Ancient History

Follow Me?



I’m still waiting for my pregnancy insomnia to pay off. It blurred me silly, but I found consolation in the theory it would train me to make it through late night and early morning feedings. I was wrong.

Squeaks and toots become sirens and foghorns at 2am. I look at the clock and think again? Didn’t I just feed you, baby? Didn’t I just change that diaper and lure the burp into oblivion with a bewitching jungle rhythm played out on your back? Last night I was feeling particularly grumbly about my lack of sleep. As I nursed Beatrix I thought about nursing the other kiddos in the middle of the night. With each baby, there were times I resented having to sacrifice my sleep but there were also many times when I was overwhelmed with the beauty of those moments. It was just me and baby. Drinking.

At night I find myself trying to scurry time with a furrowed brow and a heavy sigh, but I shouldn’t. As a reminder to myself and in honor of the other babies I faced nights with, I am defrosting an old post, taken from an older essay. I called it “The tender hours.” Here it is:


I wrote the following essay in April of 1999. Several months later I submitted it to a contest sponsored by MOPS, but it wasn’t chosen. This essay has always been one of my favorites.

The tender hours of the morning, young as my new son nursing, are not lonely hours. My home is quiet. The two of us are propped by pillows on the couch. One light is on. He is warm and his body is a little crescent curving around me as he intently nurses. We feel safe, and not at all alone.

My imagination, still a little dewy from an interrupted dream, rises through the ceiling, out the roof, and aloft over the stillness of our town. I look at the lights that are scattered below me. To the eastern mesa, to the plateau that banks the north, around in a circle my eyes sweep the ground. The lights are tiny, mirroring the stars above, yet they are few on this windy night.

If I were an angel, I could drift down and quietly observe this community of the tender hours.

My son and I, cradled together in our home, feel safe and not at all alone. Up in the night air an imagination can see all of the tiny lights and all of the mothers and babies who curl together in a hushed glow. Some mothers sing old songs into the curve of nibbled new ear. Others sway and dance, mother’s feet light under baby’s weight in her arms. Many babies hold a finger or a lock of hair as they swallow, serious and sleepy they pull closer to the breast.

Through the night we rise and settle, up into the chill of a dark room, down into soft sheets and blankets until the dawn. The sun seems almost rude as it intrudes upon the hush of an early day.
hush little baby
My son stretches himself awake. His milky little mouth yawns and forms into a pout. His eyes squeeze shut as he begins to wail. The bright yellow clarity of the day brings noise and movement, voices and the rush-around. It is rare when my imagination can soar above the restless humming of our valley and look down during the daylight. If I could, I would not be able to see the little lights that bathe the other mothers and babies as they spend their hours together. At night we are few, we with our one light and our child. My sky-high vantage tells me of my connection with all those below who rock and kiss and smile at our little ones as everyone else slumbers.

As our babies grow, so does our connection of the tender hours. Nursing gives way to warmed bottles. Soon we celebrate the milestone of sleeping through the night. Once again, the night glides over us barely noticed until the aching ear, the fever, or the nightmare rouses us from bed. A child’s voice penetrates the thickest of sleep. It lilts and weaves and finds ours ears. A child’s voice is heat-seeking, never missing its target.

My feet trip down the stairs to my daughter’s room. She has called me and she is sitting up, facing the doorway. She knows I will come. I feel her forehead and her cheek. They are impossibly warm. The flush of her pink skin is visible in her dark room. When I turn on her lamp to read the numbers on the thermometer, I send out my own signal, radiant…Here I am, in the night with my child…I rocked this child through her newborn worries…I nursed her and smiled at her dainty seriousness… I fetched a cool drink of water for a thirst no bigger than a tea-party sip… Her illness is mild. A cuddle and reassurance are enough to settle her back to sleep. I snap off the lamp-light and return to my bed.

But sleep does not come easily. I think of my daughter and pray for her health. Quietly God reassures me that I am not alone. I am not the first mother. My mother would turn on the hall light when I called for her at night. Her silhouette in the doorway, lit from behind, made her somewhat otherworldly. My rescuer. Sometimes I wanted something unimportant—a drink of water. Sometimes it was a terrible dream or a scary shadow. Most of the time it was illness. Her whisper, her flowered nightgown, her touch on my forehead—these things I remember as I lay in the dark.

My imagination rises to the crest of the sky. I can see the lights of the earth. I do not know the year or the cities I see. There are lanterns, campfires, candles, and neon signs. There is my mother’s light, and my great-great grandmother’s. Is that soft pink light my daughter’s? My valley, in my time, is small when I can see so enormous a blazing scene. The earth appears to be on fire. It is the love, the light of all the mothers and all the little ones, ever.

Such love comes only from God. Imagine His greatness, if you can, multiplied by infinity. This is what He has taught me as I care for my little ones. No, I am not the first mother.

But He is the first Daddy.

7 comments to Drinking

  • Oh I remember that one, it’s one of my favorites. That was just lovely Gretchen. I’ve been thinking of you often, wondering how things are going with little Beatrix. Sending some sleep your way.

  • Make the last nursing baby the best memories, my dear. 🙂 But how do I know you won’t go for 7? 🙂 I love that story.

  • I must say once again, that you have such a wonderful way with words!

  • Oh Mopsy, I remember those days well. As you know, they seem to take forever when you are in the midst of sleep deprivation, but they pass all too quickly.

    Love this post. It gets better every time I read it.

  • Night time feedings are the hardest and the best. It’s like doing a really difficult run. While you are doing it, you can’t believe you are..that you have to..that it was your decision to do this. then once it is all over, you feel such a sense of accomplishment. Such joy. You look back and see the good. The nice. Glad with surviving and enjoying

  • I remember that one, and how beautiful it is. That is such a brief little time, although while you’re in it the hours are streeeetched.

  • tim

    Ahh, that is lovely.
    Simply lovely.

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