My son hates bedtime. I was the same as a child. I recall lying with my head under the blankets, blood chilled, the hair on the back of my neck at attention. I couldn’t tell you what terrified me, but I dreaded being alone in my little room.
I’m lenient with my son’s bedtime because I recall these feelings. I lay down with him most every night, holding him close, answering his many, specific questions until he drifts off into a deep slumber.
People have advised me against it but the truth is, most evenings, I love being there with his freshly-bathed body wrapped in fuzzy dinosaur pajamas. He awaits his Daddy’s footfall from down the hallway, coming to give him one last tickle or karate chop, a last reprieve before surrendering to sleep.
For me, his bedtime means some much needed time to myself at day’s end. For his Daddy, it signals the close to another day where his family is thriving and protected, but to our boy it is the start of a battle to fend off the night as long as he can.
I know there will be a time not so far in the future when he won’t kiss me goodbye in front of the school, so I take these moments as long and as often as they are offered up to me.
Tonight, bedtime was delicious. I washed his hair in the bubbly bath, and because the house felt chilly I decided, instead of drying it in the bathroom, we could try something new. We hurried to his bedroom, snuggled under the comforter, and plugged in the hair dryer.
He giggled. To him, this unfamiliar gesture of drying his wet head while in bed feels like breaking an unspoken rule. I lifted the covers high to send the gentle heated wind down to our toes. He curled up into a ball and shivered away the last of the chilly air, a big smile on his face. I dried his head and watched his effort to blink sleep away.
I drifted back to being four again. My own mother nestled with me under the covers, drying my hair. This was one of my favorite things. I felt secure and warm and loved.
“Bed head” became a quirky inclination of mine, something I luxuriate in on occasion, but in this moment I realized that I had not done it in years. The last time was right after I gave birth and my mom came to stay for a few days.
My first days of Motherhood were sleepless and sore. I was unsure of myself, nervous, nursing not only this new, tiny being but also my own pains from the C-section. I was frazzled.
One evening, after a hot shower, my mom sent me to bed and entered my room with a hairdryer. I burrowed under the sheets and the moment I heard the familiar humming, I cried.
A friend asked me at dinner last week what I found most difficult about being a mother. For me, it has been the loss of my old-self. There was a time when, I was paid to stand on a stage in stunning makeup and costumes. I sang songs and signed programs at a stage door. Now I do three loads of laundry a day and play superhero games until my mind is numb.
The alternative is to leave the house every night at his bedtime to make a 7:30 curtain call. That I could not do.
The truth is, my choice to take a leave from my career has encouraged my spirit to express itself in new ways like teaching yoga and writing.
I never felt the longing to be a parent. I was passionate about my singing career and adored being on stage.
I had other children in my life -- even a goddaughter, but I never held a newborn until I gave birth to my own. What happened to me when I had my son took me by surprise. I fell into Motherhood with more passion and commitment than anything in my past.
I believe that the Universe is always tapping at our front door with life’s lessons. If we have a quiet mind and an open heart we might hear that tapping early on. If we refuse to answer, the Universe begins to thud a bit harder and on, until at last, if we are unconscious, the front door is kicked in, the rug pulled out from beneath us, and we are laying on our backs in the living room wondering what the hell just happened.
My challenge, as a Mother, is to hear the gentle calls at the door in the midst of mothering so completely. My instinct is to protect my son from everything but I am aware that if I shelter him from the quiet tapping he will never learn to hear it for himself. If I absorb each small disappointment, the lessons that remain for him will be harsher.
Eckhart Tolle says in his book A New Earth "When you play roles you are unconscious.” If I over-identify with the role of Mother I may not allow him to flourish, to fail, to learn his most important lessons. Allowing him disappointments is not easy.
I lay with his back curled into my chest, my nose buried in his downy hair, breathing in the lavender scent. I feel his long deep breaths and wonder if this occasion will remain in his memory. I pray that moments like these instill something in him that will show him how much he is loved by his mom and dad and give him the capacity to one day run his fingers through his four year old feathery hair, his own heart filled, overflowing.
The answer arrives in a squeaky voice that pulls me back to the dimly lit room.
“Yes, my little angel face?”
“Why are squids squishy?”