I knew it was going to be a long night. We’d had a busy day. My four-year-old had fallen asleep in the car. That only meant one thing. She’d be up until close to midnight.
We delayed bedtime as much as possible. We gave her playtime after bath. We read extra books. But as Sunday was inching ever closer to Monday, I had things that I wanted to accomplish, which ultimately meant that I needed to no longer be parenting.
I was ready to be finished talking, finished answering questions, finished spelling my way through political conversations and expletives, finished thinking, finished being touched.
We lay with our kids until they fall asleep. There are many reasons that we choose to do this, the number one being that it works best for our family. We understand that is not the case for every family, and we’ll continue doing it until it is no longer the best for ours.
After more than 30 minutes of tossing and turning, asking for a back rub, asking not to be touched, the same ”sleepy song” on repeat, my patience had evaporated. I was a kettle on the stovetop, bubbling and ready to scream.
I summoned my best Mary Poppins voice to articulate my needs in a developmentally appropriate way: “I need you to close your eyes and help your body sleep.”
She finally settled in response. My escape was in sight.
You know that moment when you celebrate too soon?
“Momma,” she said.
“Yes.” Oh, my clenched-teeth voice. Nice.
“I just want to snuggle.”
“I don’t feel ready to snuggle. I’m feeling very frustrated right now.”
I responded before thinking it through. I was lying in bed next to her, my back to her after she had kicked off the blankets and tossed off my arm. I looked at the wall and heard my words. I cringed. There it was. My fatal flaw. My worst personality trait. The one part of me that I most want to change. Was it something I learned? Or never grew out of? Is it a malicious attack or a defense mechanism?
I spend my day showering my children with love. I constantly offer hugs and kisses and snuggles. Sometimes they’re too busy or don’t want physical affection, and I respect their boundaries. I use my words to let them know I love them in so many ways.
“I see you.”
“I hear you.”
“I love you.”
I love them through meltdowns, I love them through messes, I love them as they yell and slam doors in my face. I stand there with my open arms, waiting for them to be ready. That’s the easy part.
I love them through their sads and angrys. I struggle to show love through mine.
My husband is so good at this. He can tell me that he’s angry and that he loves me in the same breath. He can stop mid-argument and offer me a hug. I sulk like a wounded dog in the corner, refusing to be touched, refusing to be loved, while I let myself fill with the dark cloud inside.
The thing is, in those moments, I do want to be hugged, to be cherished, to be loved. I know that he’s angry and that I’m angry. But those emotions, no matter how all consuming, are fleeting against this constant we have.
To say I’ve learned this is giving me too much credit. I am definitely still in the process of learning. I can identify when I’m doing it, almost like an out-of-body experience, and I’m working to change.
I made a choice with my daughter that night. I rolled over in the bed. Despite how grouchy and tired and annoyed and frustrated I felt, I wrapped my arm around her not-so-tiny-anymore body.
I could hear the smile in her voice: “I feel loved.”
I squeezed her a little tighter. There was nothing more important in that moment than helping her savor that feeling, than letting her know that she is loved.
Isn’t that all we want for our kids? Isn’t that what matters most at the end of the day? I hope that she will always feel loved. Even when I use my clenched-teeth voice, even when I tell her I feel frustrated, I love her. And I know that the only way she’ll know is if I show her.
Parenting has this way of taking everything I know and turning it on its head. As much as I proclaim that my children are my biggest teachers, it continues to be something that surprises me.
It was a long night. No doubt about it. But it couldn’t have ended better.