24 hour world

10 Aug 2008

Up early this morning. Lying in bed I could hear Andrew moving around the house, coughing, getting a glass of water and moving his camp to the couch. He is suffering with the same bug that struck Kate and me a few weeks ago. I hopped out of bed to revive the fire for him as I know from experience the hour or two before dawn can be so very cold.

I'm sitting here beside the fire with a rug over my knees as the flames slowly bring their heat to the room. I'm struck by my intimate knowledge of the wee small hours, the times on the clock that once meant only sleep until I was catapulted into the world of the 24 hour clock. With the birth of her first child every mother, willingly or not, moves into the 24 hour world. With that tiny babe now in your care you are on call every hour of the day. I started my journey in this parallel universe 19 years ago and I'll stay in this world for many more years to come.

This world , where you can be needed at any time of the day is no doubt the real world. It doesn't sit comfortably with the world of work where life is compartmentalised and ordered. It is fluid and everchanging. Many a young mother , forced back to work when she is still in the novice stages of 24 hour living, feels despair at how she can ever marry the two worlds, the world of home where as a care giving adult, a mother, she is always on call and the world of work where, for many, work responsibilities finish at knock off time. So much nicer to be able to fully submerge yourself in the 24 hour world than having to jump between the two.

When my oldest child was a tiny 14 weeks old I had to return to work as I was the breadwinner. My husband was a fulltime student and due to a downturn in the tourism market he had been laid off from his job as a waiter. My biggest worry was having to be out of the house early after having been up half the night. My baby was a good sleeper but I was a novice and this wondrous creature was constantly changing, any routine we found ourselves in could so quickly be usurped and replaced by anarchy before we settled into a new stage. My solution was to work afternoons only and thankfully I had a great boss. Afternoons seemed to be the time in the 24 hours that best meshed with the outside world, when mothers and their babies went for walks or to the shops knowing that all the activity of the morning had settled, the baby had eased its way into the day and this was time to step out, to be public.

We come out of those first few shell shocked sleep deprived months and think that life might soon return to "normal". Some think that with the first birthday of motherhood that the relentlessness of the 24 hour world might be over. But gradually wisdom settles over us and we realise that we are mothers for life and this is now our world and some of us see the joy in this place and some feel hard done by and bitter.

When my third child was born 11 years ago I can remember the conversation I had with myself one night when I was deep in the "other world" of night time feeds. I decided that I should give thanks and drink in each and every moment I was given with this little one as I knew she was the last and long awaited baby and I would never again in my life know the sweetness of a little one's utter dependence on me.

I was so lucky because we were able to choose and we took the choice to have this mother stay at home and not have to rush back to work. I had done it once and gratefully stayed at home with my second and third child. To be able to sink into this 24 hour world, not in a limited way for a defined period of maternity leave but to see that in its various forms it lasts for many years is such a precious gift.

It is truly living, it is stretching out into all the dark places and finding parts of yourself you never knew existed. It can be falling deeper and deeper into a state of sleep deprivation, it can be giving yourself permission to be weak and unknowing, and giving yourself permission to be strong, to be steady,to be capable and eventually wise.

A little over three years ago, when I first started this blog, I found myself caring for Andrew my second born, my littlest baby. In hospital with a burst appendix and peritonitis he was so very sick. I stayed with him all day and all night for a week while Stephen stepped up to care for home and family as well as going to work and being at the hospital as much as he could. I slept in a chair beside my almost 14 year old son and it was like stepping back into those early years. The setting and the situation were unfamiliar but my need to be there and his need to have me there were undeniable. Any time a child is sick we know we can be no where else, priorities drop into place as though there was never any doubt, day to day worries slip away and we are focussed and firmly tethered to the 24 hour world.

One thing motherhood had taught me is not to be afraid of wee small hours, that sometimes they are a gift, a passage to a place within ourselves where we can learn so much just by being still and quiet and doing what is needed of us. And the joy you feel as you watch a new day dawn full of possibilities ( and perhaps a decent sleep) is so precious.

Andy is asleep on the couch, the coughing and restlessness have passed.
The fire is crackling though the chill of the new morning is all around me.
I'm often awake in the early hours now as my body surprises me and moves through the changes that come with my age.
Creative surges , some call them.
I'm grateful for the chance to live around the clock, to know the utter peace of slipping into sleep and the unexpected surprises of being wide awake before the sun.
I'm grateful for the experience and education given to me through being a woman and a mother.

