A few months ago, a friend asked how we were doing.
I shrugged. “Another rough night last night.”
She commiserated, and I shook my head, rallying myself out of my own self-pity.
“I’m sorry!” I told her. “I’m sorry I’m always talking about how little we’re sleeping.”
“It’s ok,” she said. “It’s your reality right now.”
I oscillate between two extremes when it comes to talking about hard things.
There’s the part of me that wants to downplay it, to act like I have it all together. I have any number of reasons for this desire: I don’t want to be the center of attention, to be a burden, to elicit pity. I don’t want to monopolize every conversation. Nobody likes a complainer or an awkward overshare-er. Perhaps at the root of it all is a fear over how you’ll see me: will you think less of me, that I find this season so challenging? After all, there are plenty of difficulties in the world; what if I tell you about mine only to learn you’re experiencing something harder?
The other part of me wants you to know exactly how hard this is, how much I have on my plate. I want to remind you every chance I get, so that if (when) I fall down on my duties as a friend, a wife, a mother, you know I have a good excuse. I want you to look at me and think (or, better yet, say!) how well I’m handling everything, what a great job I’m doing at holding it all together.
(I know, I know. Neither one of these approaches is, shall we say, a healthy way to communicate in community.)
Our reality right now is this:
Emmeline is a terrible sleeper. As in, an up-every-two-hours-all-night-every-night terrible sleeper. For six months and counting.
(It’s been almost exactly six months. I know this because I was flipping through my journal the other day and stumbled across this note, dated April 23: “We’re somewhere around 2 weeks now (possibly more) of E not sleeping well and it is really starting to catch up with me.”)
(Two weeks. Ha.)
(The astute reader will also note that this is about the time when my weekly blog post started to be not-quite-so weekly.)
During the day, she’s adorable and sweet, with a smile to light a room and a laugh to melt your heart. She’s constantly trying to keep up with her big brother (and to avoid being tackled by him). She eats all the things, babbles continually, and is generally a trooper when big kid schedules mean her naps are delayed or interrupted.
During the night, however, well . . .
Let’s just say this sweet girl has a set of lungs you’d have to hear to believe.
A while back, I was texting with somebody I trust.
I was in the midst of a tricky and frustrating situation, one that was taking far more brain space than it really should have, but I had vowed I wasn’t going to dump my woes on her. She had enough going on in her own life. I didn’t want to risk opening the floodgates and adding to her burden. Besides, I told myself, there was no reason. There was really nothing she could do about it.
But then she made a comment that left me the barest of openings, and all my resolve flew out the window. I barreled through that opening without looking back, sending a slew of long texts until I’d gotten it all out.
I was right in that, aside from offering an empathetic ear and promising to pray, there was nothing she could really do to help.
But I was wrong, too, because, as it turned out, there was plenty of reason to open up to her. By the end of our conversation, my situation hadn’t changed, but the amount of frustration I felt about it had eased.
She wasn’t able to offer much in the way of help or advice. I didn’t need her to solve my problem, to fix what was wrong.
No, I needed the relationship, the connection. I needed to share what was happening in my life, the reality of it, the good and the bad, and to hear someone say, “You’re right, this is hard, I love you, I’m praying.”
A few months ago, I was standing near the back of the potluck line after church. Jonathan was up near the front. I needed–or thought I needed–him for something (what, now, I can’t recall), and so I called his name.
Deep in conversation, surrounded by noise and bustle, he didn’t hear. My sleep-deprived brain was unable to think of another solution, so I called again, more loudly, then louder still, with growing frustration, until I was hollering like the proverbial fishwife.
And still, he didn’t hear.
The memory sticks because a friend, her eyes wide, her smile big, laid a hand on my arm and brought me back to myself, pointed me toward something better.
“Jenn!” she said. “Jenn, it’s ok. We’re all right here with you. What do you need? Let me help.”
This is our reality right now: we aren’t sleeping much.
Sometimes, when people ask, I shrug it off. I change the subject, not wanting to complain, not wanting to be a burden.
Sometimes, I talk and I talk and I talk, secretly hoping for a bit of ego-stroking, silently seeking affirmation and accolades.
Every now and then, though, when given the barest opportunity, I open up, not from any base motive, but from a need to connect, a need to be heard.
And other times, it’s a cry. It’s me shouting for help, calling out in the hopes someone will answer.
And isn’t that what community is for, after all?
To say, “You’re right, this is hard, I love you, I’m praying.”
To encourage and support and reframe and refocus. To offer help. To point us to a better way.
To bring us back to ourselves.
Our reality right now is that we’re tired.
But also? We are not in this alone.