It was dark, but I could still see my daughter staring at me in the quiet of her room.
Her eyes beamed like silent question marks in the stillness, her toothy smile like sunshine.
I could tell she was both surprised and delighted that I was in her room, rocking her. Normally, she would have long since been in her bed, listening to her glowing seahorse sing her to sleep.
Not that night.
Every once in a while, I get this urge to insert myself into my children’s bedtime routine. Normally, I take the “give me a quick kiss and hug, and then please go up the stairs with your father because it’s after 9 p.m., and I’m ready to be done with this whole circus,” stance during the witching hour.
Any other moms feel me?? I struggle with bedtime.
I struggle to be involved. I struggle to be loving. Mostly, I struggle to be patient. Oy, with the patience stuff.
By the time the evening is through, I’m spent. My children, however, still have questions about the moon or speed walking (true story) or any other obscure and random topic that children might want to talk about in order to stave off going to bed. The tax code? Sure, anything but bedtime, mom.
At bedtime, all I see are the remains of the day, and the leftover dinner on the table, and dishes in the sink, and toys scattered in every corner of the house. I can’t rest until my house doesn’t look like the set of The Walking Dead. I’m ready to sit down with sugary snack and bathe in the neon glow of the television.
Only last night, I felt this tiny pull in my heart to slow down. To walk up the stairs with them, and be the one to pull the covers up to their chins. I felt like I needed to pause and make the time for them instead of running around trying to restore order to the house.
No, it wasn’t carbon monoxide poisoning making me woozy. It was me feeling sentimental. Well, it was the sentimental pull and because the husband asked me to handle the last phase of bedtime so that he could go and take care of a few things.
So it was half out of heart, half out of necessity. Which, I’m ashamed to admit, is more than it usually is.
I coaxed my still completely energetic children toward the stairs, trying to breathe in a bit of sanity as I encouraged myself to be patient, and, most importantly, not hurry this last part up. The baby was already in her bed; all that remained were the older two. I can do this, I told myself repeatedly.
We three raced up the stairs together, and they both plunked excitedly down on their beds. They asked for books. For toys. They were doing better than they might normally have during this part. In a surprising turn of events, no one asked me to go back downstairs for a forgotten item.
Dare I say it??: We had FUN.
My daughter and I began a game of peekaboo. My son soon joined in. Before long, they were both squealing with delight at my funny faces, and from my tickling and they were thinking that mom is actually okay at this fun stuff. This was all much to the displeasure of the toddler in the other room, who was unhappy to be left out of all the fun.
I heard her cry for me through the wall, and I announced to my older children that the party was over. Before I left the room, and turned off the light, we prayed together. We smiled at one another one more time.
“Bonne nuit,” they told me.
“J’taime,” I whispered back with a heart so full I thought it was going to bust.
It was the first time they had beaten me to the punch, and uttered goodnight to me before I closed the door.
The baby had grown quiet again, and the temptation to head downstairs and slip into a pair of leggins and supplant myself in front of the tv with a bowl of cereal was high. So, so high.
Instead, I shifted to the left of their room and headed down the hallway toward the baby’s room.
I gently cracked open the door to my youngest daughter’s room, and quietly tiptoed over to the side of her bed.
She smiled when she saw me, but kept her head nuzzled down in her blankets. I sat beside her crib, and reached through the slats to stroke her hair. We stayed like that for a while, she with a sideways smirk and eyes that became heavy. Me, rocking on a squeaky ottoman, staring at her.
Every time this happens, I am amazed that I constantly forget. I forget that they make magic just by being children.
We ended up in the rocking chair together. Every few minutes, she would lift her head up off my chest to look me in the eyes and rub my face in quiet elation that I was in her room with her during one of her most precious hours.
Bedtime is such an important time for children. In fact, everything is important to them, if you didn’t already know (you totally did.)
From the artwork done at school that is now hanging on the fridge, to the lost toy they won at the carnival last year that you’re pretty sure you threw away, it’s all a big deal. Their little hearts make room for so many things. And all of those things are of the utmost importance.
Bedtime is an especially big deal for them.
They lay there in the quiet and decompress from their day, just the same as we do. And when that happens, the thoughts tumble out. Which is why my daughter and I were talking about speed walking the other day. Or why my son and I talk about dinosaurs or heaven or any other myriad of topics you could think of.
The funny thing is that for as much as I struggle with bedtime and want to detach myself from it, each time I make a point to lay my children down to sleep and not hurry through, and instead to savor those last remains of the day, I never regret it.
I do regret, though, that they don’t ask for me like they used to at bedtime. They used to ask their father to leave the door open for me in the hopes that I would come up one more time and say goodnight to them. They used to need me a lot more at bedtime than they do now. They actually used to need me for a lot more than they do now. And many times, I am so closed off and spent that they don’t get anywhere near the best of me.
How I forget, though, that not only are they, but I am blessed too when I choose to offer my children the largest portions of my time, my day and my heart.
In fact, each time I make a conscious decision not to rush through the day or submit to a checklist, I am all the better for it. Every time I make my children a priority, every time I offer them my best, I am making the tiniest step towards choosing joy. I am showing them that they are mine and that I love them wholeheartedly, they way that they love everything and everyone in their lives.
We all know that this isn’t always practical. There are going to be a lot of things about parenting that you’re going to dislike. Heck, stuff you might even downright loathe.
You may resent that you have to scrub poop out of the tiles of the bathtub every other day as your toddler goes through a phase of using treating the tub like a toilet.
You may resent that your children come right behind you and make a mess, an entirely different mess, right after you have just cleaned.
You may intensely dislike scraping play-doh out of the carpet, or wiping spaghetti strains off of the wall.
You may always feel like you are struggling through math or spelling homework even more than your child with a bad attitude is.
You may hurt beyond belief some days, but still have to put both feet on the floor and do the very best that you can.
You may feel like no one sees you, no one appreciates you, no would cares about any of those ridiculous things that you have to do.
You may have a ton of feelings about parenting, some of them negative, at a hundred different times during the day. But you will never be able to say that you regret parenting.
There is a lot in your life that you will regret.
Skinny jeans. Chunky blonde highlights. Platform shoes. That Spice Girls c.d. you bought in high school. Saying no when you could have said yes, or vice versa. Not putting yourself out there enough. Not stopping to do something kind for a stranger or a person you loved. Bitter words tumbling out of your mouth.
There is a lot in my life that I regret.
Parenting my children isn’t one of them.
One day, my children are going to know that they were worth someone’s time. In fact, they were worth a lot of someone’s time. They were worth someone forgoing their personal time so that they could be there for the last fifteen minutes they were awake each day. They are going to know that they were worth packing a lunch for every day, and all of those notes on their napkins.
They are going to know that someone drove them to Cub Scouts, or took the time to whittle wood with them and show them how to throw a baseball. They are going to know that they mattered greatly to someone, which is a gift that many don’t have.
Parenting might be hard. Every choice that you make and follow through with might be excruciatingly difficult. Like home schooling. Or disciplining. Or coaching their softball league. Or volunteering to make cupcakes for their class at school. Or laying in their bed with them after a nightmare.
It’s difficult work that requires basically everything you can give.
And you will never regret that you did.
p.s. I actually don’t regret that Spicegirls album. Can we still be friends?