every sleepy morning

cherry-ginger syrup_

I wonder how many photographs I have taken of food with a coffee cup in them. Probably not that many. Most of the phone photos I took with one hand while clutching the coffee cup in the other.

You see, I’ve been sleep deprived for years.

Our lovely daughter, Lucy, turns 5 next month. (Holy crap! How did that happen?) She has been the light of our lives, a constant source of joy and annoyance, a wonderful reminder to slow down, and more fun than I could have ever imagined. This kid cracks us up. (That’s her highest compliment at the moment. “Mama, he cracks me up!”) I wouldn’t trade her for anyone else, or any other experience, in the entire world.

But I wouldn’t mind if she slept a little more.

You see, after she had skull surgery at 10 months old, Lu didn’t sleep for nearly a year. For the first four months of our lives after that trauma, she woke up every hour, on the hour, all night long, every night. Every night. You probably understand why I don’t remember much of that time. Our cookbook edits were due during that time. Man, that was tough. Tough. Tough. I like to joke now that if a small child had not been involved, someone might have called Amnesty International for us. You have to joke. It’s the only way to survive sleep deprivation.

We get far more sleep now. She started sleeping for a few hours at a time four months after her surgery. But she didn’t sleep through the night, once, without interruption, until just after her third birthday. She didn’t start sleeping through the night a few nights in a row until after her fourth birthday. For the past year, we have all been sleeping.

Reading this piece about the powerful effects of long-term sleep deprivation has helped me to understand the first few years of our lives with her, and ourselves. No wonder our house used to be so cluttered with toys and laundry! (It’s pretty damned neat these days, especially now that Lu is interested in helping us clean up.) No wonder I used to eat pie for breakfast. {“Several studies have linked insufficient sleep to weight gain. Not only do night owls with shortchanged sleep have more time to eat, drink and snack, but levels of the hormone leptin, which tells the brain enough food has been consumed, are lower in the sleep-deprived while levels of ghrelin, which stimulates appetite, are higher.”) No wonder it seemed at times that we were stumbling through San Francisco fog, early in the mornings.

No wonder I drank so much coffee.

(Of course, we’re still hoping for a baby through adoption, which is a heartbreakingly slow process. We hope to be right back to sleep deprivation sometime.)

Still, it seems that Lu really doesn’t need much sleep. To my surprise, she’s a natural morning person. She wakes up singing, this kid. She wanders into our room between 6:10 and 6:30 every morning, ready for me to read her stories. This morning, she snuggled in next to me, tried to open my eyes with her fingers and said, “Good morning, Mama! I love you. Will you read me Peter Pan?”

She’s hard to resist, this kid. I shook myself awake and started reading about Wendy, Michael, and John, with her warm body resting in the crook of my arm and her eyes wide open.

Before you suggest that we let her stay up later, believe me, we have tried it. We have movie and pizza nights on Fridays, the three of us watching an old musical together. (Lu chooses the movie. We recently went through an Annie phase. This past Friday, we watched Beauty and the Beast for the first time and she was so rapt with attention and astonishment at the transformation at the ending that I was in tears.) She goes to bed later those nights. Up at 6 am. If we have a day in the city and come home late, she’s up with the first light.

She is herself. She doesn’t need as much sleep as we do. She’s happy and growing, healthy as can be, and she’s singing and dancing through the day. This is who she is.

And in the end, that has been one of the gifts I have been given since I became a parent. I see that my work is to put as much loving space around her, so she has the chance to fling out her arms and dance her dance. I’m not making her into someone I want her to be. I’m standing near her, watching with loving eyes, applauding when she curtseys and asking if I can dance with her.

There will be years of sleep later. (And if I can make myself go to bed by 10:30, I’m well rested. It’s my own nature to be a night owl.) Right now, I don’t want to miss a minute with her.

And so, I’m grateful that Danny sets up the coffee maker the night before, so I can hit a button and have hot coffee while I read her the first of dozens of books that day. I’m grateful for the cherry-ginger syrup he made to drizzle over oatmeal. And I’m grateful for every sleepy morning I have with these two.


Cherry-Ginger Syrup

Prep Time
Cook Time
Total Time

We’re big on simple syrups around here. A bit of work, some simmering on the back of the stove, and some straining is all we need to make a full-flavored syrup that lasts in the refrigerator all week.

Drizzling some of this cherry-ginger syrup is a good way to make oatmeal feel summery. However, it’s also great in a glass of fizzy water for a quick homemade soda. (Lucy calls them “fancy drinks.”) This syrup is also great in yogurt and on top of ice cream. But I probably don’t have to make suggestions here. You’ll figure out what to do.


1 cup
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 cup pitted cherries
1/4 cup grated ginger
1 tablespoon finely chopped lemongrass (optional)


  1. Making the syrup. Pour the sugar and water into a small pot. Bring them to a boil, stirring frequently. When the sugar has dissolved, add the cherries to the pot. Bring the liquids to a simmer. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquids have reduced to a syrup, about 1 hour. Once in a while, use a wet pastry brush to wipe the sugar away from the sides of the pot, to prevent burning. Turn off the heat.
  2. Add the ginger and lemongrass to the pot. Allow everything to cool. Strain the syrup.

21 comments on “every sleepy morning

  1. Terri

    Once Lu goes to school you can go back to bed.

    This recipe could be doubled, tripled, quadrupled, and then canned for cherry syrup goodness all year.

