Sometimes, as a Mummy, the best things I hear, are those things that are said in the moments before sleep.
I know I have been lucky.
I know I am one of the fortunate few.
Our bedtimes have always (or almost always) been peaceful.
I often hear about other parents’ bedtime battles – arguments, screaming, whatever it takes.
I don’t know how we have managed it, but our bedtimes tend to be, on the whole, peaceful.
That’s not to say I’ve always been the most patient of parents at bedtimes. Oh no! I’ve bribed. I’ve begged. I’ve told the odd little white lie: “I’ll be back in a few minutes, after I have brushed my teeth” – knowing that she will be asleep within minutes anyway.
And of course, as society would have you believe, children should send themselves off to sleep… in a room… by themselves… in the quiet… and often in the dark… with no-one else nearby… in a short space of time…..
Now that I write that, it seems ridiculous. But I never really questioned it until recently.
Over the last few months my perception has changed. My bigger monkey will be 4 next month, and I suspect that she may be going through a developmental leap that is leaving her feeling anxious, insecure and in need of reassurance. For the last 3 weeks, she has asked me to sit with her in her room while she falls asleep. Or she has asked, at some point in the night, to come and sleep with me in my room. At bedtime, I am usually happy to sit with her for a while, but of course, I do not go to bed when she does. I have things I need to do. Things I WANT to do. A couple of hours of being me, instead of being Mummy.
Tonight, as usual, Daddy takes her up to bed, tucks her in and comes back downstairs.
Five minutes later, as usual, she calls out for Mummy.
I go up. I don’t begrudge it. I never do really, except for those times when I have had a mountain of planning or marking to do ready for my next day’s (paid) work. Everything else can wait (or be recorded – in the case of TV programs). Plus, I keep telling myself that other families have much worse bedtime battles than this…
So I go up, and I sit with her for a while, and she is calm and quiet… and I think that she is going to sleep, and I hope that I might be able to creep stealthily out of her room…
Suddenly she turns her head over to where I am sitting, beside her bed.
Her voice is like a bell in my ears…
“Mummy, please will you lay down with me and give me a cuddle?”
And in my head, silent to anybody else, but LOUD AND CLEAR to me, as if it were truly spoken aloud, I hear these words…
“My love…. I would lay down my LIFE for you…. my whole LIFE…. of course I will lay down with you and cuddle you!”
It is my inner voice.
My inner voice that so often is silenced, quashed, because other things seem to take priority.
My inner voice that has to shout to be heard above the clamour and din of every day preconceptions and ideologies.
My inner voice that has been gradually eroded, like everyone else’s since the day we entered adolescence and began to think for ourselves and have our own ideas.
Silently, I pull out the fold-up bed that I have been sitting on, and flatten it onto the floor; no wider than hers, but at least a little longer than a toddler bed – long enough for me to lie comfortably on. I grab the pillow and spare duvet that I keep nearby, and I whisper to her, “Come here, Sweetheart.”
She slides onto the mattress next to me and I wrap the duvet around us both.
For a moment we are both silent: warm, comforted and reassured as we hold each other close.
I breathe in the delicious scent of her, feel her little body in my arms, and I watch her eyelids flutter as she seems to drift into her own little world.
Then her eyes flutter open and she notices me gazing at her…
“Mummy, go to sleep,” she tells me, our roles reversed… or perhaps equalised.
“I was just thinking how much I love you,” I whisper, and the corners of her mouth twitch, almost into a smile.
“You must go to sleep, Mummy!” she urges. So I close my eyes, trying.
A minute later, I open one eye – partly to see if she has her eyes open or closed, and partly to get another look at that beautiful face.
She is wide eyed, and most-definitely awake. I open my other eye and smile at her.
“Mummy, I’m thinking how much I love YOU now,” she says, sincerely.
I pull her closer still, and my heart melts into hers.
“I love you,” I whisper.
“I’d lay down my life for you.”