I found a bunch of archived blog posts that I wrote when my children (2 teens and a pre-teen) were smaller, and this piece feels so poignant now as I am long past the days of children waking me at night.
When this piece first got picked up by Yahoo in 2010 (it was one of my first published pieces), I got skewered with judgment and blame by many commenters who believed that I was doing everything all wrong and that sleep and rest were attainable if only I wasn't so weak.
Now, looking back, I see that all those early sleepless nights were just training for the long marathon of motherhood, in which sleep is the constant, elusive thing forever.
And I'm stronger for those early days. I really am.
Originally published on Yahoo Shine: "In this House No One Sleeps" 2010)
Recently, I read about a scientific theory by UCLA sleep researcher, Jerome Siegel, who is trying to figure out why animals and humans sleep.
Siegel has suggested that there is no vital universal function for sleep. In other words, Siegel denounces the popular idea that animals sleep because there is some physiological or neural function that must be accomplished when they are sleeping, and cannot be accomplished when they are awake. Siegel suggests instead that the main functions of sleep are to conserve resources and maintain efficiency.
In other words: to stay out of the way until there is reason to wake.
Now, I’m no scientist. And I confess that until I read about Jerome Siegel, I’m not sure I even knew there was such a thing as a “sleep researcher.” However, I know Jerome Siegel is right. For one thing, I trust his methodology since I relate to his studied demographic. (Noting that newborn whales and dolphins and their mothers survive on an almost complete lack of sleep, Siegel hypothesized that there must be something other than a physiological motive for sleep.)
Which leads me to the real reason that I believe Jerome Siegel is onto something. I’m referring to the indisputable truth that no one sleeps through the night in my house.
Almost every night I tuck my children in and whisper the same loving words to them as they drift off to sleep.
“Please stay in your bed . . . all night . . . unless there’s an emergency.”
Over the years, emergencies have consisted of spiders, stomach bugs, and terrible nightmares.
Emergencies have also consisted of feet coming out from under the covers and brothers snoring in a nearby bed.
My oldest son is the most creative. He has arrived at the side of my bed on countless nights. Standing. Staring. Waiting. When I open my eyes with a start to see him there, he leans in and whispers:
Mommy, I almost had a nightmare.
What do you mean almost?
Well, I felt like I was going to have a nightmare, but then I didn’t.
Honey, go to sleep.
What do you mean you can’t?
I can’t because I’m afraid I’m going to have a nightmare.
I doze. He continues standing there, relentless. He begins anew.
Mommy, I almost had a nightmare.
Mommy, I MISS you.
Ok, ok. I'll come tuck you in again.
He pounces into my arms, proud and victorious. And I know, before you say it, that you blame me. That you think I give in too easily and that is why they show up at my bedside so often with pretend emergencies.
But have mercy on me; I am vulnerable at 2 a.m. My defenses are asleep even though I am not. (I have always been intrigued by those to-the-rescue nanny reality shows where the British nanny helps parents get their children to sleep for the night, investing 1, 2, up to 3 hours in getting them down, and then leaves the parents to their own devices for the rest of the night. But wait, I always ask the unresponsive television screen, what about when they get back up in the middle of the night? And you’re half asleep? And thus willing to agree to anything? What then?)
It seems to have started the night I brought my firstborn home. I remember vividly two things from that night.
First, I recall that I was terrified to fall asleep, certain that I was keeping him alive simply by staring at him. Second, I recall that I couldn’t have slept if I tried.
My son wanted me; he clung to me. He didn’t want to sleep. Not at night anyway. And he wailed every time I tried to put him down. Every time I thought about putting him down. At the hospital, the doctor had warned me to allow my newborn to cry a bit, to avoid nursing continually.
My doctor, however, did not come home with me that night.
So, that first night at home, after nursing my son continually from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., I remember turning to my husband (on the first and last time he ever stayed up with me through the night) and saying, very solemnly: “I think people die from a lack of sleep.”
I wish I’d known about Siegel’s theory back then; I wouldn’t have worried so much. Siegel propounds that animals do not need sleep to survive, they simply use it to adapt. Siegel points out the extreme example of the brown bat who sleeps 20 hours a day because its prey – moths and mosquitoes – are only up at dusk. Thus, Siegel explains, the brown bat sleeps when it does to conserve energy, which in turn enables it to be a more skilled hunter during the few hours necessary to catch its prey.
