I sat on the old plaid couch in my living room, nursing loud, slurping newborn twins in the presence of a dozen or so women who had come to my home for a baby shower.
It was awkward, to be sure, but I was too tired to care.
I had slept with the twins on me the night before, and the night before that. It was the only way they would sleep. When I put them down, they cried, and I cried too because my arms ached with holding them and my breasts hurt from nursing them and all I wanted was just a few seconds to have my body to myself.
But then the sun came up and I smeared concealer under my eyes and tried to hide my still-round figure under a maternity skirt and a once-flattering sweater. My hair, which had been falling out by the handfuls since the boys were born, spun in crazy spirals on my head, and a smattering of hormone-induced pimples blazed on my chin.
I sat there in the middle of dear friends and tried to appear normal. But I was on survival mode. Overnight, I had become the mother of five children, and I was reeling.
But there we were, just a few weeks after my babies were born, the incision in my abdomen still aching, celebrating the miraculous birth of my boys. It was miraculous, truly, and I had not forgotten. I was just so tired.
Maybe those dear women knew it. Maybe they could see right through the mascara. They did not come with silly games or demand details I didn’t want to share. As I nursed the twins, they quietly went around the room and gave me words of encouragement and advice.
Some of them did not have children, and their words were the kind that reminded me of the treasure I had in those sleepless nights.
Some had grown right out of motherhood, and theirs were the words that reminded me to cherish those baby grunts and the closeness of infancy.
Then there was the woman who obviously did not notice how tired I was, or how hard I was trying to keep it all together. That woman looked right at me, the newly minted mother of five, and said, “The best piece of advice I can give you is to spend time with each of your children one-on-one.”
Her words flooded over my already-drowning spirit. One-on-one? I didn’t even get to spend time with myself one-on-one.
It was ridiculous to expect that from me! Obviously, she didn’t remember the days when it was a triumph just to get the cereal served, and she could never understand what it was like to mother five children ages five and under.
I smiled politely, thinking I’d throw away that piece of advice after everyone left.
But I couldn’t.
Deep down, I knew the wisdom of her words. In fact, I longed to implement her advice. How I wanted to hold one child on my lap and listen to one child’s dreams.
It’s just that somewhere during those busy, little years, I began to view my children only as a collective whole. The days were so full. They all needed food and water and trips to the bathroom and noses wiped and clean underwear. It was easier to line them all up and get it done, assembly-line style, than it was to consider if any one of them needed a little more of me than that.
Of course, I knew my children needed more of me than that. They needed to be cherished, valued, and understood as individuals, not because they were my children, but because each one of them is my child.
I wanted Faith to grow up knowing that I liked her. I wanted Jonathan to be assured of the fact that I longed to spend time with him.
I wrestled with that advice for a few months. Then finally, I found a way to make it work in our crazy, busy life.
I gave each child one night of the week to stay up late with me. For fifteen minutes after bedtime, we did whatever that child chose to do. We made cookies or snuggled into my bed and read a book. We took walks in the neighborhood. We learned to draw. We made up leprechaun stories.
We made memories.
It sounds so precious but the truth of it is, it was hard. After attending to my children all day, I found it almost painful to give them even fifteen minutes of my attention. It was a sacrifice, an intentional sacrifice, to spend time with my kids one-on-one at the end of the day.
The only reason I didn’t give it up is because Stay Up Late Nights are one of the best things we ever built into our family culture. What started out as a way to meet my children’s needs for individuality turned into an answer to my unknown need to know them individually and to enjoy their uniqueness without distraction.
Stay Up Late Nights gave me that. It’s been years now since we started and most weeks, my children would say that their night–their Stay Up Late Night–was the highlight of their week.
It is the highlight of my week too because I need it. I need to remember that being the mother of five children is indeed hard.
But being the mother to Faith, Jonathan, Kya, Micah, and Paul is one of the best things in the world.