Saturday, November 22, 2014

Shutting it off

When I was little, I made my way as often as possible to my parents' bed.  I'd snuggle up between them and the sleep that so stubbornly eluded me in my own room would cover me there.

When I was too old to sleep between them, they would often find me lying on the floor, sound asleep beside them.

When I was older still (embarrassingly older), I would sleep at the top of the stairs.  Right outside their open door.  It was only a few steps from my own room, just across the hall, but it was enough.

On nights I couldn't sleep I'd call out across the hallway.  I hated to think I was the only one up, all alone in the dark, with nothing but my thoughts.

Oftentimes my dad would come in and sit at the edge of my bed.  He'd stroke the top of my hair and say, "Just try to turn off your brain."  And I'd squeeze my eyes and try my hardest to flip that switch, but it was too dark and I couldn't ever find it.  So I'd slide a flashlight under my covers and read until my eyes were rimmed with fire and my brain begged for sleep.  And even then I often snuck across the hall, where I'd find that elusive switch, every time.

Marriage, for me, was a welcome respite from insomnia.  Someone was always in my bed.  (It was Joel, in case you were wondering.)  And even though I couldn't handle ANY touching when it was time to sleep, I loved having him there.

For the first time in years, if ever, I slept.  Really slept.  The second my head hit the pillow.  After countless nights trying to force sleep on my restless mind, I had found my peace.  My safe, little nook in the world.

On the rare occasion that Joel left overnight you could predictably find me at my parents' or his, kids in tow.  I would not, could not, go back to sleeping alone.

Unfortunately that wasn't an option when we moved abroad.  And on nights like this, when Joel's away, the bed looks barren.   Empty.  Even with the giant baby in the middle.

I used to pace our hallways when he was gone.  Flipping the switches.  Checking and double checking the locks.  Lying my hand on the slow rise and fall of our boys' chests.

I'm better now.  Slightly less compulsive.  But I still hate it.  I still startle awake in the middle of the night with the feeling that something is not quite right.  With the knowledge that something's missing.  And I wait until he's back to settle into a good night's sleep.  To really relax.

Tonight I had all kids in bed by eight.  Two were even sleeping.  But as I sat down with my computer and a glass of red wine I heard a soft whimper.

"What's wrong?" I called up the stairs.

"I'm scared," came his little voice.

Since we all know I wasn't about to repeat the other night, I rushed right to his side.

"What are you scared of, buddy?"

"I'm just scared."

He bunches his covers under his chin, looks up at me with those piercing green eyes.  He's waiting to see what I'll do for him.  Or not do.

There are three of them in my house.  Kids, that is.  One of whom needs me to fall asleep.  Every single night.

By the end of the day I'm tired, and if I'm going to land in anyone's bed, it better be mine.

But sometimes they look at you in just the right way and you know you'll regret it the next night when they call for an encore, but you shove their small body over anyhow, and climb in bed beside them.

You stroke the top of his hair and whisper the words, "Just shut off your brain," and you watch as he fights to keep those heavy eyelids open.  Until they flutter one last time and surrender, with your fingers resting just above.

You smile a little before you get up and head downstairs.  Because you know it's so special.  That you're the special one here.  You.  The giver of peace.

And just like I once fell asleep in my parents' doorway, and just like I now search for my husband's still form beside me, so my children need me.

Not every night.  But sometimes.  When all is not right, they need me.  To slow them down.  To shut off their tiny, restless minds.

It's a strange power.  But it's mine.  For now, at least.

I'm their switch.  When they can't find it anywhere else, they'll find it in me.  Not always.  But tonight.  And tomorrow for sure.

So good night, little ones.  Rest easy.  Mama's here.

1 comment:

  1. Oh Kim, i love this...and I think too little 'scared' boy is middle child and somehow that makes sense too. This is a beautiful, powerful piece...'apples and trees' my dear girl, 'apples and trees'. S