Ah, and there it is. My children get up at night because they believe it is the best time to stalk their vulnerable prey. Their prey being ME.
And it’s my fault of course, to the extent it’s anyone’s FAULT. In the beginning, after that first night, I settled into the nighttime feedings. Enjoyed them even. Truth is, I relished being with my babies at night. The quiet time spent rocking in the nursery was all ours. No one else called my name or my house at that hour. No one expected me to do laundry or to cook at 2 a.m. The grocery stores and post office were closed. Even my blackberry was strangely silent at that hour. Sleep eluded me but peace did not. Those early nights of sleeplessness were strangely satisfying.
As our household increased from a family of three to four, and eventually, five, the daytime became more chaotic, and thus, the nighttime became even more important to me and my babies.
Now that I have no more nursing babies, and a more flexible work schedule, you would think we’d all have more time together during the day. That it would be enough. And we do have a lot of time together. Our days are filled with laughs and tears and sibling fights and mediations and negotiations and sports practices and homework and car rides and errands and laundry. And I’m not complaining, but it is loud and busy.
But at night, well, that is when we really slow down. And as Jerome Siegel has finally explained, that is when my children lie in wait. Then, they seek me out, one by one, for their time alone with me.
My children do sleep, after all. All three children go to bed promptly, easily, one by one, from 8:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. I tuck them in. I kiss them. I whisper, please, please, let’s sleep all night tonight, guys.
My children do sleep. It’s just that, as Siegel theorizes, they choose their times wisely. They conserve their energy. They stay out of the way until there is reason to wake. And in the night they emerge like nocturnal predators.
And I admit, I’m happy to be found.
Of course, sometimes, I just want to sleep.
P.S. Want to know why I'm reprinting old blog posts all these years later? Check out "Do you believe in Time Travel?"
I already know what you will think.
When I tell you I was not afraid, you will think I am lying.
But I wasn’t.
And I’m not.
I was actually thinking to myself: “When I later tell the story about the day we – my family and I – willingly climbed into a car that was driven by an unknown, armed man, everyone will assume I have lost my marbles.”
See? That’s how you know I wasn’t afraid. In that moment, I was already thinking about telling the story afterward. I knew we’d make it.
I just wasn’t sure if you’d believe me.
While I am thinking about how I will later tell this story, we are on the side of a road in a small town halfway between Punta Cana and Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. We have pulled over as far as we can on this narrow stretch to let a drug enforcement truck pull ahead of us on the winding dirt road. At least half a dozen men with machine guns at the ready, sit perched on the side of the truck as it swerves past us. I try not to make eye contact with any of them; I stare instead at the facades of the small homes not far from our car. Not far from the machine guns.
My three drowsy kids – ages 5 and under – have been sleeping most of the way but now they stare bleary-eyed at the pastel-colored buildings whose porches are decorated with rows of hanging meats. My three-year-old son mumbles “pretty” and I nod my head in agreement as I rub his head. “Shhh, I whisper. It’s ok.”
And I feel it is, somehow.
Because back home in New York, things have not been ok.
Most recently, my well-intentioned efforts to juggle being a full-time mother and full-time lawyer have left me gasping for breath. Ostensibly, we are here to spend our first week of my year-long sabbatical from corporate law on a well-needed family vacation.
But that’s not why we’re here. RIGHT HERE. It is so much more specific than that.
And if my husband has connected the dots, he does not say so, although in my own mind, it all seems so obvious.
He doesn’t ask why I have brought us here. Not when I make the reservations. Not when we get into the rented car at the airport. Not when the driver claims he is off-duty “policia” as he unassumingly stows his firearm in the glove box. Not when we pull over on our way to the Punta Cana resort to let a heavily armed drug enforcement truck pass us on this small, foreign road.
I take in all of the sights and sounds and I feel at peace, armed driver, machine guns, and all. I look around at the countryside – equal parts beautiful and hard. I close my eyes, and I think to myself:
I did not survive a plane crash eight years ago to die here or now.
I was at home in Belle Harbor, New York, on November 12, 2001, when American Airlines Flight 587 crashed on the corner where I lived.
