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In the almost 15 years since I first became the mother of sons, the world has changed and so have I. Fears of disease, broken arms and hurt feelings have been replaced by the specter of a gun in the wrong hands, my kids at the wrong place at the wrong time. Soon they will be driving, and I can't even bear to think about that.

One thing that hasn't changed over the years, however, is the constant disturbance of sleep patterns. When my kids were babies, I grabbed sleep whenever I could -- in the middle of the afternoon, at 9 in the morning, early evening, whenever the boys were snoozing. They didn't often choose the same hours to sleep, so I found myself dangerously sleep-deprived for a good two years, rarely settling down for more than three or four hours at a stretch.

During those years, I was so accustomed to waking up at the end of short intervals that I inevitably awoke in the middle of the night, whether the boys were awake or not. Stolen moments in the dark of my quiet house were, I believe now, my strongest link to sanity.

While the household snoozed, I padded around in the dark from room to room, observing the light of the street lamps streaming through the warped old windows of our 1920s bungalow. With all the house lights turned off, my house looked orderly. The walls comforted me with their sturdy silence.

Many nights I sat on the sofa in my nightgown, watching through the living room window, the blinking light of a radio tower set high atop the tallest hill in the neighborhood, above a street called Love Circle. That light drew me away to dreams of romance and adventure, to a place far inside, reserved for those rare hours when the voices and movement of babies didn't dominate my every waking thought. The light above Love Circle removed me, reassured me, serenaded me, and eventually drew me back to sleep. A brief, sleep-drugged hour or two later, I was awakened by the early morning chatter of my sons, cooing in their cribs, calling out for breakfast, for play, for dry diapers, for love, affection and the new day's adventure.

My stolen hours now arrive on weekends and last the entire morning long. Following long hours of trying not to hear the thumps and bumps overhead -- my sons moving about in their bedrooms into the wee hours of the morning -- I wake up at sunrise to that rarest of pleasures, a perfectly silent house. I patrol the hallways and bedrooms, assessing who's there, who's sleeping where, observing the piles of sour clothes, the radios left on, the incredible heaviness of adolescent sleep. My sons have just entered the deepest arc of sleep and their bodies look heavy, their faces anesthetized, deadened. They will sleep until noon or beyond, and I have no reason to wake them.

Last weekend, I wandered outside at 6 a.m., and began methodically watering my flower and vegetable beds, setting the sprinkler in one spot for a time, then climbing back into bed to read a chapter, to snooze, or just to enjoy the silence. Up again, outside to the rapidly warming day, I move the sprinkler, then go back inside past last night's mess in the kitchen to the cool sheets of my bed, to quiet and solitude.

I love these hours more than the middle of the night hours looking out at the light on Love Circle. These quiet hours between sleep and wakefulness are pure. They are not tainted with fear, like the waking hours I spend with my sons, each of them straining at the invisible leash between us, wanting nothing more than for me to not notice what they are doing, to not wonder what they want to be doing.

These silent, early morning hours now feel like stolen time that harbors a treasure. The babies who turned into boys will soon turn into men; but for now, they are still mine. While they sleep, I rejoice at their beauty and potential, I smile at their crazed energy, I pray for their safety.

They still rule the pattern of my sleep, and for that I am finally grateful.

-- kathryn@csindy.com

Eastburn is< on vacation. This column first appeared in 1999.

  • Kathryn Eastburn on patterns of sleep and silence

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