I don’t know what time it is, but it is late. Teeth brushing and drinks of water, trips to the bathroom–all happened at least one hour ago, probably close to two. Two out of three children are sound asleep in their beds, and the hold out is a tousle-haired two year old who I can’t figure out. She’s tired–I can see it in her eyes, and hear it in the slightly hysterical laughter that turns to crying in a second. I’m tired, and don’t want to admit how closely I’m mirroring her emotional state. She will not stay in bed.
I carry her back upstairs and put her in her bed again, only to hear the litany of night-time requests repeated. “I need a drink. I need to go potty.” And then, when I finally attempt to go back downstairs. “Mommy! I need you. Lay with me.”
That is always the request that undoes me. At my most frustrated, tired point, those seven words stop me in my tracks. Guilty, aggravated, resentful… torrents of emotion twist my heart as I go back and wedge myself onto the edge of her toddler bed, gathering her small body into my arms.
“Mama, you’re the best,” she whispers, winding one arm around my neck. I know I’m not–bedtime is when I see my failing like a glare of sunlight off metal. But laying there beside her, I remember the mama I want to be.
Sometimes that mother gets lost in the craziness of the day. Sometimes she turns into a harried, struggling Scrooge who’s just trying to make it until bedtime. Sometimes she just cannot understand why the bedtime routine won’t go smoothly. “Why isn’t this habit sticking? Why do we have so much trouble getting this child to stay in bed?” From there, it’s an easy progression to the self-righteous, “How am I failing at this? This is not the mother I thought I would be. This isn’t the mother I want to be. It must be their fault.”
But then, in the still dark, with that fractious, sinful child heart beating close to my fractious sinful mama heart; my mind still throwing around questions and excuses, I remember the mother I want to be. And that mama? She snuggles up to the two year old until that child’s tired eyes close.
It’s so easy at the crux of each frustrating event to feel like this always happened and will always happen, but it hasn’t and it won’t. This is just a phase, with a child who needs me. We always say we’ll be there for our children and think of some hazy, far-off time in the future. But sometimes “there” is right now. Tonight. Snuggled up onto a toddler bed with the edge of the bed digging into your back.
Ultimately, I think these challenging parenting times are supposed to remind us of the parents we mean to be and the relationship we want to have with our kids: Never perfect, on our part or theirs, but seeking grace in the everyday moments. These challenging times in parenthood seem so long in the moment, but every age and stage of these babies is fleeting. One day–maybe not tonight, but one day–this two year old won’t need me in this particular way.
Our relationship is going to grow and develop and change through the years, just like we both will personally. I hope that we’re laying the groundwork here for a sweet friendship that will last through our lives. At the very least, I hope that she grows up knowing, whether she remembers this or not, that I will be there when she needs me.