The last few days of my life with my daughter are evaporating before my eyes. There just isn’t enough time and she needs me so much right now. Of course, she needs me so much because of the impending change, but that’s logic and right now, logic plays a role in the chorus in this production while emotions take center stage.
Going to bed has been ever harder for the tot in the last half a year. Once she had gotten a good routine down for night-night, she’s almost always gone to bed easily. Some age-appropriate nonsense, but all do-able. The occasional struggle. The once-in-a-blue-moon stay awake for over an hour in there, cripes, will she just go to sleep already? Then she hit the age where imagination gets unwieldy and night shadows started to scare her. We developed a few coping strategies (an LED flashlight that can stay on all night and not get hot, a “game” of spraying monster repellent anywhere she deems necessary, and a reminder that monsters are in our imagination so the repellent really works), but those are not enough right now.
She has a new routine of getting very sad when it’s time to turn on the flashlight and turn out the story-reading lamp. She says she’s afraid. Afraid of what? I ask. She cannot tell me. We spray for monsters and I go to the door, where I’m hit with a long series of delays. “Wait, mama! Don’t go! Wait! I want to tell you something.”
“Tell me one thing,” I say.
She hems and haws and makes up a nonsensical tidbit. I keep my response short and to the point and turn to leave.
“Don’t go!” She closes her eyes and half-cries. “I’m having a bad dream!”
“You’re not asleep, so it cannot be a bad dream. Tell me what you are thinking about.”
But she can never name what she is scared of. She just wants to keep me there.
A week or two ago, I introduced an incentive program to reduce the incredible stalling and resistance that now accompanies the getting-ready-for-bed routine. If she could do it all and do it cooperatively, I’d lie down in bed with her. I knew this would be a great temptation since a sleeping companion is what she craves during the nights when she has nightmares. It worked a few times, but lately we are back to the resistance, so the first threat of loss of privilege is to lose the incentive. After that, I take away one story at a time, based on how much time she’s wasted. Last night, I saw that I might have the consequences weighted backwards.
She refused to get her jammies on repeatedly, until she lost the privilege of my lying down with her. When it came time for me to leave the room, we had the customary “I’m scared”/”Of what?” exchanges, and I told her to lie down and think happy, sleepy thoughts and I would be back in five minutes to check on her. (I always go back, sometimes in ten minutes, and she is always asleep, so it’s not like she’s having a simple case of the “can’t-turn-my-brain-off-for-sleep”.)
At about seven minutes post-promise, I went back there. I opened the door, and she didn’t stir. I waited to listen to her breathe, but it was so quiet that I couldn’t hear her. I saw her lovey positioned to fall off the bed, so I risked it and went all the way in to her bed.
When I moved her lovey to a more secure position, the tot grasped her more firmly and muttered in her sleep, “scared…. scared…”. Then she opened her eyes a bit, saw me, and sat up.
I couldn’t just leave, so I climbed in bed with her and told her to lie down, close her eyes, and keep breathing. How could I not?
I lay there while she drifted back into sleep and it dawned on me that the reason she cannot name what she is scared of is because she is scared of the unknown. But she’s four, so she doesn’t have the words for that yet. Crap, I’m thirty-five and I can’t always put my finger on it.
I lay there and thought about the presidential debate on tv in the other room. I thought about a baby who is coming, whom we don’t know, whom I can’t love until I meet him, and I thought about the world falling to pieces in a giant clusterfuck made worse by politics and who’s going to be left holding the remains? I thought about all the things that are going to happen and we just can’t know how hard it’s going to be until they get here, and I thought, I’m scared too, baby. I’m scared too.
I am holding on to the few days we have left as a family in this shape, waiting both eagerly and apprehensively for the change that is coming. It is a purgatory I never could have imagined until now.
I wrote this before anyone else in the house got up. When the tot got up, I asked her if she remembered waking up or me lying down in bed with her the night before, and – for better or for worse – she did not.