It’s 6 a.m. My last kid at home, a high school senior, told me before she went to bed some time way too long after midnight that she wanted to get up and study for her (insert subject du jour) test over breakfast. I’m in support of this because she stays up way too late studying, procrastinating, acting all ADHD and OCD, spinning in tight circles and carrying on about the work she should be doing, checking her Snapchat streaks, and scrolling through texts on her phone, anything but the task at hand. Our argument is the same every night. I say stop procrastinating and finish your work because your brain needs sleep. She says okay and then does what she wants anyway which is basically the opposite. (My mother says I used to do that all the time as a kid, so, karma?) I’d rather she get up too early than go to bed too late so I give her a gentle shove in that direction.
I don’t think it’s intentional, but everything takes her twice as long as it should. Simple things like putting away her clothes become a monumental event with all the distractions. A shower can take over an hour, the water running and running (a sustainability nightmare!). I try a laissez-faire approach on the pile of clean laundry on the bed, waiting to be folded. The pile grows and by the end of a week, I finally give up and fold it myself. If I don’t, she sleeps under the pile as if it wasn’t there.
Her time management skills are, shall we say, in development. Was I like that, too? I don’t remember. My mother had rules, lots of them, and chores had to get done before anything else. I was a little more lax with my kids. Perhaps I encouraged them to spend more time at being creative since I felt I hadn’t had enough of it. Apparently, she took it a bit too literally. Still, no one plans not to get enough sleep and that’s really the thing I care about most.
She’s currently studying sleep patterns and circadian rhythms in Psychology — all about how lost hours of sleep deprive a growing brain of something critical, how protein chains misfire, how the eyes are the last to heal after a long day of using them, and how sleep is crucial to all of it. Maybe she’ll get it now? She fell asleep super early one night, got up at 2 a.m., studied a bit, went back to sleep until 6 a.m., following her own circadian rhythms, a tough thing to do in a 24/7 society, but a good start in listening to what your body needs. I tell her how Leonardo da Vinci, one of the most brilliant minds of the last 2,000 years slept 8 hours of day, but only for 4 hours at a time (and look what he produced!). I worry about how we as a society are failing ourselves and our kids by not insisting on rest, how we talk, almost to the point of bragging, about how little sleep we get.
Rather than lead by example, I wake up early in an act of solidarity because she’s terrible at getting up on her own, and even though my brain is craving its own communion with my Higher Self, I go where I am needed. I make her eggs, brew her tea to take to school, pack her lunch, make sure she takes vitamins, cater to her like a visiting dignitary. My oldest was so self-sufficient by sixth grade that I rarely packed her lunch. Same with my methodic, second child who got up half an hour early so he could eat a leisurely breakfast, pack his lunch and take a 20-minute nap before school. But this one, no way. My husband says I need to pull back, let her figure it out, but as we round the corner of her last year at home and what will inevitably be an empty nest for us (if you don’t count the four-legged kids), I could no more stand by than I could miss senior graduation.
I don’t think we ever lose the desire to have someone care for us, no matter how self-sufficient we become. I remember way back in first grade, sitting at mass, or maybe it was an assembly. St Francis elementary school was building a new church and it took awhile to raise the funds so for a time, mass was held in the cafeteria/social hall which doubled (tripled?) as a church. The day before Christmas break we were sitting in the social hall and a noise behind me drew my gaze. I saw someone walking past the doorway, carrying bags, and a thrill ran through my body. In that instant, I knew we’d go back to our classrooms and find a special Christmas treat on our desks. When the assembly was over we returned to find a candy cane-shaped mesh bag full of sweets. To a first grader, this was magical, like Santa himself had come for a visit. Secret acts of caring. I indulge the memory and it restores my faith.
Top line drivers don’t get there alone. They need their pit crew, waiting on the sidelines, ready to deal with any emergency, and even though we have one that’s made it through college and one halfway through that process, there are still emergencies. The time I spend in support of my kids is paramount to almost anything I’ll ever do with my life, although competing interests sometimes threaten to knock us out of the race. My understanding of all of this is palpable, and I never regret my chosen role, in fact, I relish it.
Now if I can just stay awake until the race is over.