I cannot bear to hear a baby cry. I feel it right to my core, as if my very cells command me to comfort the child. But in the first years of my daughter's life she suffered from a chronic illness that caused a lot of crying. And I mean a lot. Her wails were heartrending, made all the worse by how little I could do to ease her misery. We got through the days with kangaroo parenting and lots of nursing, but because it was so hard for her to sleep our nights were unspeakably long.
For hours she could stay asleep only if I walked while holding her. I'd circle the dining room table, looking out the dark windows hoping for the momentary distraction of a passing car. The minutes went by in slow motion. My arms were cramped and my body well beyond weary. Finally, in the early hours of morning, she usually calmed enough that I could slump into bed against a pile of pillows where she slept on my chest and I slept too.
During those hours of walking I couldn't stare at a screen, even dim light kept her awake much longer. (Science now tells us that as little as a light shining on the back of our knees is enough to change our circadian clocks.) So I resorted to the only distraction available: inside my head. Now that my daughter is older (and healthy!) I'd nearly forgotten those mental games until I listened to my friend Bernie DeKoven's new recording Recess for the Soul, packed with ideas for playing on what Bernie calls the Inner Playground. I wish I'd heard of Bernie's games back then...
I'll share a few of the games I played on my own inner playground. These weren't clever by any means, simply last-resort mechanisms to keep a desperately tired and worried mom going. If you're at the end of your rope, head on in to your inner playground. (If you'd like a wider range of mental games, refer to Bernie's recording.)
Betting On Myself
I wouldn't let myself look at the clock. I'd tell myself that I could make it another 10 minutes or 15 minutes, and then I'd try to gauge how long that time period might be before checking the clock. If I gave in and looked too soon, losing the bet, then I'd lengthen the next time period, not letting myself look for another 20 minutes. And so on.
As I was walking back and forth in my dark house in the wee hours, I'd challenge myself to reconstruct something in detail. A book plot one night, a long-ago memory another, even a meal I'd had with friends. It wasn't easy, but good mental exercise. It also, I'm sure, was a relief to so fully visit another realm in my mind.
Absurd Movie Screenplays
I'd mentally write screenplays, the more absurd the better. If I found myself with anything resembling a normal plotline I'd add a talking giraffe, a time travel shower, or something equally implausible. The exhausted mind is actually pretty creative, maybe because logic is for people who get enough sleep.
When I was totally at the end of my rope and could find no way to ease my baby's crying, I got to the point where I wanted to set her down gently and fling myself out the window. So I'd pretend there was some omnipresent camera watching me. Somehow that made it easier to keep going, as if I were acting in a play about a very patient mother. When I was really tired, I pretended as if the film being made was the only evidence that God might see of my life. I know, dire.
It wasn't as if I didn't want to be fully present with my daughter, I did. But there's only so much mindfulness one can bear after hours of walking a sick child. Don't wait until you're ready to toss yourself out the window. Play as wildly as you'd like on your own inner playground.
(image thanks to pili_f3)