Tonight my husband was out for the evening with some friends so the task of putting our kiddos (4 years old and 16 months old) to bed fell on me for the evening. Both kids are challenging to get to sleep. Both demand excessive cuddles. Physical presence.
That’s why my husband and I usually divide and conquer – I put the oldest down and he does the youngest. But tonight a difficult task was made more difficult because my 4 year old knew I was leaving for a trip the next day and would be gone for four days.
I told him to go to his room and look at some books while I got his brother to sleep. Usually he’s willing to do it. Tonight he refused.
My first instinct was to be angry. “Go!” I made my tone firmer.
I started coming up with punishments. “If you don’t go NOW, I won’t read you another bedtime story.”
Major fail! He looked close to tears.
“Mom, I want to be with you.”
Finally, instead of just hearing his words, I listened to his heart.
Was he ignoring my wishes? Yes. Was he making it more difficult for me to put his brother to bed? Yes. But how could I be angry when he needed me? Even if it was only a perceived need, it was very real to him. I felt terrible for treating him so dismissively.
I scooted over and made room for him on his brother’s bed. I was now sandwiched between my two babies. The 16 month old did his typical evening tango. Rolling toward me, putting a hand on my face, an arm around my neck. Holding me tight. Then rolling away only to repeat the same dance a few moments later.
At one point when it seemed they were finally both asleep, I tried to extricate myself from their grip. My 4 year old’s sleepy eyes fluttered open. His body tensed. “Are you leaving now?”
I shook my head. I made myself comfortable. Again. No use being in a hurry.
As I lay there I started to think about the children in detention centers at our border.
Children with no one to put them to sleep.
Children as young, or younger, than my children.
Children who have their own routines of falling asleep which have been completely disrupted.
Children who have no one to give them comfort and no way of understanding why they are in their current situation.
I am leaving tomorrow for a work trip, but I know the separation from my children is temporary. I will be back in 4 days. I also know that my children will be in the care of my husband. Their father. He will be there to remind them that Mom will be home soon.
As I finally crept out of the room, I thought about the empty space in the bed. The gaping hole between my children where I had once been, giving them all the comfort they needed to fall asleep. I thought about the gaping hole in the lives of these children whose need is very real – and how as a storyteller, as a mother, as someone’s child — I owe it to them to raise my voice until that hole is filled.