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Girl at window, Edvard Munch

Girl at window, Edvard Munch

I haven’t been sleeping lately.

I’d like to think the blame for my latest bout of insomnia can be laid squarely at the tiny feet of my three year old. She knows she belongs with us and that knowledge never seems more certain than at around three each morning. I can always hear her coming. The soft pad of little feet, quick breath sucked through a pacifier and the light drag of her blankie behind her. A push at our door and then she’s at my side of the bed arms outstretched. The rest of night is spent in an earnest demonstration of how much space a little thing can take up in both my bed and my heart. She stretches out and curls in and claims both until I have lost any room I was saving for myself.

I could move her back to her bed after she falls asleep, I suppose. But then I think of how rare this kind of thing will be in her life. The ability to walk through the dark to a place where you are certain arms will reach out and lift you to a softer sphere. I’m not ready to make her wake up in her own bed yet. There’s time for that.

Too much time.

She didn’t come in this morning.

But I still woke up.

3am and listening for little footsteps. As my ears strained, my mind tripped over itself. Anxious and full of the past, present and imagined future. Old slights and new ones and maybe that hurt in my back means something more than a twinged nerve and don’t the kids need to go to the dentist and I’m not trying hard enough and I’ve tried so hard and maybe life really has been as difficult as I perceive and isn’t it a miracle I’ve stayed pasted so well together and maybe it hasn’t been nearly as difficult as I think and isn’t that almost worse? The things I am too rational to think in the light, the things I am too afraid to spend time with in the day, stretched out and clawed in until I lost any room I had been saving for myself.

I’m afraid of this. Afraid of losing control. Afraid that maybe I would be waking up at 3am every morning even if those footsteps had never come down the hall. It occurs to me that perhaps my little girl has been keeping me company rather than the other way around. I like to think I’m stronger than this, but here I am. Apparently, all the intention and strength in the world can’t keep you from gasping awake in the dark.

Somewhere between the misperceived premonitions of oncoming doom and the regret that won’t make any sense around the breakfast table, I heard something in a familiar and soothing voice.

You may not be able to keep 3am at bay. It is not a matter of greater will or better exercised strength. Waking up poorly met by neuroses may become a matter of course. What you can do is decide how you will spend the hours that follow that first jolt of fear.

So I kissed Riley on the cheek and left our room. Looked in on our sleeping girls. Soft cheeks and softer breath. I breathed in and out with them.

Then I walked into the living room, turned on a light and began to write.