I just had spring break last week, though it often didn't feel like it. I made a point to stay home as much as I could to spend time with the family, despite my falling further and further behind on my work. A typical work day for me involves going to work in the morning between 9-10, unless I have an earlier meeting, and coming home around 4 so I can spend time with my boys before they go to bed. After they go to bed, I decompress a little while, watch bad television and then get back to work, often staying up until my bartender/server neighbor returns home.
Somehow it's never enough time. My evening work is inefficient because of the television and my general exhaustion at that time of night. Putting overtired, often screamy, 4-year old twins to bed can be exhausting.
Over the break, I didn't have the 6 or so hours of time at work to try and be productive, so all of my work happened in the evenings. After a full day of exhausting bouts of playing trains or other versions of Calvinball, I put the twins to bed (with eventual help from their mother when she was done putting the 14-month old to bed). Then, television and work.
Unfortunately, everyone in the house except me fell ill with some terrible stomach-turning-bone-aching disease that made sleep impossible and eating inconsistent at best. If you've ever seen a 4-year old boy simply lay around on the floor all day, you've seen a really sick child. At night, when I really needed to work, one of the twins, Tiny, just couldn't sleep. He would start the night in his bed, eventually move to ours, and later still wake up unable to get comfortable until he and I came downstairs to sleep on the couch and in a sleeping bag on the floor. He would only sleep half-way decently pressed up against my body, blasting smelting-pot temperature heat and breath that matched. It was a trying time because no one was getting much sleep, but my wife and I were very sympathetic, despite our sleep deprivation.
The third night of his sleeplessness, it was like he had restless leg syndrome throughout his entire, nutrient deprived body, and his poor little 4-year old mind didn't know what to do. He was up at 9:30 pm calling and moaning. I went up to soothe him, but I quickly saw how uncomfortable he was. He shifted and flopped around. He sat up and twisted and turned. He was not going to be soothed by my laying down with him. I remembered reading that if one can't sleep, one shouldn't simply lay in bed, so I asked him if he wanted to get up. He did. We came downstairs, I turned off the television and all the lights and snuggled him on the couch until he fell asleep -- a matter of minutes, if not seconds. He was exhausted.
Here was my moment of clarity. I hadn't been getting my work done. My "adult" time was infringed upon much earlier than usual in the evening, and I was really feeling the stress of my job. There was no real crisis in our house. There was no need to rush to the hospital or worry about a dangerously high fever. But seeing my son writhe around in his bed, unable to relieve his pain and discomfort or understand why he had it in his sleep-addled 4-year old mind, I knew my evening and work were unimportant. Without hesitation I effectively ended my evening and my wife's by bringing my son downstairs, to the one place he had found some comfort. And he did again.
I've never really had any doubts about the priority of my sons in my life, particularly compared to work. I didn't reflect on this decision in the moment it happened. It just happened. Afterward, now, it is comforting to know that I didn't hesitate in that moment, I didn't act selfishly, and I reminded myself what is important.
Everyone is on the mend, getting some rest and eating better. And for that I am grateful.