That morning, after my husband left for work, I woke to the sound of a low-flying plane. After a few moments of listening to the too-close jet engine, I got out of bed and headed to the window. I don’t know what I was looking for, but here’s what I saw: a dark cylindrical object plummeting from the sky a few blocks away – the falling engine of a plane that was gradually breaking apart only moments after lifting off from New York City’s Kennedy Airport.
After a few moments of screeching and darkness (the plane cast an enormous shadow as it passed directly over my head), Flight 587 crashed across the street from where I was standing. At the moment of impact, I remember instinctively ducking – hands thrown over my head – as if I could somehow avoid being crushed by the plane in this position.
It worked. The plane missed me.
After all was said and done that morning, on the corner of 131st and Newport Avenues, our house was the only one of the four corner houses left standing – completely unscathed – while the crash had killed everyone on board Flight 587, and five of my neighbors on the ground.
Our house became the command center for the recovery operation for Flight 587. It always surprises me that, all these years later, I still feel grateful, proud and guilty relating that fact. November 12, 2001 became the median point of my life — everything else was either before or after this central day.
And I was haunted by the tragedy.
Every morning, I would read over the makeshift memorials the passengers’ families created at the site. Photos and candles and letters and cards dedicated to the victims. I mourned them. I thought about them. I prayed for them. Every day, I carried around the memories of these people I had never known. Would never know. These people travelling to a place I had never been – a place that was home to many of the passengers on board.
Flight 587 had been headed to the Dominican Republic.
When we moved from the crash site nearly a year later, I was still trying to give meaning to my own survival – I focused on my law career but wanted more. I poured myself into motherhood as my children began arriving two years after the crash. Yet, even the needful voices of my three children did little to drown out the ghostly echoes.
Survivors’ guilt prevented me from slowing down for even a moment, as I struggled to deserve my children, my career, and my life. In 2009, exhausted, I took a sabbatical from corporate law, and only then did I realize what must be done.
I booked a flight to the Dominican Republic with my family – to see and honor the homeland of many of the victims of the horrific crash that had been haunting me for eight long years. I hired a driver to navigate through the countryside from Santo Domingo to the resort town of Punta Cana. I wanted to see more than the scrubbed down walls of the tourist resort.
A full circle moment if ever there was one, it would have been impossible and highly ungrateful to be fearful that day. Which is why I knowingly climbed into the car with the armed driver, believing him when he said he was off-duty “policia.”
And why I refused to allow the machine guns and large black garbage bags full of recovered Cartel-related drugs to distract me from the beauty that was all around.
Sitting there on the side of the road, instead of being afraid, I suddenly felt silly for believing myself a “survivor” – and worse, feeling guilty – simply because I had not died when a plane crashed on my street corner eight years earlier.
After the machine guns were finally out of view, our driver resumed his course along the pretty but rough countryside, and my children awakened noisily.
Are we almost there? I’m hungry. Did you remember my blanket? My brother is touching me. I have to pee.
And in the noisy din of that car, I realized with a smile that the ghosts were quiet.
And the silence was beautiful.
Something kind of crazy happened to me last night. My entire website crashed, without warning and inexplicably. I spent hours on the phone with techie wizards working to restore it, and around 2 am, we finally did - BUT not before locating dozens of old blog posts and articles that were previously lost during a website migration a few years back.
The lost pieces suddenly re-appeared along with a long ago abandoned version of my website. You guys, it was as if I HAD TRAVELED BACK IN TIME. The crashed version of the site was a time capsule - a diary of sorts with recorded bits and pieces of my life from 2013-2016 while I was waiting to publish my first 2 novels.
While on the phone with my IT peeps, I was on a race against time to both save my site, and also cut and paste the lost pieces into my hard drive before they would be lost yet again.
It worked. As of this morning, my site has been restored - and the time capsule pieces are no where to be found - OTHER than my hard drive where I ferociously copied them last night. ICYMI - I’ll be sharing these lost snippets (maybe with updates) on my website blog #unfiltered -over the coming weeks and months as I get ready for the release of my 5th novel.
I never thought I’d be happy about a website crash. But I am. I really am. Stay tuned.
P.S. Do you believe in time travel too? If so, I have a book for you ;) ❤️❤️
I find that 18 years after 9/11, re-living the day has grown harder somehow and not easier.
