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Hanging Pictures at One AM

We laughed at my parents for their hobby,

of hanging pictures at midnight, one and two AM.

We could hear them downstairs, ourselves comfortably snuggled in our beds,

drifting off to sleep.


Teeth brushed, bedtime stories read or told, made up in the moment,

our favorites.

Father tickling and rough housing, playing then ending the fun, time for sleep,

lights out.


Mother was already downstairs, rinsing the last of the dishes, correcting the papers,

endlessly grading, adjusting, prepping and planning assignments;

organizing them in tiny boxes to tick off one after another in a long neat row,

visually shown from beginning to end of the school year.


We laughed at my parents for the measuring and scrapping of the ladder,

at one AM.

But I realize now, that my parents had chosen to purposefully ignore,

the benefits of sleep and its necessity.


Sleep: and its promise of health, youth, weight maintenance,

energy increase, cognitive aid, memory storage and processing,

overall emotional regulation and positive mood boost.

Sleep: an elixir of offerings a parent craves but cannot have.


They couldn’t have sleep. It seemed Dad worked 20/5 plus 5-6 more hours,

just one more project to finish and ship, the one he put on pause to watch our soccer game.

He was an engineer, had his own business,

but if he wasn’t working, the company wasn’t working, no invoices to be sent.


We learned dedication. We learned perseverance.

We learned that you never miss church on Sunday and never let your children suffer lack.

We pulled a few all-nighters ourselves as we reached college, and we glanced over at father, while we trudged upstairs, bleary-eyed to bed, and he remained still working.


Mom could have tried to sleep,

in between the nursing sessions,

or toddlers waking up for a last drink of water

or needing help from wetting the bed.


She could have stayed in bed and let the day begin, as door after door in the hall opened,

and sounds of cereal or toast floated up the stairs.

But she was up, she was dressed, she was showered and hair blow dried and styled,

with make-up, socks and shoes on already when we greeted our day.


The dishes were done,

the six loads of laundry put away,

all assignments were graded,

and babies were cared for through the night.


My parents didn’t sleep for thirty years I think.


Perhaps, between the two of them together,

they shared eight hours of sleep each night,

split four for each of them or five and three,

depending on if projects or babies were calling out loudest that night.


But those new pictures were measured and hung,

even if it took until one or two or three AM.

Because their measuring and hammering, discussion and taking a step back,

examining the view of their newly hung acquirement, helped hold them together.


I think it was my mother’s sanity being hung up on those nights;

a chosen, tidy, neatly placed item of beauty she could look at the next day,

in secret delight,

while fatigue pulled on her body and chaos swirled in a kaleidoscope of demands.


But her one AM picture was on the wall, exactly 24 inches to the right, 24 inches to the left,

4ft 4 inches from the floor.

Lori and Danny had hung that together.

No one had called her mom, mama or mommy during that time.


And they had:

1. Purchased an item

2. Planned a location

3. Placed an item

4. It could stay there, exactly just so

5. Something was done

6. Progress had been made

7. She had created a look in her home

8. She had held an adult conversation

9. She was on a team

10. Dan loved her


My parents traded in sleep's benefits for thirty years, but gained what they wanted from it:

A career.

A family.

A home.



P.S. I didn't know I was going to write any of this when I sat down tonight, but have been feeling increasingly frustrated by my lack of time to accomplish anything beyond my household activities for a few weeks. I already always wake up exhausted but have been debating trading in sleep for the ability to have time. This is what came out! If you enjoyed reading, please take a look at my previous posts! I love to hear your thoughts.

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