After a full day of teenage angst, sibling squabbles, and endless questions from a curious 11-year-old, peace has finally descended on my home.
All I can hear is the hum of the air conditioner and the occasional creaks of a house that is well used and well loved.
This is the time that dreams are made of.
Or more accurately, this is the time I should actually be dreaming. Everyone else in my house is sound asleep.
But not me.
It's not that I can't use the sleep. I spend most of my days in an exhausted stupor. I have been known to doze off while standing with a cup of coffee in my hands.
Yesterday I spent two minutes trying to wash off what I thought was mascara under my eyes, only to discover that it's dark circles underneath them.
No question about it, I need the sleep. Yet I just can't give up my midnight rendezvous with someone I don't get to spend nearly enough time with: me.
There is something about the middle of the night that is just too seductive for me to resist.
I don't have to worry about a call from my daughter's special needs school telling me I need to send in yet another form, or a nurse from one of three schools informing me that one of my dears is sick. No texts from my 17-year-old telling me that he forgot his book for English or reminding me he needs to be picked up at 4:00 p.m. Not even a call from my husband telling me his train is late again or asking me if we need milk.
All my chickens are present and accounted for.
I can breathe. A feeling of serenity comes upon me.
Some nights I just lie in my bed listening to music and the sounds of Joe breathing. Sometimes I catch up on a movie or TV show from the DVR.
But mostly I'm on the computer working or communing with other digital moms in blogger nirvana.
When I was growing up in the dark ages, before computers and movies on demand, my mother used the hours after midnight to indulge her passion -- cleaning.
As a young girl, I would go downstairs to get a drink of water only to end up scaring her half to death as she was scrubbing the kitchen floor on her hands and knees -- too lost in her own thoughts to hear me approaching from behind.
It was not uncommon for my sisters and me to bruise an arm or leg as we woke in the morning because we happened to walk into the living room completely rearranged by mother at 3:00 a.m.
I could never get over how much that woman was able to accomplish while we were sleeping.
I cherished the times I would find her wide awake and engrossed in some household task. She would greet me with a warm, reassuring smile as she polished the silver, or cleaned out the fridge.
She was my willing and captive audience. I could tell her about my day, or what boy I liked without having to worry about being interrupted by one of my sisters or a call from her office. I loved it.
Mom was a great sport about it. Never once did she complain that I was interrupting her time or make me feel unwanted. For that I thank her.
She might even deserve sainthood for it because now I know how precious the hours between midnight and sunup are for a mom.
As tired as I get and as much as I may regret my lack of sleep the next day, I treasure my nightly solitude.
I also love to watch my three children sleep. The same kids that had me contemplating boarding school hours before now look like angels as they hold their pillows the same way they did as toddlers.
Memories of babies lying in my arms fast asleep after a 2:00 a.m. feeding come flooding back.
I would sit in my rocking chair and will myself to remember the feel of a sleeping newborn, or the sweet smiles of a toothless 6-month-old.
The time has gone by so much faster than I could ever have imagined. Each day moving faster than the next. Much sooner than I care to admit, I won't need the quiet of a sleepy house to recharge my spirit. My children will be grown and gone.
I guess I'll sleep then.
For now I will enjoy my peaceful sleepy house. And remember to buy a better concealer for the circles under my eyes.