Then, creeping into my drifting consciousness, an appeal.
“Mom? Mom. Mommy? Mommm-eeee.”
It’s persistent, like an alarm clock buzzer; but this one, I can’t turn off.
That doesn’t stop me from trying.
“Elle, go back to bed.” I mumble into my pillow, still hoping this is a dream.
“Mom, I really feel like I want to sleep in your bed.”
This confirms I am not dreaming. There is definitely a small child standing next to my bed, talking into the darkness. She is cute, no doubt, in her nightgown covered with ponies and her wavy hair askew, clutching a teddy bear in the crook of her arm. How many nights have I caved in to this? Told her, “OK, climb up here, but just for tonight”? And then how many nights have I slept with this small child’s heel pressed into my flank, or her bony elbow jabbing my eye socket, that teddy bear pressed over my face, her body like a cyclone tangled in sheets and blankets? And then how many mornings have I awakened, sent to the periphery of my bed by those floundering appendages, my body in some crooked, exhausted heap?
I am so tired.
“Please, Elle, go back to bed.”
What time is it? I swear I put her to bed, for the fifth time, at least half an hour ago. What power source is she gleaning energy from? Why can’t this child just fall asleep?
My almost-5-year-old stands silently next to my bed. I can feel her breathing on my cheek. Waiting. Quietly, unmoving.
Such a brilliant tactic. Elle waits until her father and I are too tired to argue – and that’s when she makes her move.
“OK,” I moan, resigning myself to yet another night as a guest in my own bed.
I know it is me, and not my daughter, who is ultimately to blame for the perennial crick in my neck that comes from sharing a bed with too many people. As an infant, she was a constant presence in our bed. As a new and naïve young mom, I couldn’t resist the temptation of pulling that little ball of fleece and baby breath into my arms at the slightest inclination. Our bed seemed plenty big for the three of us, then.
Nearly five years later, my husband and I are sardines stuffed in a can each night.
Yes, I am aware that I have failed some compulsory lesson of parenthood, allowing my child to sleep in my bed, and now I’m facing the consequences. But as I lay here, teetering on the edge of the bed as my oldest daughter sleeps peacefully beside me, her still baby-chubby hand splayed out across my chest, I have time to reflect on this part of our family’s framework. The year 2013 will mark Elle’s fifth birthday, and our fifth anniversary as parents. In that time Elle has grown from a fuzzy-headed infant with fingers as fragile as winter’s first icicles to a little girl who wears sparkly headbands and sings along to the radio and helps her little sister put her boots on. And, yes, still sleeps in my bed.
She lies beside me, taking up so much of the space that once was all mine. She lies there, dreaming little kid dreams, and I realize I am blessed to share this space with a child. It is smothering and uncomfortable and often leaves me with a crick in my neck, but this child, in her pony-covered nightgown and wavy hair askew, will not be a child forever. My time to feel a child’s breath on my cheek is limited.
I don’t know what the future holds, as the calendar flips to a new year. All I know, really, is that parenthood is a complicated, maddening and fantastic gift. A sacred gift I am lucky to have been given.
I lie next to my sleeping daughter, feeling my love for her like a vital life force that exists outside of my body. This kind of love is consuming; this bond between parent and child is indissoluble. The strength of that love and the power of that connection is potent enough, I think, to heal some of the hurt caused by the evils of the world.
How do I harness that living, breathing energy and convey it to do good? Tomorrow, when the sun rises and I am faced with the awesome challenge of raising two little citizens of the world, what lessons do I teach them? What role do I play in helping them create a better place for the next generation’s children?
It seems like a daunting challenge, but maybe it’s quite simple, maybe as simple as inviting them into a warm, inviting space, in which they can feel the strength of my love. And maybe that love will radiate beyond us and into the hearts of those who need it most.
And so this column is dedicated to the parents who lost their children – at Sandy Hook Elementary School, or to any other violence in the world – with love, from our family.