the stilling of the mind the way the lake can be stilled to reflect back the sky. We still our minds, our consciousness, in order to reflect back pure awareness. But, says my teacher who follows a Tantric path which differs from the classical teachings of yoga in some significant ways, it’s much more important to learn to be with what is than it is to actually still the mind–which is of course next to impossible.

So as I sat on the couch with my droopy daughter and my droopy self, a line from Jack Kornfield came to me, and I paraphrase: how can I meet this situation with friendliness? How can I be like my father and my great Uncle George and my Aunt Elizabeth who always seem to smile, genuinely, no matter how annoying the situation seems to be for others?

Sometimes it’s as easy as smiling. Sometimes not. This morning, that’s all it took.

Thus began my day, and now that it’s almost over, I can honestly say that i was no worse for the lack of my two lost hours of sleep. Plus, I got to start my day with cuddles from both my kids and music from They Might Be Giants. And I don’t have a toothache and my house did not burn down. I want for nothing.

The Comments

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  1. First of all, I loved this post. I am, of course, also apocalyptic at 4 in the morning. Anxiety loves company. Actually, it hates company. Anxiety breeds anxiety- at least in the middle of the night.
    Anyway, here’s my sisterly advice to you. LAYERS. William hated to be cold and also refused to keep a blanket on him until this year. Still we dress him in at least two layers. When he was Jay’s age we dressed him in a short sleeved cotton t shirt or onesie, a long sleeve and long pants cotton outfit- either sleeper or pants and long sleeved shirt, a full body polar fleece outfit and sometimes even an extra sweatshirt on top of that. I never bothered with blankets since they never seemed to stay on top of him. I deeply believe that this method will result in more sleep for you and yours. Also socks are essential. Socks that won’t come off. Or footie pjs. Love, K

  2. Great post – I guess it’s the burden of motherhood to be paranoid about the kids’ welfare when you wake in the middle of the night!

    I agree with Katryna’s suggestion of layers and footie pajamas. My kids used to flop out from under their blankets, too. Thankfully, their Grandma made them large quilts so they are able to stay covered.

    With regard to the thermostat – how low are you turning it down? If you turn it down more than 8 to 10 degrees, you lose any potential energey savings when the furnace kicks back on to your normal temperature.

  3. Great post. I guess it is the curse of motherhood that when we wake up in the middle of the night, we instantly fear for our kids’ welfare.

    I agree with Katryna – layers and fottie pajamas until the kids stop wiggling out from under their blankets. My mother-in-law made relatively large quilts and blankets for my kids, so now they finally stay covered!

    With regard to the thermostat – how much lower do you set the temp at night? If you set it more than about 8 degrees lower, you lose any potential energy savings because the furnace has to work extra hard to return to your daytime set point.

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