Good Letters

Maybe the kdis will sleep inThe kids are home for the summer, but my husband has remained on the same schedule under which we operate during the school year, up at 6:30 a.m., fumbling around the room in the dark, until it seems the thought of me still sleeping is just too much to bear, so he turns on the light and starts asking me questions, like “Where’s my wallet?”

I never know the answer to questions when I’m sleeping, so I have to tell him, “I don’t know. I’m sleeping.”

My dad used to be the same way when we were growing up, couldn’t stand to be up alone in the morning. He raised homing pigeons, and would wake up and sing in an operatic tenor, “Good Morning Pigeons!” which really meant, “Wake up, everyone, because I am a morning person!”

Well, I have never been a morning person. I found myself yesterday sweeping the porches and cleaning up the yard around 8 p.m., just the time of day I wake up and become productive. Kitchen cleaning at night, living room pickup at night, toilet scrubbing at night—anything to put the house in order before bed, to make re-entry in the morning a bit gentler.

I live for nighttime, and as much as I want to make a slow shift into a later evening during the summer, hopefully combined with a later morning, there is really no chance of it working out. Someone always wakes up early when there are this many people in one house. If it’s not my husband, it’s the kids; if not the kids, the dog. And there’s really no common wisdom that says, “Stay up late; maybe your kids will sleep in tomorrow.”

We went camping recently, a trip that has occurred annually for a number of years—starting back when everyone had one or two kids, young kids. We are all Catholic, and hence, not one family has less than four kids now, with the majority having five or six. Five families: twenty-five kids, extensive meal preparation, and kids who are now old enough that they want to stay up late haranguing each other around the campfire, just like the grownups do.

And the grownups, whose energy has decreased in equal proportion to their children’s increase in energy, live for that one little hour after all the little people are asleep in their tents before we doze off. How much we endure for one hour of adult companionship.

My own kids were impossible. After s’mores, and campfire songs, after a somnolent rosary in our tent, after the baby quit running laps around his siblings in their sleeping bags and fell over into his own delirious stupor, after my husband and I quietly unzipped the tent and crept back out to the campfire, my older children did just the same.

We had just uncapped a beer and relaxed into our folding camp chairs when six brown eyes lit up in the darkness just beyond the halo of light around the fire.

“We have to go to the bathroom.”

Of course, since they always have to go to the bathroom immediately following the command that it’s bedtime and lights out.

There is a law of diminishing returns for camping trips such as these, and for parenting in general, it seems. The more you invest, the more you need to invest, and the less certain are the returns as children grow and their own wills usurp your own.

Yesterday, I found in my oldest son’s bed an empty six-hour energy shot—caffeine in a bottle of the kind truckers purchase at VP for overnight hauls. It was leftover from more than ten years ago, before kids, when my husband and I, and my husband’s younger brother, drove to Texas in the middle of the night.

Having driven his shift, my husband fell asleep in the back seat while his brother drove, and I twitched in the passenger seat expecting his newly acquired driving skills to send us careening off the interstate. That very nearly happened when he was following an exit ramp we weren’t meant to follow, and crossed, at the last second before the cement pylon, through two lanes of traffic to get back on route.

At that point, I had him pull over, and purchased an energy drink so I could drive the rest of the night.

The unfinished drink followed us through two moves, and sat in the medicine cabinet for a decade, not registering in my brain (this is speed; it should be out of my children’s reach). I thought its potency had expired over the years I’d absently observed it hibernating. But I learned it was quite potent when my oldest son impinged on my evening solace for an unusually long time.

“I’ve got too much energy!” he said.

And this morning? I coaxed a small particle resembling an air-soft BB from my four-year-old’s nose. I repeated ad infinitum: “Get the skateboard off the trampoline. Get the bikes off the trampoline.” And, the older boys coerced the younger, recently freed from his nasal BB, to test the dog’s new shock collar on himself.

There is a reason this way of life, or “openness to life” as it’s known in Catholic circles, has so few takers. It doesn’t just chip away at the ego and one’s free time, but it bores into subcutaneous material of a parent’s body and soul. It hurts.

Want to have life in abundance, thrill seekers? Want detachment—to know what it is to be expunged of everything you thought was yourself? Have babies.

If nature allows, have more babies, and keep having them until your only recourse is the “Lord have mercy” that seeps out with every exhalation.

The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Written by: Elizabeth Duffy

Elizabeth Duffy writes at Patheos: Elizabeth Duffy: Perspectives on Catholic Life, Family, and Culture and at She is a contributor to Living Faith/ Daily Catholic Devotions, and has work published or forthcoming from OSV, On Faith, The Catholic Educator, and Image.

Image above by Richard Sprague, used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

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