A kind of shapeless panic takes hold of me sometime the day before and lasts until the day after. The knowing that everyone will be talking about the tragedy, and nothing else, for 24 hours. The predictable reality that the images from that day will be on a constant relentless loop. The surprising realization that the sights and smells and fears of that day are as easy to conjure up again as they were on that day. Each year, I breathe and move and live through the panic. I'd like to wish away, but it's a river I have to wade through. There's no other way around it.
The panic, of course, is not what makes the re-living harder. Instead, it's the guilt that multiplies and expands as the years go by. 18 years. We've had 18 more years. But they have not.
On 9/11, I was a young lawyer living and working in New York City. I've written often about my experiences of that day, but lately I've been thinking a lot about the day after 9/11.
On September 12, I woke up in my Queens townhouse, and walked outside. There was still visible smoke wafting across the river from Manhattan - where my Times Square law office was located - and it was unspoken that no one would be traveling into Manhattan that day. No memo went out. No phone call chain. No Facebook threads. No one switched their voicemail to an outgoing absence recording.
We all just stayed home.
I walked into town to buy a paper and a bagel at the local bodega. It felt like a very New York thing to do. And I wanted to do "New York things" that day. The small seaside Queens community where I lived at the time - Belle Harbor - was home to a disproportionate number of firefighters and first responders, and we would later learn that our neighborhood suffered the single largest per capita loss in the attacks. The quiet and emptiness of that morning after was a result of this fact and the fact that every single emergency worker - whether they were scheduled to work or not - was doing a shift at Ground Zero that morning.
At home, with my bagel and paper, I sat cross-legged on the floor in front of the television. I wanted to turn it off, but I felt compelled not to. I needed to believe all those missing people were still going to turn up alive.
The front page of the paper carried a photo that haunts me to this day. A photo of a firefighter carrying a lifeless man near the rubble. The caption read: "Firefighter carries unidentified injured man at the scene." The man was neither injured nor unidentified. In fact, to New Yorkers, the man was easily identifiable - he was the charismatic NYPD police chaplain named Father Mychal Judge. Father Judge had died at the scene, and the careless caption angered me. Of all the things to be angry about that morning, I chose this one. It felt more bite-sized and manageable than the rest. (Eventually, I would channel the frustration over the all-wrong caption and photo into an important plot point in my second novel, Secrets of Worry Dolls, but on 9/12, I had not yet found my story-telling voice. That would come much later.)
Later that afternoon, my husband, a New York City medical student, received a call that medical supplies were needed in Manhattan, and I pulled myself away from the television to help him transport supplies from his Brooklyn hospital to Ground Zero. We drove through an empty tunnel in eerie silence, missing for the first and last time, the traffic, the horns, the blaring and blinding noise that New York City was known for. We met police and first responders along the way, doling out supplies and breathing in for a moment the harsh debris they were all covered in.
It became painfully clear within a few hours that our bandages and antiseptics and sutures were not what they needed. We didn't have what they needed. No one did. So we returned home in silence. And defeat.
We threw out our clothes rather than trying to wash the stench from them and slept fitfully.
In the morning, we did the same thing we've done every morning since. We woke up changed.
18 years. It hasn't gotten any easier to re-live 9/11. But I'm just as grateful as I was then - for all of the days after.
I've been hunkered down in my life for the last few months. Here's what I've been up to:
Finishing my next novel (more on that later, but here's a hint: you might want to re-read LEMONGRASS HOPE this summer if you get a little free time. Just saying).
Sorting through my list of priorities to re-adjust (can you relate?)
Gathering my courage to sign up for an aerial yoga class.
Anyway, I'm back, and I'm going out on tour this summer for my latest novel, WHY WE LIE.
I'd love to see you out on the road. (For a list of upcoming events, click here.) Tell me what's new with you.
Eat the chocolate.
Go a little easier on yourself. Everyone air balls it occasionally. In the game of life, as in basketball, the air balls can be downright hysterical if you look at them the right way. So look at them that way today.
Don't hold a grudge about the rudest person you will meet today or even this week. Do you know how long it takes to build up that kind of immunity to kindness? Spoiler alert: a long time. Be impressed. Not mad.
