Kid Conductors, Sleep, and Other Quick Takes



Wednesday night, we took the kids to a symphony concert. This one was about visual art inspired by music. At “family concerts” they also let the kids come up and take turns conducting for a few bars. The kids had a lot of fun. Nicholas Conducting blog

(no idea who the little girl with Nicholas is, hence the blacked-out face. Can’t ask permission.)

A and J conducting blog


It’s been a high-powered few weeks, and I am tired. So very tired. I go to bed when I should and I lie awake, trying not to retreat to the couch, because Nicholas already thinks the couch is Mommy’s regular bed, and because Christian tells me forlornly how much he misses my presence when I’m not there. Earlier this week, I’d just drifted off when a storm ripped across the state and Michael sat bolt upright in bed, screaming, while the sky beyond the blackout shades resembled a dance club with a strobe light on maximum.

Photo via Wiki Commons

I don’t sleep while my children are in bed with me. I merely lie there and try not to get wound up until the storm passes and I can move them back to their rooms. That night, I winced in anticipation of Nicholas and Julianna waking up, but they didn’t. I thanked God for a day at the lake, because those two were so shot, they slept through the storm. Otherwise it would have been triple the fun.


On Wednesday night I decided to capitulate and take a Benadryl to help me sleep. And not to set my alarm in the morning. It’s a sacrifice I don’t take lightly, because that early morning hour is a big chunk of my productive time on any given day, but I knew I needed it. Christian got up and went running. When he came back at 6:20, I was still in bed. He came over to me. “Are you okay?” he asked with deep concern. “Why, because I’m still in bed?” I said groggily. “Well…yes!”


Later, I went to swim lessons and realized I had forgotten to bring my Things To Do. Basically I never go anywhere without Things To Do. This block of time, beside the pool, I had intended to devote to singing through music for a concert next week. Instead I ended up…gasp!…simply sitting there and watching my children’s lesson for half an hour. And some of the tightness in my chest went away.


And then we had choir practice, only for reasons too complex to explain in a post with the word “quick” in the title, I was not leading but instead watching everyone’s kids while they rehearsed. It was a lovely evening, and I took them onto the school playground. Eight kids, to be exact. One good-hearted uncle along to help, thank God, or that trek to the bathroom-and-water-break would have been quite an adventure–but the point is, again, no Things To Do. Because with eight kids to watch, you’re pretty much committed to doing nothing but, well, counting to eight repeatedly. But it was surprisingly relaxing.


Photo by east_mountain, via Flickr. Yes, I know it’s a piccolo, not a flute. But Lego Star Wars storm troopers? That’s just too perfect for my life right now.

I’ve been practicing lately–regular flute practice! what a concept!–and it feels good. I have scheduled a recital for this fall (locals: September 21!), but somehow that has not been as high a motivator as I had hoped. Next week’s performances, however, did the trick. I’ve been practicing just about daily to get my chops in shape, and man, it feels good. But it is not like it was in  college and grad school. My practice sessions are accompanied by little boys taking toy cymbals and crashing them together right beside me. I can barely hear myself think, let alone play. I have to do most of performance analysis by how it feels. 🙂 I never thought I would reach the day when it was a simple joy to clean my own flute. Something I do at a tiptoe, hoping to sneak out of the basement before the boys realize I’m done playing and start fighting over who gets to push the stick and cheesecloth through the flute.


On a serious note: I’ve been reading the book Generation Me lately, bit by bit. Every so often something electrifies me. Like this:

“A 200 study of almost 20000 teens found that those who watch TV with a lot of sexual content are twice as likely to engage in intercourse as those who watch less. ‘The impact of television viewing is so large that even a moderate shift in the sexual content of adolescent TV watching could have a substantial effect on their sexual behavior,’ said Rebecca Collins, the study’s lead author. Watching sexually explicit TV led to teens having sex two to three years earlier, with media-savvy 13-year-olds acting the same as more sheltered 15- or 16-year-olds. Another study found that young black women who watch many rap music videos are more likely to have multiple sex partners and to acquire a sexually transmitted disease.” (p. 170-171)

Good reasons to be strict about policing screen time. 7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes in which I demand beverage service during turbulence, laugh way too much on the radio, and try to decide whether to root for Argentina or Germany


A Story For A Dark And Stormy Night


Photo by twcollins, via Flickr

Sunday nights when I have novels critique group, I usually don’t sleep well anyway. But when the tornado sirens begin wailing at 10:50 p.m., Christian launches from bed and into motion. I am a complete wimp about tornadoes, and as I’m scrambling for my glasses in the darkness I’m also thinking how grateful I am that he woke up at all. My husband has been known to sleep through the sirens.

