My children are at a good age right now: after bedtime, my husband and I congratulate each other and fall onto the couch to decide what is next: chores, or bed, or reading or watching a movie. There will be no bed-wetting, no diapers, no needing a bottle of milk, no waking, most nights. We’ve been parenting toward this for a long time.
So last night we offered to care for Lila, a three-year-old neighbor. When she arrived with a huge diaper bag, complete with pull-up diapers, toothbrush, pjs, a blanket and a teddy bear, we parents turned to look at each other. Oh, yeah, I remember what that was like! Yeesh, what if we mess up?
Everything went smashingly up until bedtime. Lila gobbled down our homemade chicken soup, a pile of strawberries for dessert, and proudly showed us how she brushes her teeth. We found Brendan’s outgrown folding bed in the attic, and outfitted it for a sleepover. She enjoyed the ritual reading of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. She did not mind the dark and remained quiet for a long time. Half an hour passed, and then I heard the wail, “ I WANT MY MOMMY!”
Uh-oh. I picked her up quietly, trying not to rile up my two (impossible), trying to settle her in. “Do you need to go to the bathroom before bed, sweetie?” She nodded. Madeleine took this opportunity to discuss bathroom habits at length until I was able to hush her. Lila and I walked quietly to the bathroom, where she told me she “goes by herself.” I held her hand as we walked back to the darkened bedroom and once again I halted Madeleine’s lecture.
With a sigh, I picked up Lila and put her head against my neck, rocking to a slow waltz rhythm. Twenty minutes passed. When she went limp, I stood up to put her in the bed, which of course woke her, so we were back to the chair. “I am too hot,” I thought. “I have independent children so I don’t have to do this. I was just in the middle of a project.” I considered the near-slavery I felt during bedtimes past.
Then Lila offered the tiniest yawn, and then a second one, and her lightness in my lap reminded me of the goodness of near-slavery, of having no choice but this: to care for a warm little being in need. I sat in the corner chair with Lila for another hour, in the dark with my own thoughts and this little rhythm lulling. Her mother arrived to take her from my arms. We draped her in the blanket for the walk home.
Warm and sleep-drunk myself, I skipped my project and went to bed, too. The old days: that’s exactly what happened in the old days.