Fun fact! There are 240 calories in two glasses of white wine. You burn 240 calories doing nothing but sitting for 24 hours straight. Coincidence? I think not.
By the way! Hearts are not actually heart-shaped. I know. Mind blown, right? Ok, you already knew that, but did you know that the "heart shape" actually has disputed origins and may have started with a giant fennel plant OR it may have evolved from the shape of, ahem, buttocks! Isn't that both bizarre and interesting?
(I know. Now you have a love letter with the word "buttocks" in it. You're welcome.)
Hey. You know who's interesting? You. You have a story to tell and a path you've taken with twists and turns and surprises that look nothing like mine or anyone else's and would make the writers of This Is Us salivate with the possibility. Tell your story. Even if it's just to your journal. Tell your story.
Oh, and thank you for reading and hearing my stories. Happy Valentine's Day. I'm so glad we're connected.
P.S. No really. Eat the chocolate. xoxo
P.P.S. Read any good love stories lately? Sharing is caring. Comment below.
Yesterday my family and I got trapped inside a store in New York City with Justin Bieber and a bunch of paparazzi and it turned out kind of awesome.
Well, for us, at least.
Hold on. Let me rewind.
For my oldest son's birthday gift, he requested a family day in our favorite city, Manhattan, instead of a birthday party or an extravagant gift. At 15, he's got one foot in childhood nostalgia and the other racing toward a future that will hold car keys, college visits, and broken curfews in no time at all. Needless to say, I was thrilled that his request was a nod to nostalgia. At least for one more year.
We filled the day with some of our favorite tourist stops including Central Park and Times Square, and when handed an unseasonably warm day, we decided to walk from Central Park to Midtown via 5th Avenue to do some window shopping.
We lingered in Tommy Hilfiger. Moved a little faster through the cologne-scented lobbies of Hollister and Abercrombie and Fitch and took in the extraordinary sights at Louis Vuitton and Gucci, with my son even trying on a jacket at Gucci for fun. His jaw dropped when he saw the $4,000 price tag.
"Who spends that kind of money? On a jacket?"
"I have no idea, actually." I laughed.
"Imagine having that kind of money to drop on a jacket? You got to admit. That would be fun."
"Oh, I don't know. I think there are better ways to spend money, don't you?"
He shrugged. He's 15 after all.
We made our way to Times Square, scored some discount play tickets for Aladdin, walked leisurely in and out of the M&M store for a pre-dinner snack, and then landed in the Swatch store. My youngest was picking out a watch to put on her Christmas list. I sent her to the other side of the store so I could buy it and put it away, and I was just finishing up my purchase when we heard a chorus of screams and yells at the front door to the store. There was a group of people closing in on the glass doors. They looked stuck there, almost as if they had somehow joined together as a mass and couldn't squeeze through the door in their conjoined state. I stood there staring at the screaming, frustrated optical illusion for a few moments, wondering why the people couldn't just separate and come inside to buy some adorable and colorful cheap plastic watches like I had done.
But then I realized a few larger men dressed in thick black hoodies were blocking the way. They kept pushing the mass back. A thin man in a hoodie decorated with embroidered roses popped through their grasp into the store shaking off the scene he'd just exited with annoyance, and looking around anxiously. Some security stayed outside the door, but a few security guards followed the thin, annoyed man inside, inadvertently bringing with them some straggling amateur photographers. A buzz of slowly escalating chaos ensued. I saw someone hold up a sign outside the door:
Justin, we love you.
Justin? As in, Bieber? Could it be? I tried to get a better look at him under his hood as he looked toward the store's side exit, furtively, for somewhere to escape to.
Concerned about the chaos, my husband started pushing the kids out the same exit Justin and his guards were eyeing.
"Come on," he demanded. "We don't know what's about to go down here." I stared for another beat, curiously, and then nodded, agreeing, pushing kids toward security guards who were blocking the doors to get outside. They were trying to keep everyone outside. But as a result we were stuck inside. A few men ushered Justin to a back stock room. We pushed past security and from the outside sidewalk, we watched as the guards conferred animatedly with store managers who obviously weren't too happy about the fact that Justin Bieber had just shut down their store.
No one inside the store looked too happy to see him. And he didn't seem to be enjoying himself. He wasn't even shopping for Swatches.
