Even before they reach my bed, I know they are there. The sound of small, soft feet on the carpet of our bedroom pulls me from my always light sleep, although my eyes remain tightly shut.
I can already tell from his gait that it's my son. He gets to the side of my bed. I feel a tender hand rest softly on my face. "Mummy," he says in a loud whisper, not old enough yet to have perfected an actual whisper, "Mummy. Wake up!"
I gather all the strength in my exhausted body and use it to prop open one eye. "What is it, Bubba?"
"I want go in Mummy's bed."
He stretched out his arms and in the darkness I can see his chubby hands grasping at the air near my face. I pick him up awkwardly, my shoulder twinging painfully as I lift his ever-growing body, and plop him next to me in between my blissfully snoring husband and myself.
He immediately burrows down under the covers and I feel two icy feet shove themselves in between my knees. "I loves you Mummy" he loud-whispers and wraps his arm around my neck pulling our faces so close his breath warms mine. His big eyes close and within a minute his breathing has become slow and regular, timing itself with his father's rhythmic snores.
I stare at the roof, so awake. I bump the phone on my bedside table so the screen wakes up: 2:07 am. I groan inwardly, squeeze my eyes shut and will myself to sleep, but my brain is having none of it. It starts racing at near light speed despite my whole body crying out in tiredness at it. I mentally shout the word 'SLEEP!' over the sound of my rushing thoughts over and over.
Finally, my whole being starts to give in and I relax, beginning to drift, my body humming with gratefulness.
"MUMMY! MUUUUUUUUUUUUMMYYYYYYYY!" I jerked quickly out of my fugue state from the sound of my daughter yelling. I rush to her room. She is sitting up in bed, eyes pink and shining.
"Mummy I woke up and I'm all alone." I wrap her in a big hug, kiss her hair and run my fingers down her soft, damp cheek. She lays back down and starts to relax as sit on the edge of her bed.
I wait until her eyes close and then rest my head in my hands. I am so tired I feel like I may throw up. After what seems like a week, but was actually probably closer to 20 minutes, she is settled, so I get up—my whole body cold, stiff, protesting. I look at her. She is softly lit by the light of her bedroom lamp and with her golden hair spread out on her pillow, she looks angelic. My heart swells so much I feel like my chest may burst.
I walk back to my room, to my sleeping boys.
My son has fashioned himself into a convoluted L-shape, allowing me only a thin strip of my bed. I try to pull the blanket over myself, but my husband has one leg tossed onto it, so it won't budge, so a third of my body is exposed. My son dreamily digs his small feet into my back and I hover precariously on the edge of the bed.
I am so tired. So tired. But I could not be more awake. I move my phone once more, and a dim, blue-tinged light glows as the screen illuminates: 3 am.
I lie there, desperate for sleep, but it is too late. I sit on the edge of my bed and gaze at my peacefully sleeping son. He is exquisite. Emotion rises in me again. I feel my eyes prickle. And then, before I can stop myself, my anxiety sees an opening and begins to speak in rapid-fire bullet points.
There is so much hate in the world. Why would you bring children into this? What are you subjecting them too?
Imagine people broke into your house and stole your sleeping children.
Imagine if a bomb went off next door.
You can't always protect them. They are going to get hurt one day, and you might not be able to protect them.
It goes on and on. The fear feels like it's choking me. The dog needs to be let out, so I walk to the living room to bring her outside; grateful for the distraction.
As I step outside, I smell the grass, I feel the cool earth on the soles of my feet, and I look up to the big, dark sky. I notice the sprinkle of twinkling stars.
A light breeze washes over me and I suddenly feel small, and therefore, so do my worries. I begin to feel peace wash over me. I stretch my arms above my head and feel my muscles lengthening, sore but thankful. I am calm.
I go back inside. The green numbers on the microwave inform me it is after 4 am: time to get ready for work. I dress, too slowly, my entire being wistful for the sleep that never was. I make coffee in the biggest cup I can find and toast some bread.
I finish our morning routine and eventually walk out to my car, turn on an audiobook, and drive away from my world for the day.
When I get to work, I am bright and smiley, but some notice my tired eyes. I shrug and say, "Kids kept me up" They smile and say, "Still? By that age, my kids only woke up once a night, if at all!" They tell me that surely, one day, my kids will sleep.
But if only they knew that although it's the kids keeping me awake, they themselves are asleep most of the time they are doing it.