Our marital ESP seems to be back online: without discussion we head for opposite bedrooms: him to the front and me to the back. “Alex–Nicholas–up. Now. Basement. Tornado.”

They’re old enough now to know the drill. We meet Christian in the hallway carrying one child on each hip. I take Michael and we hurry to the basement. Michael and Nicholas cling to me in the corner by the deep freeze while Christian comforts Julianna on the couch beside it and Alex pretends not to be scared. I’m pretending too, sweetheart. But I always pretend better when I have someone to take care of.

“You guys did a good job,” I say. “We all got down here in less than a minute.”

We listen to the sirens for a couple minutes, waiting for the long fall to silence that tells us it’s safe to venture upstairs for the iPad and check the weather report. Usually I turn the radio on upstairs and crank the volume before I go down, but tonight we just reacted.

As Christian navigates the weather sites, I ask, “Shall I tell a walking in the woods story?”

The response isn’t enthusiastic, but I can feel the lift in my children’s emotions.

Photo by Dave Roberts, via Flickr

“Once upon a time, there were four children named Alex, Julianna, Nicholas and Michael who decided they wanted to take a walk in the woods.” The story always starts the same. “So they ran down the steep hill and waded through the tall grass to the edge of the woods. And there they found…” Now I stumble. I don’t know which story to tell. I’m not in a popcorn-with-Stanley-the-deer kind of mood, truth be told. “They found a pond. And as they stood looking down into the pond, they saw a goldfish named….”

“Jack!” yells Alex. Of course. Every animal and character in this house has been named Jack since Alex met a boy in preschool by that name.

Julianna clambers down from the couch and comes to sit next to me.

“So Jack the goldfish says, ‘Would you guys like to come swim with me?’ And Julianna says, ‘Yes! I love to swim!’

“So they all jump into the pool, and something magical happens as soon as they touch the water–they all turn into fish! And there’s one green fish with gold fins…”

I look at Julianna, preparing to make her a Tinker Bell fish, but she interrupts me with a loud yell: “SHARK!”

Photo by Willy Volk, via Flickr

“Shark?” I repeat, puzzled. “Julianna turns into a shark?”

“No! Mommy shark!”

“Mommy’s a shark?”


“O…kay then…this story’s going somewhere different. Mommy is a shark who wants to eat all of you!” I nibble a couple of cheeks as illustration. “And Jack the goldfish says, ‘Stop that!’ and leads them to the bottom of the pond, where they swim through a tiny crack too small for the mommy shark to follow them, and on the other side they find a cave that’s full of beautiful crystals.”

“I think we can go upstairs,” Christian says from the depths of the radar screen on the iPad. “The storm’s moved on to the east.”

“Okay, so….so they swim back out and flip up on land, where they find themselves magically transformed back into children again. And they are tired, so they go upstairs and their mommy tucks them into bed.”

I forgot the standard ending: And they had pasta and brownies and ice cream. But that’s all right. I’m tired. And I’ll be up for another half hour with Michael curled against my chest because the thunder is still rumbling low and the wind is still whistling around the second story of the house, and a half hour after that because my head is full of words crying out to be tapped out before they’re lost–words to form yet another new opening for my novel, but which quickly morph into a blog post.

Soon, though, it won’t be a dark and stormy Sunday night anymore, but Monday morning. And as the sky has purged itself of thunder and wind, I have purged my brain of words, and I sleep at last.

Sleep Moments


There is nothing quite like a Sleeping Through The Night night…especially after weeks of stumbling out of bed again and again to stop bleeding noses, dose babies in pain, and offer water or change diapers because you don’t know what else to do to try to diagnose what caused the waking.

I woke up at 5:12 and thought, It’s late. Nobody’s cried tonight. Did I sleep through the night?

