Help me to be helpless

There are few things on this earth that ratchet up my anxiety faster and more completely than when my children don’t sleep. Like when Perpetua goes down for her morning nap fine, but wakes screaming 25 minutes later. Or when Anselm resists his nap entirely (which is happening more and more often these days). Or when Perpetua is sleeping nicely but then Anselm wakes her up — and in that scenario we end with not just anxiety, but also a fair measure of rage.

I get anxious when they don’t sleep because I know how badly it can pooch the rest of the day; when my kids aren’t rested they’re miserable. I get anxious because I usually reserve their nap time for getting projects done that I can’t do with two kids underfoot. I get anxious because when they are sleeping is my only chance for a break during the day, for a chance to sit and just be myself for five or ten or thirty minutes. But mostly I get anxious because I don’t like not being in control.

It really grinds my gears that I can’t make my children sleep. I can encourage, I can model, I can cajole, I can do everything I can think of, but ultimately it’s up to my kids to close their own eyes and relax their own minds and drift off by themselves. This makes me crazy. And sure, I feel a little weird about being frustrated that my children are autonomous beings. But there it is all the same.

I think that we are more helpless than we like to admit. Every day there are dozenss of situations that affect me but are completely out of my control: the weather, the traffic, whether my toddler will actually eat the meal I’ve cooked, the exchange rate, whether my kids will sleep, whether I can get done in a day the things I want to get done, whether it’s humid or not. But somewhere along the way I seem to have come up with expectation — which is completely unfounded, I will readily admit — that these things are at least nominally under my purview. And when that (irrational) expectation is violated, well, that’s when I get upset.

I need help being helpless. I need help relinquishing control, especially the kind that’s imaginary in the first place. This is a lot harder than it should be — but I suspect that I will be a lot better off for having done it.