The 4am Zombie
I have two daughters, both of whom are quite young. When they were born, I made a conscious decision that I wanted them to grow up surrounded by creativity, because I wanted them to use their imaginations and to see their minds as a gift. I didn’t want to limit them in any way. I banned coloring books from our house until Breathe was almost five years old because I didn’t want her to believe that the only “right” way to color was “inside the lines.” Everyone knows that children love to draw on the walls—most of the time, this is forbidden. But I’d read research that explained that, physically, it is challenging for children’s eye-hand coordination to draw or color while looking down—looking straight ahead at, say, a wall is easier and that’s why they’re so inclined to do it. This made me decide that my walls were just that: walls. If I got tired of looking at child print on them, I could always paint over it but what was more important than maintaining “clean walls” was the self expression of my child. So, walls and even our own bodies became canvases: I didn’t stop them, nay, I even encouraged them, to draw on the walls and on their bodies and on me too. Art wasn’t the only way I encourage the children to express themselves, though.
Growing up, I was terrified of anger. I still have issues with it. I wanted my children to know that it was okay for them to angry, as long as they didn’t hurt themselves or anyone else. I don’t punish them for screaming. I don’t punish them for telling me “no” (unless it’s truly important but, the key is, I pick my battles and do my best to let most everything else slide). If they can give me a reason, I’ll generally listen. If they tell me they want “alone time”, I respect that, and give it. We have a very limited TV experience: we watch one movie a day and that’s it (unless they’re sick) but instead stick to games like Lava, Imagine, Elephant in the Jungle, puppet shows, etc. And we have the best sleepovers on the planet. In other words, we have a lot of fun. Frankly, I think this is important. They aren’t going to be little forever and I want them to one day look back and believe that yes, they were really important to their mother and yes, she did really love them, and they’ll believe that because I made time to play.
Contrary to what they think, my number one priority is not fun. It’s not even education, as much as I value that. It’s not even ethics or pretty much anything else you want to talk about. No, my number one priority is safety. Safety comes above pretty much everything else. I just want them to be safe. When we go somewhere fun, I’m all about letting them test some boundaries, they don’t have to hold my hand—but they do have to stay where I can see them. Helping cook is awesome, but knives and stoves are off limits. Having fun is great, as long as it isn’t going to hurt them. A little risk — learning to ride a bike, playing outside in the yard by themselves, etc — that’s all part of growing up and I’m at peace with those things. But I have to know where they are at all times. My job description, at this point in their lives, definitely involves making sure they are safe.
But I can’t guarantee they’ll be safe even in our own home. Fires break out in the middle of the night, when my guard is down, and my eyes closed. Assuming that just because the doors are locked and the alarm is on that they’re safe in their own rooms is naive; any intruder bent on destruction could slip undetected into a home whenever he wanted to. The only way to truly protect them is by staying alert 24/7, against the whole world—even against myself. I mean, if I fall asleep and something catastrophic happens, isn’t it my fault for not being watchful? If being a 4 am zombie ensures that I’m ready to get them to safety at the slightest hint of an emergency, then, by all means, I’m ready to glue my eyes open. If they get hurt right now, there’s no one to blame but me, and that’s something I couldn’t live with. Sleeping, then, is for the birds: I’ve got babies to watch over.
My most recently published book, “Forget Me Not” covers touch deprivation. In researching that book’s little known topic, I learned that in all cases of severe touch deprivation, sleep is always affected. That made me research sleep deprivation and doing so reminded me of college psychology that taught me that if a human being goes for too long without sleep, she will start to hallucinate. Eventually, her body –will– give out and her eyes will close on their own accord, regardless of where she’s at or what she’s doing. Extreme sleep deprivation can kill you. Before it does that, though, you’ll start to hallucinate. If I hallucinate, I’m in no condition to keep my girls safe. In short order, what this means is, I can’t guarantee their physical safety while I’m asleep and if I don’t sleep, I can’t protect them either. I cannot tell you what mental anguish and emotional warfare this puts me through. It’s enough to make me forget to breathe, so anxiously do I hold my breath and walk that tightrope.
I’m strong. I can do anything anyone else can do, and if you don’t believe me, put me to the test simply by telling me you don’t believe me. Watch me prove you wrong. Moreover, I’m extremely adaptable, I’m calm under pressure to the point of ridiculous, and I can handle a really heavy load without blinking; I’m fairly adept at multitasking, too and I never, ever give up. I’ve been through things that, quite honestly, I don’t know how I got through them in one piece and I walk on, maintaining a bright smile and keeping my problems to myself. Who am I, after all, to add weight to another’s shoulders? Strong. Yup. That’s me.
But I can’t guarantee my own children’s physical safety, awake or asleep. In the back of my mind, I hear whispers: rest is necessary to emotional, psychological and physical well-being, if I don’t take care of myself, it’ll hurt my daughters in the long run; I’m just a mere mortal, capable of dying at any moment; it’s dangerous to pretend otherwise. In other words: I have to lay down, my eyes must close. No matter how tremendously that terrifies me, it’s the unavoidable truth. I cannot survive without rest. No words can convey how helpless that makes me feel, how overwhelmed at the sheer enormity of the responsibility, how frightened.
Psalms 121:3-4: “He will not let your foot be moved, he who does not slumber. For He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”
God loves my little girls more than I do. And He knows what’s going to happen at 4 am, after I’ve either become a zombie or conked out unconscious. Jehoshaphat didn’t even have to fight; he just had to sing, and not a hair on any one of the Israelites was harmed in that battle. My girls are sleeping soundly right now, and they are safe. When my human, mortal body gives in to exhaustion, and demands sleep, God is still wide awake, ready to blow the flames away from my little girls, ready to disable any intruder bent on harm. As a mother, one of my most important priorities is making sure my children are safe, but they aren’t really mine: they’re God’s children and He never slacks, He never fails, cause He’s perfect and holy and He doesn’t need sleep and also, like me, He loves them, and because He loves them, He’s going to take care of them. He’s like my teammate, my confidant, my helper… Matthew says: “Come to me, all you who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He doesn’t expect me to do it all. He gives me a gift of rest so that I can focus on teaching my girls how to fall in love with Him, how to decorate their lives with passion and color and vibrancy, how to live in peace and joy rather than fear and guilt. He gives me rest so that I can laugh with them, give them the gift of memories spent with a mother who loves them, is devoted to them and who trusts Him. Having fun with them isn’t just having fun, it’s also teaching them lifelong lessons in confidence and faith and stability, it’s strengthening the love story that belongs to me, Breathe and Alight that will anchor and guide them for the rest of their lives. I don’t have to be the 4am zombie. Resting isn’t only allowed, it’s expected: Psalms 127:2: “In vain, you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food, for He grants sleep to those He loves.” Protect what I can and then rest.
Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong, they are weak but He is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me, yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so.