After the sun sets, and the evening turns dark and moonlit, it’s time to say goodnight to my children. While it may be as simple as kneeling by a bedside or a kiss on their forehead, I still make the rounds every night; three boys and a little girl are sentences waiting to be punctuated. My parents started this ritual and their parents before mine, even if the particulars have evolved. In my childhood, we would say bedtime prayers, hands folded, head bowed. There were summer nights, feet dirty from running barefoot, my head wild with fairytale dreams, and reluctant to settle, I would quietly whisper words into the air. I can still hear the way my dad’s heavy footsteps neared my room then stopped, wondering if I was still awake to sweep his hand across my forehead, his way of leaving a blessing. As I became older mom would peel me up off of my bedroom carpet, when I had fallen asleep studying for an exam. She would find me with an open binder or book next to me as if it was breathing out its sigh of resignation:

I tried to prepare her, but….”

The notes would blur together into a language that sang me a lullaby instead. I would crawl into bed after brushing my teeth and try to pray before sleep invaded my body again.

Ten o’clock is the hour our house begins to quiet as we all wind down and shift to ready ourselves for bed. Teeth are brushed, faces washed, clothes changed. It’s also the time we put away all our fiery feelings and reconcile the tug-of-wars that spent all our energies. It’s time to chase all the monsters out of our heads, so we can sleep the whole night without worries jostling us awake. Time to repeat the same prayers my husband and I said as children. And, sometimes it’s meeting for the first time again after we moved about our day in parallel formations--beside each other, but never intersecting.

First, there is Hannah, her floor littered with dolls and doll clothes, along with artwork and craft projects that were interrupted and remain unfinished. Her long brown, wavy hair spreads out over her pillow like a mermaid’s. An accumulation of stuffed animals is piled besider her in a heap, leaning against the wall. Her goodnites are short and sweet, since she prefers dad’s company to mine. A dozen hugs and kisses are her only request. Evan rarely offers much in the way of conversation. His quiet demeanor is like a riddle that I try to solve with my jabs at smalltalk, instead he challenges me to a round of Alexa’s “Song Quiz” on the Echo Dot. I take it, making small strides towards connection. Music is our common ground. As I enter Derek and Brennan’s room, the nightlight has already punched it’s timecard and begun the evening shift, illuminating a tiny corner of the room in a star pattern, small slivers of light fanning out from its station in the wall-outlet. The boys are well past the age of needing this, but nevertheless, they prefer it over total blackness, perhaps just so their eyes can trace the same pattern of shadows on the ceiling as if following a labyrinth. Brennan prefers a back-scratch laying his head on my lap like a cat that brushes up against your leg making its plea for affection. Then, there is Derek, always last with his thoughts spreading like weeds over the wide field in his mind.

Me: Hi Derek 

Derek: Hey 

Me: I didn’t see you much today 

Derek: yes you did, I was here 

Me: but I didn’t SEE you 

There’s a difference between proximity and engagement. Did we come together in our conversations or did we argue, did our insides rumble with laughter at clever sarcasm, or did we speed past each other chasing our own endeavors..Did we really see each other?

I lay my head over his chest, the one that’s stretching into a young man’s. Muscles growing, bones lengthening, fuzz creeping onto his upper lip; Toes nearing the end of his bed with only an inch or two to spare. One year, three, five, ten his thirteen years flash before me and questions lurk behind my eyes—am I doing enough? Is there something that I am forgetting to teach him (all of them)? When they were babies I was good at the essentials. As they morph into tiny adults, it’s harder to tell if I am doing my job. The markers become less clear. They leave me out of their growing up, pushing me away as if we can’t exist in tandem anymore. They need me to loosen the apron ties. I hear Derek’s heartbeat. The steady, efficient pump doing it’s job, moving blood through his veins. The sound of life.. I tell him a story of when I was a girl walking through a heart at the science museum where my grandparents took me every summer. The stairs and tunnels led us through each chamber and we were tiny blood cells, streaming in and out of the valves. Derek, uninterested would rather have a different story—the one he is reading: “Mockingjay”, by Suzanne Collins. He reaches over to the dresser beside his bed, and he clicks his reading light on as my signal to leave. I kiss his forehead and turn to walk away, but he will still ask me to turn on the fan or close the door on my way out. These are his final words of a day nearing its end.

I think about an evening when I won’t do this anymore and it stops my own heart for a second. When these repetitions fade, will new cadences replace them? The heart beats the same, slower, then faster, then slower, but still beating ba bump, ba bump, ba bump, on and on. Is that how motherhood is too? It doesn’t really stop, it just changes. The pace quickens or mellows out, depending on what we are doing at the time? But, it never stops.

I am fearful of change. I am fearful of my children leaving me. I fear my heart won't beat the same. I know there is a natural progression. Once upon a time, I left my mom and dad, too. “They don’t stay little forever”, I often think when I see other women having their babies. Infants grow into toddlers and then it’s time for another. Eventually you have a house full of teenagers..

I am learning to walk onto new fronts with acceptance, acknowledging that these children were meant to become grownups too. No surprise, it’s been happening for centuries. As a mom, I need to fix my nearsightedness, retrain my vision. I am in the habit of keeping my eyes on what’s right in front of me, rather than extending my focal point to the distance stretched out ahead. Preparing myself to release them is held in balance with me training them for what’s next. Teaching them to have strong convictions, to know the heartbeats in their own chests, what sets them on fire, to know who they are, and what they stand for--these are how the hands of a mother work each day. The goal is to turn them loose into the world in order to leave their marks, just as I try to leave mine on them. Continue to hold them, but learn to let them go..and in the meantime there are still these sacred moments. There are still the last minutes of the day to say I love you, to sift through all the emotions and questions, to tell stories, to play Song Quiz, to scratch backs and give kisses and hugs, to say I am sorry, to forgive, to see each other and to mother them while I have them here with me a little longer.


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