My kids and I continued watching the drama unfold as a few of the guards came outside and ran up the block trying to create a diversion, while a few more guards went back to the Swatch stock room and escorted Justin out the door we'd escaped from a few minutes earlier. The mass of people reassembled itself and followed him through Times Square yelling and screaming.
"Wow. That was crazy. Where's he even going, now?" My son asked as we walked the opposite way through Times Square with our discount play tickets, cheap plastic watches, and (albeit overpriced!) M&M's in hand.
"I don't know. Maybe Gucci?" I winked.
And we laughed. Because of course Justin Bieber is exactly the kind of person who can drop $4,000 on a Gucci jacket, but to be honest, yesterday, he just didn't look like he was having nearly as much fun as we were.
One year ago today my third novel was published. THE TRUTH ABOUT THEA is a psychological thriller about social media addiction and owning your truth.
On this book birthday, I'm celebrating all the fabulous milestones this particular book has achieved. In a full circle moment after leaving my 13+ year legal career, I was thrilled when the National Indie Excellence Awards panel named THEA the Winner in the Legal Thriller category. THEA was also chosen by Francis Ford Coppola and his winery to be one of the inaugural selections for #BooksAndBottles, an exclusive product pairing select wines exclusively with Tall Poppy Writer titles. And most importantly, dozens of book clubs across the country found THEA and invited me to attend their discussions live and via Facetime. All were shocked by the ending. I loved the conversations that ensued.
This month also marks FOUR years since my debut novel was published - pushing my publishing career out of the "infancy" and "toddler" stages and solidly into the "preschooler" realm. The metaphor holds up.
I like standing on my own two feet, but I can't do any of it alone.
I don't know what I don't know, and I still need lots of naps.
Since releasing LEMONGRASS HOPE in October 2014, I've been both surprised and frustrated by many aspects of the publishing world (again, the young child metaphors hold up!) , but I've never regretted my decision to release my stories into the world. And I'll never stop being grateful for the way you all have received them.
In March 2019, Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing will release my fourth novel (fifth book), WHY WE LIE, a contemporary political thriller set in D.C. To celebrate, on my book birthday, I am giving away a signed copy of both THE TRUTH ABOUT THEA and WHY WE LIE - one lie/one truth. All you need do is comment on my Facebook post (here) or Instagram post (here) with one lie and one truth (You don't even need to tell me which is which!)
I'll go first.
I was an extra in a Whitney Houston video.
I have no plans to write about the characters from my first novel, LEMONGRASS HOPE.
OK, your turn.
Things have been a little crazy over here.
September's frenzy kicked my butt, and the new school year has had a less than glamorous start, and four major appliances quit on me, and the dog has punished us for leaving her each day by ruining two carpets and a new pair of sneakers, and oh yes, the world has gone STARK RAVING MAD.
And every day, before I can even leave my bedroom to make a trip to the coffee maker, I have to trip over this basket of unmatched socks, which now totals exactly 7,642 socks without a mate. How is this possible? To have THIS MANY SOCKS that cannot be paired with another? HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE, I yell out each and every morning.
No one answers me.
Cheap crew socks, lightly patterned Tommy Hilfiger socks that no one has any business spending money on, those non-skid socks they make you buy at the trampoline place, the long socks that barely fit over the soccer shin guards that shrink after the first washing, and more - all these socks are just peaking out over the top of an overflowing basket that taunts me day after day.
Sure, I could throw the whole thing away and start over, but there are risks involved. If someone is out of clean socks entirely, I can't point to the basket, and say: "pick two that are close." I keep the basket. It's the best option I have right now.
HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?
The other day I thought, "My god. If I get struck by lightning today, someone will come to my house and see this basket of unmatched socks, and how embarrassing would THAT BE?!" I realized that the mess in my life just might be what's holding me together these days. I'm walking cautiously into the electrical storms of my life, because if I get struck by lightning, someone might come here and see my basket of socks, and you know what? That makes my mess just a little more palatable today than it was yesterday.
HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?
It just is.
This picture? It's just a little glimpse of the mess. I can't show you the whole thing, and I won't ask you to show me your mess in return. But, embrace it. Let it keep you from standing under trees in the lightning. Take care of your messy self today.
If I can collect 7,642 unmatched socks, then anything is INDEED POSSIBLE.