I’m never going to sleep again.
It always felt that way. The next day, the first day, was always a day heavy with tired eyes because I never slept well the night before.
When I started having kids, I rarely thought about the first day of school because it was far enough away that I didn’t need to worry about it. Now we’re in the swing of school-aged kids, and I welcome the start of school with relief and also wish its banishment when I realize the end of summer has arrived.
This year, for the most obvious reason, is much more complicated.
Five months they have been home. Five months since they have sat in a classroom with friends. Five months since the world was turned on its head. And as the time for them to begin again draws closer and closer, I lay awake a night, thinking, I’m never going to sleep again.
When this happened to me as a kid, I would turn on Animal Planet and watch whatever show was on at the late hour. I loved watching Steve Irwin on his show. It was such an odd comfort to me when I was a kid to watch his show, like a distraction from what was coming with the morning light. Now I hold my phone and distract myself of sleeplessness with endless timelines, opinions, information, upheaval. I drown out anxiety with another form of it, until I fall asleep praying to forget what is distracting me so.
This year, our boys are staying home for school for a while. For an unknown amount of time. When I knew I would have a choice, this one was the automatic gut response, like my intuition and God Himself were telling me so. I was reluctant to choose because the finality of it felt damning in some ways and terrifying in others. How do I know what will work? How am I supposed to aid in their learning? Is this the chance to grow as a teacher in ways I didn’t know I need skilled? What if they hate it? What if I hate it? What if they learn nothing? What if…?
We sat down to dinner a few nights later, and I laid it all out for them. These boys…they are more empathetic than I realize, and they are more forgiving than I am. I told them we wanted them to stay home, that it seems right. And I’ll never forget how much they wanted it for themselves, too. Not because I said, “You must do as I say.” It’s because they really do want to be here. And by God, they want to be together. Their brotherhood is something I’ve always prayed would grow every year, and somehow they’ve loved every second of being together (outside of their arguments and physical altercations–remember, they’re boys). They are their truest selves here, and they still want to stay. It is a unique privilege that they want us and that I get to be with them for more time than I anticipated. My fears and “what ifs” changed, morphed into a realization that I get to do this. To be their mom and their teacher at a time like this is not a burden, and that alone leaves me speechless with gratitude.
With that in mind, every night I lay awake. The anxiety in my stomach is persistent. When everything is about to begin, I feel like all I want to do is hide.
But it hit me, quite unexpectedly, yesterday. I was standing with one of my boys in my dining room, and like whispers, I remembered. If there is anyone equipped for these boys, it is me. The anxiety I feel is not because we cannot do this; it is because I am afraid I will neglect to do this well. The standards I feel we must meet (and I expect to fall short in)? Standards put on me by an unseen force working against our good. These kids are not worried about a thing. They are not concerned about this not going well. They are more excited than ever. The sleeplessness in my mind and my body is a whole lot of fear with not real foundation of truth.
So I pray. A lot. I rest, more than normal, to give myself space leading up to this “unprecedented” moment. I remind myself that this abnormal year does not mean I must perfectly respond. There is no perfect response. There is a lot of grief, anxiety, unwanted circumstances. And with that, I must remember we are all doing okay and not okay, and God is here with us through it all and in between.
I wish so much that I could retreat from this world for a while. I wish I could find a place alone in the wilderness with my family, separated from the turmoil and stress. But I am reminded that the luxury to retreat from pain is not a luxury at all when we are all reeling. We all want to flee this, do we not? If normal could return in an instant, I think we’d all flock to it. But as of yet, we’re all riding these tumultuous waves, holding on for dear life without losing our sanity and ourselves. It is a unique comfort to notice that I am, in fact, not alone in the slightest. We are wading through uncharted waters with a total lack of experience all around. If anything, we are learning the terrain and working hard and finding out what we’re made of.
We’re all doing okay and not okay. It might feel like we’ll never sleep again. But you will. We will. And right before sleep overtakes me, I realize that this unprecedented life is changing me in the way I’ve always needed to grow and become. The pain of change is that it breaks us and remakes us into the people we must become for a world like this one.