I came home from an evening meeting this week to find my daughter’s most precious treasures laid out on my bed. I was delighted. And stunned. My heart reached out to her sleeping in the other room. I’ve missed an eternity of bedtimes this Fall.
When our daughter was younger, my partner worked long hours. When she wasn’t working, we travelled a lot. We lived abroad. We had visitors for weeks on end for most of a year, and I developed a long and portable bedtime ritual. I may be remembering out of sequence, but I believe we began with three Cuban lullabies from a CD my stepmom gave her. Everyone in the house piled onto a handful of throw pillows, bed pillows, couch blankets, and beanbag chairs in the middle of the room. We then snuggled together for two stories. Sometimes my partner or our eldest daughter would leave the room at this point – for dinner, or homework, or something other than lying on the floor with a toddler and a couple of books. After stories, our little girl circled the room for hugs and kisses and whispers “g’night.” Then I carried her off to her bedroom, adjusted the blinds, gave her one last kiss, and laid her in her crib. Every night. Wherever we were.
I cherish these nighttime rituals – this connected time with my daughter, no matter what the day has held. I cherish my little girl, and the evolution of these rituals, the hand she’s had in shaping them, choosing a new reading nook every few months, singing together a little Jammy Time song to get her up the stairs, and gradually shifting the responsibilities – for potty, for pajamas, for brushing teeth. She has rituals with her Mama (my partner) too, but bedtime has always been mine.
These days, once she’s ready for bed, we lay side by side, books in the air, reading together. Sometimes she reads to me. Sometimes I read to her. Sometimes we each read our own books silently. Then I tuck her into bed, tickle her feet lightly, and once in awhile, this is when secrets will come tumbling out. I delight in these bedtime rituals, and am always sorry when I miss them.
We do hire babysitters. She’s had relationships with a good many teens who teach her games and crafts, who braid or wrap her hair, paint her nails, give her ice cream, or let her stay up a little later than usual to watch a movie on TV. When they arrive, she mostly hugs us goodbye and dances into the dining room for dinner.
But sometimes it’s harder. On a recent date night, she stood on the porch in the rain, waving goodbye as we got into the car. The babysitter coaxed her inside, and we pulled away as she pressed her nose against the picture window in our living room with a dog nuzzling her chin.
And one evening last week, she refused to let me out of her sight until she’d scoured the house for a purple glass heart I’d given her at Christmas. “For you to remember me,” she said. Do I need reminding? Is that how she feels? She’s with me every moment of every day. By my desk, I have pictures of her grinning at the camera, climbing a tree with her cousin (in matching outfits), running along the beach with the dog, and laying on the grass at UW Madison with her sister. Everyone I’ve met more than once knows I have a daughter, and most of them know her name. I quote her on Facebook at least once a week.
I didn’t say any of this. “Thank you, honey,” I told her instead, when she handed me the long-lost jewel. “This is so sweet. I love you, Sweetheart.” I kissed her on the forehead and fished a tiny pen out of my work bag. It wasn’t glittery. It wasn’t sweet or sentimental, but I was on my way out the door, my ride was waiting, and I knew she would enjoy playing with it. I decided to give it to her as a gift the next morning before school. Was I missing the point? She smiled as I handed it to her.
Her talisman and mine make separating at night a bit easier.
So the night of her precious arrangement, my talisman was a bumble bee jewel and hers was again the pen. She suggested we hold them tight and hug them to us when we missed each other – the pen and the bumblebee. I set out our matching owl pajamas – her pajamas on her bed and my pajamas on my bed.
When I came home, her two most precious dolls were lying against each other on top of my pajamas. At their feet were a fluffy mommy lamb and her baby, alongside two Guatemalan giraffes (big and small, red and blue), her favorite bracelet (a deep pink band with a silver peace sign pendant), a chapter book (“Ivy and Bean”) and all her Brownie Girl Scout accessories.
My daughter’s treasures became a sweet goodnight she knew I would understand.
Do we lose this impulse as we get older – to leave the ones we love a message – a note, a song, a flower, a synopsis of our day, an installation of items precious to us here, now, in this moment? I want to reclaim this unbridled love, this impulse to connect, to hug our talismans in tandem, to feel each other even in absence. Not just with my daughter, but with my partner, too, with my family and my closest friends.
But more than anything, I want bedtime back! There’s a chill in the air now and my daughter has made it clear through words and action: Mami, you need to find a way.
At this time of year, it can be easy to forget but it’s the little things which hold us together.