Fireflies were pinpricks of light in the black night. I’d spent the better part of two hours laying beside my soft-skinned children, tanned from summer and eagerly awake in the new hours of our farm vacation.
Shaya held his blankie and reached for me. It’s easy to placate his needs. How is it so clear for little ones to know their needs and reach out to have them filled?
Without a crib for him to sleep in, I lay beside him on the queen bed, while Asher and Eliana jostled and fidgeted on the full bed across the room. Above, a ceiling fan spun fast. The window air conditioner groaned its way to cool.
Soon, Eliana slipped from her yellow gingham sheets over to mine, slid her hand inside my grasp. They all need me, especially these days, but she needs me most. Or maybe it’s differently, urgently.
Since she was a baby, Eliana has stayed awake until long after the sun sinks below the horizon line. Each morning, she sleeps late. It’s her rhythm, and the way she gets what she needs – attention and time alone with Mommy, even if it’s just in the shadows of my late-night phone calls or dish-doing or sprawling on the sofa in front of reruns.
The boys need different attention. Before bedtime, Asher tried to organize the kids into roles and games with rules. They rebelled as kids will do and his eldest-child, first-born structured way of looking at the world was dimmed a little. I remember that well.
There we were, in the hills of Appalachia, the sun setting in pastels over verdant landscape. I tried for hours to get them to settle into sleep until finally, one, then two, nodded off. I slipped to the deck to look at the stars I can never see.
Behind me, Eliana. “The trees are black and all connected, Mommy,” she said. Fireflies flashed on and off against the ever-dark. I chased her back to bed even as I smiled at her silhouette. I love this girl more than I can say and yet there are times I just need to step out of parenting mode for even a minute, just to breathe.
For six years, I’ve tried for some sort of order and routine, if only to control things just a little. Easy bedtime was never a given in my house. But nothing good comes easy, I guess.
My children eat when they are hungry and stop when their bellies are full. Their days rotate by the rhythms of their feelings. Some afternoons, Eliana lays down on the floor and falls asleep. They avoid bullies on the playground or push back and an hour later don’t even remember the conflict.
How are we adults so different? What happens to erase the perfect innocence of childhood and make us all fragile and complicated, afraid of getting close but desiring it so, so much?
My children don’t ruminate or contemplate like I do – they dive into their emotions at the exact moment they feel them, bring them to me or to their tantrums, and then a few minutes later abandon them in all serenity. Even memories of their turbulent moments disappear like the night. (Well, mostly.)
I haven’t been able to do that very well. But I would be wise to try. I’m making a mid-summer resolution to be inspired by my children’s innate wisdom and get back to basics.
In the mornings, perfect round pancakes melted butter and seeped maple syrup into knife ridges. The coffee lightened with fresh cream. The eggs had been wrested from beneath hens by my own children the day before. The daytimes are never a problem. It’s always the nights that keep monsters in the shadows, fears surfacing from under the eaves.
The second night of our trip, I spent a similar two hours negotiating, threatening, and laying on the bed with my children. This time, it was Asher alone who settled into rhythmic closed-eye breathing. Eliana cried and shrieked and tossed among the sheets. She got up when I said stay down, lured Shaya to her side when I insisted they stay apart.
My friend Ken took Shaya in his car for a half-hour drive. Just when Ken was convinced my baby was asleep, a soft, high voice: “Mary had a little lamb…” My boy sang himself into slumber.
When Ken returned, twilight had fallen and the hills were pulling on their blankets. Shaya was a heavy sack on his shoulder, his Thomas pajamas hiked to his knees. Ken laid my angel on the bed beside where I would sleep later. Eliana was still awake.
I thanked him with a smile. As Ken relaxed on a deck chair with his book, Allison and I snuck away into the complete night, to sip martinis at Breezy Heights lounge.
I could surrender to the moment and let my children overtake routine and order. I could let them spin until they drop, tired and spent, onto beds and floorboards. I could cross my ankles and read People magazine as they whirl in their own orbits. They will anyway.
On this trip, I couldn’t quite do it. We packed up the car this morning and drove through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and back into Michigan, familiar territory, where Shaya sank immediately onto the comfortable scent of his soft crib sheet in his room with orange walls and fell asleep. Eliana came down from her room only once (make that twice as I type this) before succumbing to the night, and I didn’t hear from Asher again after I tucked him in with his book.
Sometimes a vacation is a gift. Sometimes it’s an escape. This time, I wasn’t there. I traveled over the interstate and around mountain roads to a leafy green farm but my head and my heart needed to be home.
My house is quiet now and my heart is at peace. We all know what we need. But like the little children, we don’t always know how to listen to instincts and reach fulfillment.
I’m going to try. I’m really going to try.