Sunday morning I woke from another sleepless night. Many women my age are familiar with the 3 a.m. witching hour. The tossing and turning, your mind racing, sleep elusive. All of life's problems looming so large and insurmountable in the dead of night. If you are a mother, it is not just your own worries that keep you awake, but your children's worries and struggles, and the terrible things that could befall them.
We're all familiar with the financial worries. Will I lose my job during the next restructuring? Can I pay the bills this month, along with the rising cost of food and gas, the additional burden of winter's heating bills, and if you have children, the summertime expense of daycare or camp? There is never a "good" month when you might be able to squirrel a few pennies away for a rainy day. If you're between oil bills and summer camp, the car breaks down or doesn't pass inspection. You need new tires or a new transmission or possibly even a new car. You kick the blankets off, try lying on your back, relax your spine, take deep, slow breaths. Sleep is elusive and you wonder if you have enough hours in the day to take on a part-time job.
Let's not even mention the staggering cost of college. That's good for countless hours of lost sleep, especially during your child's senior year. She has studied hard, taken the SATs, sent out the applications. If the scholarships and/or financial aid don't come through, how do you pay for this? How do you tell her you can't afford it? You flip the pillow to the cool side, pull the blankets up to your chin, listen to the rain dancing on the roof. Sleep is elusive and you wonder if you should refinance the house or take out a home equity loan.
Little problems become big problems. They turn 16, they start driving. You lie in bed listening to sirens in the distance. Sleep is elusive and you wonder, "Did she get in an accident?" "Why is she 20 minutes late?" "Is that rain or ice I hear pelting the window?"
Watching the news before bedtime is never a good idea. "West Nile virus was found in mosquitos at a lake in East Kingston." You stare at the ceiling thinking, "The girls are at camp in East Kingston." You roll over, gently kick your husband to stop his snoring, lie on your left side, lie on your right side. Sleep is elusive. Should you call the doctor tomorrow and ask if there is a vaccine against West Nile?
You've heard the old expression, "Out of sight, out of mind," but when you're a mother that isn't true. One night not too long ago, I came across the news of a norovirus outbreak at Yellowstone National Park. My younger daughter is living and working there this summer. My internal worry alarm went off at 3 a.m. I kicked the covers off, tossed and turned, then tried lying in a yoga pose called shavasana. It is a pose of total relaxation, therefore extremely challenging. Thirty minutes later, I got up and sent my daughter a text message: "Wash your hands. A lot. If you get the norovirus, make sure to drink plenty of fluids. Call me." The next morning, a good friend of mine sent me an email, concerned about the outbreak in Yellowstone. She'd seen it on the Internet. She sent me a link to the news article. Mothers not only worry about their own children, they worry about their friends' children.
Sunday morning, everything was different. I woke to the news of George Zimmerman's acquittal and cried for Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin and the terrible loss of their 17-year-old son, Trayvon. Since then I have spent my sleepless nights worried about young black men in America. I feel the fears and hopes of their mothers, lying awake in their beds. I try to think of what I could say to them, to calm their fears and help them sleep. Most of the time, when morning dawns, your worries no longer seem so insurmountable. You crawl out of bed, tired, knowing you will probably nod off at your desk by two in the afternoon. But with the sunrise comes the knowledge that you will get through your work day and you will solve those problems that kept you awake the night before. You will fill out the FAFSA form and hope for the best, your husband knows a mechanic who will fix the transmission for half the price, deaths from West Nile are very rare, especially among healthy teenagers.
But what do you say to Sabrina Fulton and Tracy Martin when their unarmed 17-year-old son's assaulter was acquitted because of a law that allows him to claim self-defense and shoot to kill? Due to George Zimmerman's acquittal, he is now entitled to carry a gun once again and as his lawyer said, "He is going to need it." Need it for what? To protect himself from more unarmed 17 year olds? Only in America can a young black man go on trial for his own killing. Sybrina Fulton has said, "God is healing my heart." She and her husband are far more honorable and forgiving than I could ever be.It is scary as hell out there if you are the mother of a young black American. My problems seem easy to solve compared to yours. You worry about keeping your child alive while walking the streets of America carrying Skittles and wearing a hoodie. I have no words to calm your 3 a.m. fears. All I can tell you is this, I recently moved to Florida and I am a registered voter. This law is wrong and it is dangerous. As you toss and turn your pillow to the cool side, please know that I too am awake, and in the darkest of nights, my thoughts are with you. As morning dawns, I hope we as a nation find a way to conquer your fears. But as Robert Frost once wrote, "We have miles to go before we sleep."