Years ago I read the book I Don’t Know How She Does It. One scene stuck in my head, the one in which the chronically sleep-deprived main character (businesswoman/mom/wife/stress case Kate) is in her kitchen late at night. Everyone else in the house is asleep, but poor old exhausted Kate, instead of joining them, is resentfully wiping out the fruit bowl. I found this behavior beyond nutty. If she was so tired, why didn’t she just go to bed?
Time and two small sons of my own has changed my perspective. Those nighttime hours after the kids are finally asleep have taken on a whole new aspect. I’ve always been a night owl, but since becoming a mom I find those hours are often the only ones where I can get stuff done without interruption. So I eagerly anticipate these post-bedtime hours. I use them for writing, editing, correspondence, folding laundry, watching TV in a semi-comatose state, and yes, cleaning up the kitchen–anything and everything that didn’t quite get done earlier in the day.
Many times I’m sure my husband wanted to say (just like I wanted to ask poor fictional Kate): Why don’t you just go to bed?? (He would probably refrain from adding, You idiot! because he’s nicer than I am and he loves me.) But I feel these hours are too precious to be wasted. Plus, if I don’t do this stuff at night, I fear I might never do it, and it is a big-time bummer to wake up to a kitchen disaster. I know there are moms out there who feed their kids at 4:30 p.m. and have the kitchen cleaned and the kids in bed by 6:00, and I think that’s amazing. But I have never managed it. Not even once. So instead, after my boys’ (probably too late) bedtime, I typically conk out on the couch for a while watching a DVR show or two with my husband and then manage to get myself up and into the kitchen to pack my older son’s lunch and finish cleaning up. If my neighbors have ever happened to be up to see the light on in our kitchen, I’m sure they have wondered why I was wiping down the stovetop at 1 a.m. Sometimes, if I have a deadline, I proceed from the kitchen to the computer.
I’ve always been more productive at night anyway. In college my practice was to go to the gym at 9 pm, right before it closed at 10, and then head back to my room to study afterward. When I had a paper due, I was almost always up until the early a.m. hours. Even for a college student, my preferred hours were so strange that many of my fellow students later told me they thought I never studied at all because they never saw me in the library after dinner with everybody else. My mom is the same way–ever since I can remember, she’s been a late-night kitchen cleaner. It was not unusual in my house to wake in the middle of the night and stumble into the kitchen to get a glass of water only to find my mother in there industriously bleaching the kitchen.
But my post-motherhood late nights weren’t all about my strange genetic circadian rhythms. The other thing I now understand is that you start to get so tired that you feel like an extra hour or so of rest won’t even help much, so why not at least get the kitchen clean so you don’t wake up with an additional housework?
My boys sleep through the night now, so I’m not quite as mind-numbingly tired as when they were infants, but I still find myself checking off all kinds of to dos in the late night hours. I’ve often felt a little ashamed of my nocturnal activities, as if they were a reflection of my own lack of discipline. And maybe they are, but here’s the interesting thing. When I recently resolved to pray more, I resisted doing it late at night, feeling like those hours were already busy enough and that I’d just fall asleep, as I often did when I tried to pray lying in my bed at night. But then one night I was doing my usual late night chores and realized I hadn’t managed to pray that day. So I thought I’d try it out. I headed to my office chair, settled in and closed my eyes, certain I was going to pass right out. I didn’t, though. In fact, I felt surprisingly focused and alert. I also felt like I was able to listen so much better, in the stillness and quiet of the night.
I don’t know why this experience surprised me so much. One of the reasons I’ve always liked to write at night is that I feel like the lack of interruptions allows me to focus (always a challenge for multi-tasking me) and do my best work. So why wouldn’t praying at night work for the same reason?
There are several mentions in the Bible, particularly in the Psalms, of rising early and praying in the morning, but I also think giving God your best means praying when you are at your best, and for me, I guess that means at night.
So for now at least, I’ll continue to be the middle-of-the-night mom.
How about you? Do you do many of your daily tasks late at night? And if so, how do you feel about it?