I’m so dazed, I don’t know what to write about this morning. So in honor of a full night’s sleep following the second of three antibiotic shots (please God, tell me we’re coming out of this at last!), I’ll share my favorite sleep moments from the last several years:

Asleep in the window 2

Julianna asleep in the open window frame

N. asleep on floor

Nicholas asleep on the kitchen floor after Mass on Sunday morning

Alex sleeping in chair

Sir “I don’t need no stinking Nap” Alex

Julianna asleep at Pizza Hut in Hannibal

You know it was a good field trip when she conks out on the table at Pizza Hut

Daddy and Julianna, age 3 weeks

Now there’s a blast from the past…Julianna at age 3 weeks. Just before the RSV scare that nearly killed her.

Headless Doll

A headless doll, just for fun

100_4418One of my favorite sleep pictures EVER: Alex, age 2, discovered in the dark with these books, “Bad Kitty” and “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.”

Christmas 2012 053

And Michael, sleeping on top of his blankets. He still does this. The blue crocheted one is his pillow, the green one is his body pillow.

Hope you enjoyed!

The Timer


Photo by *hiro008, via Flickr

It’s 1:15 when the last door upstairs closes. I hear her patter down the stairs, one to fourteen, landing lightly on Pergo. Afternoon sunlight glows on dirty dishes; the floor at my feet is a mine field of plastic bags, the spoils of the morning’s Target run. She surveys the mess, then looks longingly at the office…and the couch.

Come on, girl. You know you need this. I heard how many times you were up last night.

She picks her way among the bags, and I cheer. Reaching across the glass surface, she presses a button, and I obligingly begin counting upward. At twenty, her finger lifts.

No way. That’s not nearly enough.

She makes a face; she knows that as well as I do. But there’s so much to do–the assignments that tap out from beneath her fingers, the music that’s due in a week, the mess in the kitchen… I watch her waffle; at last, she punches in another thirteen minutes. Thirty-three minutes. Three to fall asleep, thirty to nap.

I start the count: twenty-nine. Go on. Get over there and lie down. You don’t know when that baby’s gonna wake up again.

She takes a drink from a big hospital mug, grabs a few sheets of paper and tosses them in the recycling–halfhearted attempts to split the difference between rest and housecleaning. Then she flings herself across the couch, burying her eyes beneath a pillow.

Twenty-eight minutes. She’s having trouble getting to sleep; the breathing is all wrong.  She’s thinking about what she’s going to do when she gets up.

Twenty-six minutes. The phone rings. She punches it on and back off without answering–must have been one of those 800 number calls. Twenty-five.

At twenty-four minutes, her breathing slows; the house settles into a quiet it rarely sees during daylight hours: the soft ticking of the wall clock, the refrigerator’s hum, the low rumble and tumble of the dryer upstairs. I wish I could slow the relentless countdown, but I can’t; my reliability is the only reason she trusts me. Twenty minutes. Fifteen. Ten. Upstairs, a child rolls over, its feet thumping the walls. I tense, but the slow, even breaths don’t change. She must be tired. Five minutes. Three. One. Now we’re counting seconds…three…two…one..

Beeep. Beeep. Beeep.

She takes a deep breath, stirs, and groans. Nap time is over.

Write on Edge: RemembeRED


To my regular (non-Write-On-Edge) readers, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do this prompt; it seemed pretty far outside of what I would normally write. But Christian encouraged me to try, and since the heavyweight stuff yesterday didn’t seem as interesting, I figured, What the hey? Hope you don’t mind. 🙂

Too Much Of A Good Thing (a Unisom story)

Let Sleeping Children Lie

Image by stewickie via Flickr

I should have known it couldn’t last. Frankly, I didn’t even really believe it would work. After all, I wasn’t actually taking it to help me sleep…though Heaven knows, I could use it! No, this little blue (generic) (Walgreen’s) pill was part of a cocktail to ease third trimester nausea. I didn’t want to drug myself, so I suffered through two extra days after the doctor told me to try it before giving in.

Nothing has ever knocked me out the way that tiny pill did. I slept from 9:30 p.m. until 5:30 a.m., post-time-change. Nine hours in bed? Me? Madame I-function-on-five-hours-of-sleep-a-night? I slept through the night? (Well, except for that time Nicholas woke up wailing, and Christian would not wake up. “Oh, for crying out loud!” I snapped as I hauled my pregnant body out of bed. “I’m the one who took a sleeping pill!”)