  2. Kate

    Please don’t be offended when I mix this with Bourbon and soda, because this is genius. Also, hoping you get back to sleepless-ness but then a quick return to restful nights!

  3. Janet

    My sweet little 5 year old sounds much like Lucy in the sleep department. She has never needed as much sleep as “the books” say a child her age should have. She, too, wakes us early (5:50-6:30am) every morning and is ready to tackle the day the moment her feet hit the floor.

    Thank you for the recipes & the wisdom, 5 years into gluten free (also dairy free) and I still struggle at times to figure out what to cook. I am going to have to buy your latest cookbook.

  4. diana

    this might be one of my favorite posts of yours that i have read. all the more so, you see, because lucy and i are birthday twins. yay july 21st babies!

  5. jo

    Our son Henry, who just turned 4, has never needed as much sleep as other kids. And we didn’t start sleeping through the night until after he got ear tubes a year ago. He’s a great kid, and I love him dearly, but we have decided one is enough. We just can’t work two full time jobs, earn two Ph.D.s, and care lovingly for more than our one amazing little boy. Good luck with your adoption process!

  6. Vickie Martin

    I feel you, but only by a fraction. My son didnt sleep the first 14 months of his life. I don’t remember much about those times and am not sure how I survived. He’s 14 now and cant get him out of bed on the weekends.

  7. Ginny

    I remember hearing parents talking about having to wake their newborns up so they could be fed, as some of the babies slept so much. My son never slept more than 11 hours total, even with naps, and never fell asleep in his stroller. There was too much to see!

  8. Ann

    My mother said I slept completely through the first 4 months of my life and then never slept again. (Of course I have. Just not a lot.) It’s weird having all sorts of extra hours that no one else has. Or wants. Lucy is going to rule at all-nighters in college.

  9. Clare

    You should know… of all the blogs bookmarked on my computer, my fingers rush to open your’s every day. Your writing is gorgeous sustenance and that beauty is reflected also in your food. Thank you so much for what you do. For being fearless (enough) to put such human thoughts and joys out in the world. You truly create a lot of good.

  10. Eliza B

    My roommate in college was just like Lucy- always up early as can be. It was in her blood. I’m jealous of morning people! They get to spend so much more of the day doing things. But also. I love sleep.

  11. LauraC

    Shauna, you couldn’t have said it better. Although my first child did not need surgery, he also did not sleep thru the night until after he was 3. Add in the second baby (thank God a much better sleeper) before he was 2 and I know why they use sleep deprivation for torture. You made it, we made it – YAY for us all!!

  12. Susie

    My daughter was the much the same – but she slept in two hour incremements for the first year and barely napped in the day time (it is very much a blur). Her baby brother slept through the night roughly the same time she finally did (at about three) and it was not a regular occurrence. She was always an early riser (6:30 was a sleep-in!) and a very light sleeper (tooth fairy visits are VERY difficult!) people always told us to keep her up later to fix that – we found the opposite would happen. If we kept her up late she woke up even earlier than normal, she would just be grumpy… so, no. Well, I am happy to say that my daughter is now eleven and she can now sleep in to about 7:30 some mornings, she can stay up a bit later and still manage a decent sleep (although she still won’t sleep in)… she is still a light sleeper too. And she hasn’t come to wake me up in the middle of the night for about 3 months (and that was because her little brother was sick and she heard him up!). Those days of sleep-deprivation when you are so tired it almost hurts – I am glad they are behind me… but my baby is growing up!!

  13. Erin Middleton

    I love that your daughter is her own unique self and a morning person. When I was a little girl (younger than your daughter) my mother had a rule that when we woke up we should each play in our own rooms until 8:00 am. This gave her time to wake up, have her coffee and some essential me time, before she gave us all her attention. It didn’t make me feel unloved, or damage me in any way. In fact, I learned to entertain myself and love my own company, and (possibly) develop skills that made me an artist. Here’s to healthy parents, and healthy children.

    1. shauna

      That’s great to hear! Lu loves to play in her room and for awhile we had it down that she couldn’t come into ours until 7. Somehow, after all our travels, it slipped. Time to start the routine again!

  14. KNatGU

    I think lack of sleep is something that bonds a child to their parents. Our little only went through about 6 months of it and it really was hellish. My heart breaks for your unending sleep deprivation, I’m glad the whole house is sleeping better these days.

  15. Gail

    My son (who is now 19) has always been one who requires less sleep than “normal”. He would nurse during the night from the time he was tiny and instead of falling asleep, he would look at me like “what do we do now?” He never even went through that teen thing where they’re famous for sleeping late. Ever since coming out of the sleep-deprived fog, I’ve always been grateful!

  16. Sunny

    Has it really been five years reading about Lu! amazing, husband was diagnosed just before you were having the baby. You helped me through that first year which was traumatic for us even if we did get more sleep. Thank you for continuing through the fog of these days.

  17. Marianne

    Our daughters didn’t need much sleep when they were little. In order to keep the rest of the family in good shape when they were around 3 years old, we told them it was all right to get up and play in their rooms but it was not all right to wake up anyone just for fun. After a few days of adjustment things worked out fine! Initially Lu might be a bit disappointed about missing her early morning stories, but she will love the fact that you’ll have lots more energy during the rest of the day. Great side effect: kids can be very creative in entertaining themselves at that age

  18. Rob

    The story of your family is an inspiration. Just wanted to let you know that reading the improvement in your daughter’s life and your family’s well-deserved joy truly cheered me up. Cheers and I wish your family all the best :)!

Comments are closed