22 Responses to “24 hour world”

  1. Beautiful Jenny, you have a talent with words.
    So true too, I have been lucky in that I've never had to go to work since having my babies, I still often wonder how women do it. It's so nice to be able to care for them at any time day or night without having to worry about commitments later. Sometimes those quiet hours in the dark are when we really discover who we are.

    cheers Kate

  2. What a wonderful post! I'm sending it to my daughter (with children ages 1, 3, 5, and 6).

    My youngest is away with friends on a vacation. At age eighteen, it is the first time he has been gone for so long without us.

    I found myself awake in the middle of the night because he was NOT here. :)

  3. This was a very thoughtful and validating post. Thanks so much, Jenny.

  4. This is a lovely post, Jenny. It brought back long ago memories of watching my sons sleep while they were babies.

  5. You have verbalised this so well. A pity the political world, that defines so many mothers timetables, were not more aware of this need. I have also been lucky, although it has meant living a frugal life, to be able to stay home with all my children. Thankyou for the reminder. Cherrie

  6. Dear Jen,such a lovely post...of all the things in my life,having the privilege of being a mother to my three birth children(two daughters and a son,now grown)and also, mother to a great nephew(16 yrs),whom I have raised since age one,being their mother has brought me the most gratitude. There were many sleepless nights with earaches and other sickness,lots of prayers offered up along with plenty of sweet lullabies sung...such a sweet releif when pain was eased and your child laid sleeping peacefully in your arms.

    Thanks for sharing this post,

  7. A lovely post, and your thoughts certainly ring true here. My 14 year old son battled a tummy virus earlier this week, and there were a few middle of the night strolls to his room to check on him, monitor his fever, and such. I love my 24 hour a day job!

  8. Oh Jenny, I'm in tears.

    The role of mother is so importanat, and to see someone so eloquently express the understnding and privilege of it is so moving. Thankyou.

    I too remember that 24 hour world, and now with a new career as a nurse and midwife (I'd never worked shift work before) I am living it all over again, as well as seeing the newest crop of mothers step so lovingly into the role.

    Beautiful post, that I will be linking to, if you don't mind.

  9. So beautifully written, Jenny! I'm going to pass this along to my daughters, too.

  10. Good evening Jenny
    You have made me recall the night feeds, when it feels that the whole world consists of just yourself & your precious child in your arms. Often I would delay putting the little one back in their cot, just so we could drift back to sleep together sitting in the lounge chair.
    Thank you for your thoughtful post.

  11. A wonderful post Jenny. I too am grateful for being available to my children 24/7, regardless of their age. Sitting up through the night with an 18 year old is still my privilege.

    love, Tina :)

  12. You reminded me of such special times. I remember once I was up with my newborn son and I looked out the window to see it snowing. It was so quiet and so lovely and I would have missed it.

    And to be with that warm sweet baby was the best.

    Jenny, I just love your recent posts. Have you thought of making a book with collections of these vignettes? Also your lovely photographs for illustration.

  13. My son (18 months) woke up 4 times last night and this morning I felt like I didn't get any sleep. Thank you for reminding me how fast time goes by and that I should accept I can never go back to the way things were. I remember my mother complaining when I was a teenager that I was home so late and that she couldn't sleep until I got home. :-)

    Christine from the NL

  14. This is one of the most beautiful posts I've ever read. Thank you so much for putting into words what most mothers feel toward their children.

  15. Jenny, how I wish most people in the world viewed life with your eyes and heart.........you turn the negative into a positive, such a beautiful post. Jan

  16. Oh, such a beautiful post...I am moved to tears. You put this so well, dear Jenny. Thank you for sharing and I hope your Andrew is well soon!


  17. Jenny,
    What a wonderful and positive way to look at what parents often think of as a chore and a phase to just get through as soon as possible. You reminded me of the cherished times of nursing my little ones and drifting off to sleep with them in my arms.

    Blessings, Paula

  18. It is so true. I used to fear those hours in the night when I was alone with a baby. I am now hopefully going to embrace some early morning hours to have a quiet time.

  19. What a beautiful post, Jenny. I'm preparing to step into the "24 hour world" in a few months, and was so inspired. :-)

  20. Oh so poignant. I have a nineteen year old and this week our youngest will be eleven. I smile as I remember the doctor telling me as he was being delivered that I could be happy now because everything was about to be at an end. I told him, no it was just beginning.


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