Monday, October 31, 2011


Is a beautiful thing.

For the past month and a half, Tyler's sleep habits have been as erratic as a moose chewing bubble gum trying to itch his hind leg with one of his front legs while also sneezing into a thin tissue.

The stats:

Last night: four wake-ups at 1:00 a.m., 2:30 a.m., 3:30 a.m., and 4:30 a.m. Each time, he wakes with an incredible gusto, as if he'd been summoned to run with the bulls, climb to the peak of Mt. Everest, or eat a yellow lollipop.

Jennifer and I thought we had left this stage long behind, after we passed babyhood and entered the glorious land of toddlerhood. And now, hitting the big "3" we were sure it was over and done with. After all, only two months ago we were the proud parents of a child who slept from 6:30 p.m. until 7 a.m. every night.

No wake-ups.

Not so much as a cough or a mumble.


I used to listen to the other parents at playgroups discussing their problems with non-sleeping children, and I could nod empathetically and emphatically, all the while thinking Dude, we, like so DO NOT have that problem! And I am desperately sorry for you. Yes, I really, REALLY am. But I'm so glad that I am me and you are you. Because seriously: I couldn't handle losing that much sleep.

Now I am the one who gets the empathetic, emphatic nods. And I know what they mean.

Yup: I am the one now. Jen and I are the ones who don't know what it feels like to say goodnight and then wake when the sun is rising. Instead, we hear the shouts from our little man and we half-wakingly mumble to one another "Your turn?" while each hoping it can't be me again!

But then something happened last week to change everything.

The thing that happened is the kind of thing that can revitalize life and goals and dreams and hopes and joys. As a writer, the thing that happened is particularly applicable to other areas of my life.

Namely this: surrender.

Jen and I finally realized that nothing works. We tried letting him cry out the wake-ups. But Tyler only got more and more, well, woken up. He then got scared. Really scared. Coughed. High-pitched screams. Trial over.

We tried talking it through. Dead-end.

We tried eating a lot before bed. Nope.

Eating a little. Zero success.

Drinking a lot? Drinking a little? A bit of Children's Tylenol? A softer mattress? A harder mattress?

No, no, no, no, and no.

And so finally we came to the realization that I think happy parents everywhere must come to: surrender, baby. Surrender is what it's all about.

But not surrender as in, I give up! This is too hard! White flag: wha-la!

No--I mean surrender as in we say: Okay, all my theories turned out to be about as substantial as using masking tape to fix a broken banana.

Jen and I began letting go of the expectation that Tyler was supposed to be sleeping straight through the night. We started to think differently: hey, he's not sleeping through the night now. One day he will. Not this day.

And expecting him to wake up, and dealing with it hopefully, has made all the difference. Surrendering our view of the ways things should be has allowed us not to miss the joy we're experiencing now, when he's AWAKE (instead of walking around the house mumbling, I'm as tired as a donkey who has hiked the Grand Canyon down and up while also contemplating the image of a moose trying to chew bubble gum, itch his hind leg with his front leg...)

We're getting the same amount of sleep, but we're feeling a whole heck of a lot more rested.
As a writer, expectations run the gamut in my head. Before I began sending work out ten years ago, I had an inordinate amount of expectations about what the publishing process is like. Once I began getting back my early rejections on my first novel, I began to develop a more realistic sense of how it works.

But it hasn't been until the more recent close calls on my sixth novel that I'm seeing how dizzying it all is, and how inevitable a part of the process waiting is. We write. We wait. And if we're really committed to being lifelong writers because the thought of NOT writing makes us feel like moose who chew gum while...then we write while we wait.

We see ideas painted in the sky and graffiti-ed on the fences and stamped along the construction sites where we walk and live and laugh.

We hear ideas in the words of a grocery store clerk, a learning baby, a consoling daddy, an interesting bathroom experience.

We sense ideas in a scene that develops before our eyes like it was part of some cosmic movie projected just for us--just for a moment--so that we could be inspired by life to create life that will inspire others to live.

To live.

And isn't that the point of it all? Or, as Rainer Maria Rilke once wrote it, "To live the questions." One way of living the questions--as a parent and as a writer--is to surrender to them.

It doesn't mean throwing up our arms and then sitting on a patch of dry grass sucking our teeth. No. But it does mean letting go of the expectation that things have to progress a certain way, or follow a certain formula.

Because children and books share one beautiful thing in common: neither much likes to be told who it is--to be told exactly how to live, grow, stretch, sleep, wake, breathe, dream, dance. Both need to have the space to learn themselves and find their own ways into the hearts of their creators, the hearts of their friends.

And space, perhaps, is just another word for surrender.

Whether Tyler sleeps straight through the night tonight, or five weeks from now (or more!), I've stopped holding my breath. Instead, I'm learning to enjoy the waking moments, not counting the cost so much of the minutes of slumber lost.

Whether I get a call from my agent tonight with the news that a novel or a picture book has sold, or five weeks from now (or more!), I've stopped holding my breath as well. Instead, I'm learning to throw all energy into the process. More voices clamber for their stories: that seventh novel needs to be written to join his six siblings. That 29th picture book is waiting for an incarnation to join his cousins.

And there's too  much to enjoy to count the minutes of waiting through the times that don't follow the patterns of my expectations. Because the living is in the now, the living is all about learning to have real joy and create magical moments even if Sleeping or The Call don't arrive anytime soon.

And if there's one thing I want to teach my son, it's exactly that: don't live your life waiting for the next thing; live your life embracing the present thing. The next thing will happen soon enough--and usually once you stop calculating exactly when.