At 5:30 I went downstairs and turned on the computer. While it warmed up I went over to the couch…and conked out again.

It was a single parenting day…Christian had the mother of all announcements coming out at work in the afternoon, so he went to early Mass and returned home to find that I had dressed and fed the kids…and gone back to sleep.

I had to lead the choir. From the piano. The queasiness was somewhat better, but that sleepiness…wow. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it through Mass without toppling off the bench.

With help from an obliging alto, I got the kids to the van and back home. In a fog I put lunch on the table. Answered Christian’s phone call. “Is it possible this is the Unisom still making me feel this way?” I said blearily.

Pause. “Oh, crap,” he said. “I’m not going to be home till at least 6:30.”

I hauled myself up the stairs after the little ones, muscled them down for naps. “Alex, you can play computer games,” I said, and collapsed into bed. And woke up an hour and a half later. Mustered the energy to make the first fresh meal in four days. I didn’t have the energy for a side dish. I offered microwave popcorn instead. And a movie.

Christian walked in at 7p.m. At 8:30 p.m., the fog finally began to clear.

Ah, Unisom. My one and only one-night stand. It was nice knowing you. Or not.

Just Write      Write on Edge: RemembeRED

The Hardest Naptime I Ever Came By

2 kittens taking a nap

Image via Wikipedia

They were doing so well.

So far, they’ve braved a two-hour trip in a car with windows they can’t see out of; they told me when they needed bathroom breaks; they ate well in an unfamiliar house, tag-teamed their catnaps in the car, and tolerated an unexpectedly long wait at the doctor’s office.

Now, at 4p.m., we head for a meeting with my editor to discuss a possible future project. We sit in the tiny cafeteria at the front of Dierbergs and wait. I try to find room in the booth for snack boxes of raisins spread on napkins, a giant bag of books and toys, my NEO, and the stack of napkins I’m using in place of Kleenex.

“Hi!” says my editor brightly. We do introductions, the kids show off their fast-dwindling stack of raisins, and the meeting begins.

Here’s what I had in mind.

Here’s what we already have. What do you think?

Yes, they do look awfully similar, don’t they?

Yes, picture books get expensive.

Nicholas runs out of raisins. I get out the crayons.

What about this idea? Or this one?

Can you clarify? I’m not sure I’m following, with my daughter pulling napkins out of the napkin holder on the table. I set it up on the ledge to get it out of reach.

Well, it could be a resource for children, to go with our adult series…

CRASH. The napkin holder attempts to gouge the Formica, entombing my daughter’s hand within the crater. A quick examination reveals no harm done. I push the napkin holder toward Nicholas, who seems pretty mellow on the other side of the table. Julianna tries to climb over me to get out of the booth. I keep talking, but I sound increasingly out of breath as my pregnant body tries and fails to keep up with the energy of 4 ½.

…books selling well… Distributors…preorders…

The gratifying sensation that attempts to puff up my insides implodes as my daughter climbs over the back of the booth and slips into the aisle. I do a quick cost-benefit analysis and decide to give her a short leash. She walks up to a deli worker on his break. He’s trying to read Facebook on his phone; she places a cute little hand on his leg and smiles adorably into his face. “I’m so sorry,” I say, leaping up to drag her back. I pull out three books from the bag. She rejects them in quick succession. Nicholas puts his raisin-crusted hand on my editor’s shoulder and leans in to say, “Batman!”

What about Ordinary Time? I pull two pages out of the coloring book and set the crayon box between the two of them. That could incorporate several of these ideas, don’t you think?

Yes, that sounds possible.

SCREAM. Julianna doesn’t WANT to color on a ripped-out page, she wants the BOOK.

I’m so sorry, they haven’t really had naps, they’re  usually much better-behaved.

Oh, they’re fine. Now about this column…I think your point starts here, and I think that’s what you want to use for an opening.

Yes, that makes sense. Actually, I’m going on faith that it makes sense, because mostly what I know is that Julianna has climbed over the booth again. She makes a beeline for her interrupted conquest. This time she climbs up opposite him and places both arms on the table, giving him her winningest smile. I don’t know whether to be defeated by her charm or come down hard on her. I drag her back again. This time she screams the whole way.

Well, I think that about covers it.

Yes, thanks for being willing to drive up here…I can’t even imagine how they’d behave if we had to drive down to you today!

Oh, they’re fine.

We pack up the scattered books, crayons, toys and papers. I shove one bag over each shoulder and attempt to hold my children’s hands to walk out the door. Simultaneously, they pull that toddler trick where they simply refuse to stand up, so you’re faced with the dilemma of dragging them along by their arms, possibly dislocating shoulders in public, or you have to come up with some other method of discipline. Frankly, I’m not sure how we get to the car, because the instant they see where we’re headed, the screaming begins in earnest. Sweating, I somehow wrestle everyone and everything into place, lock restraints, and make it onto the highway.

Fifteen seconds later, blissful silence reigns in the back seat. At 5p.m., it is naptime at last.

On In Around button

Why I’m Obsessed With Sleep


When you’re pregnant, the standard question of greeting—you know, “How are you?”—takes on a whole new meaning. There’s a different inflection to it. Sometimes it’s even worded differently: “How are you feeling?” I know that people aren’t asking the polite question; they’re asking the polite question about pregnancy. In the first trimester, they’re really asking if I have morning sickness.

Well, it’s hard to say, because I’m sick, and I can’t tell if the blahs are viral or gestational. Lately, my response to the question has been, “Tired. Very tired.”

Sleep and I have never been good friends. Christian goes to sleep in thirty seconds; I lie awake for at least half an hour every single night, and often much longer. I’ve always had trouble getting to sleep—I used to have long conversations with God while staring up at the stars out the north window of the house, or “pretending.” There have been times when irrational panic kept me awake. When I was working full time, I often stayed awake wound up about work—especially after choir practice.

But nothing has screwed up my sleep rhythm as much as parenthood.

Oh, here she goes, you think: off on a “sleeping through the night is a myth” tangent. Well, that’s part of it. But even that would be far less disruptive if I was like my husband, going right back to sleep.

The first major sleep disruption began when Alex was six months old. I was supposed to drive toKansas Cityto pick up my cousin from the airport, and the night before, I simply could not fall asleep. I tossed and turned for hours, getting up to nurse, almost dropping off, getting yanked back from the edge…there’s nothing so torturous as paying attention to the process of falling asleep, let me tell you. At 2:30 in the morning, I still had not slept. At 5, I was in a panic; there was no way I could drive safely. I hadn’t slept even a single minute. The world was a haze of fog. I called my parents crying, and my mom went toKansas Citywith me as a backup driver.

That was early fall. By first frost, it was happening with alarming regularity. I was in a panic. I was overwrought, biting people’s heads off for no reason (in particular Christian’s). I felt so out of control, and so tired all the time. Thank God I only had one child, and him nursing; we would lie down on the bed to nurse, and I’d fall asleep with him, so that mitigated the useless nights. A doctor told me to try Benadryl, but that seemed to intensify the “I’m-tired-can’t-drop-off” effect. At last, they put me on an anti-anxiety med, first for sporadic use, but by late January, a nightly dose.

I don’t remember how long it took for me to clear this phase of my life. It passed, and from it I learned the psychological value of a change of venue. In other words, the couch. For some reason, I could get to sleep on the couch when I couldn’t get to sleep in bed. Something about the way I could mummify myself in the cushions. So I learned not to be heroic; if I was having trouble getting to sleep, I’d just go to the couch and spend the night there. (When we went to replace that couch, you’d better believe this was part of why it took us 6 months to pick one. And we didn’t get rid of the old couch until I’d slept a dozen nights on the new one, and made sure it would do the trick!)

The “aha” moment didn’t come until Julianna was eight or nine months old, and I happened across a tidbit in a magazine, informing me that postpartum depression can pop up any time in the first year, and isn’t always characterized by feelings of sadness. Among the possible symptoms? Sleeplessness. Aaargh! I wanted to take that article and shake it in my doctor’s face.

Kids do still get me up at night. It goes in waves; they’ll sleep through for a while, and then they’ll get up every night for a few weeks. Julianna got me up 7 times in 6 hours a couple of weeks ago. But I was enjoying a refreshing stretch of good sleep…until the day I found out I was pregnant. And now? Well, currently I’m having more trouble with the day starting too early: at 3:50 a.m. I wake up, and I cannot get back to sleep. It’s maddening.

So yes, I’m pregnant. And yes, I’m tired. But if I ever seem obsessed with the subject of sleep, now you know why.