Posted by: Michelle Mitton | June 6, 2008

The Last Child

LillianThe knock on the door was so quiet you wouldn’t have thought I’d hear it, just three little taps with pauses in between but I was instantly awake. My mom brain has been trained to hear everything that goes on in the house as night–I don’t think I’ve slept completely through the night since the day Grace was born.

“Come in,” I said, full of anxiety because interruptions in the middle of the night are never good news. Lillian opened the door and she was sobbing. Not just a sniffling thing where she works every tear for pity points but sobbing-—her eyes were splotchy and her shoulders were hunched up and she was shaking with the force of it all.

“I’m scared! The wind is blowing the house down and I’m scared!” she said, nearly hysterical.

I’ve never been a very patient mother, I really do try to be calm–I promise I try–but I tend to push my kids along in an rush for efficiency and I don’t stop for much along the way. But . . . when there are emergencies I’m good. I’m not sure why but my emergency protocol programming kicks in and I’m patient and I know just what to do. Must be the adrenaline or something.

So though I can be less than an ideal mom during the day–especially during that critical 5-7 pm period where I’ve reached the absolute limit–when the kids wake up in the middle of the night I kick into emergency overdrive because they’ve always been good sleepers and they only wake up if it’s serious. You know, when their bodies tell them that the three pounds of hot dogs they ate at the park that day aren’t working and they end up doing a Jackson Pollock down the steps of their bunk bed?

It’s not that I like the midnight messes or traumas–not at all–but there’s something so sad and sweet about the kids when they’ve got sick in the middle of the night and they just need help. Once I’ve come to their rescue they’re always full of gratitude and they know that though I might have messed up during the day I really do love them and am trying my best.

I grabbed her and rolled her over the top of me to lay her down between Andrew and me in the bed and I wrapped my arms around her. She snuggled right down against me and her trembling sobs bubbled up all of my maternal instincts.

Her little body was so warm and soft, I held her tightly, stroking her head and cheek until she relaxed and could finally hold still. After a while she began to breathe evenly and I thought about all the late night feedings I’d been through and all the times the kids had woke up sick or scared and I actually enjoyed the memories–something I never thought I’d live to say.

She needed me and all I could think of was how wonderful it was to have her little arms around me and that it might be the last time my children wake up scared in the night looking for me. It hasn’t happened in about a year and the next time she’s scared she might not need me at all. Though the goal is to have my children happy and independent I’m not ready to give up those special parts of my job quite yet. I wish I could always be that patient and that I could have enjoyed every past sleepless moment as much–I’m afraid I was substantially less thrilled about an interrupted night’s rest when the others were small.

I would have let her stay there for much longer but I was afraid she’d wake up Andrew so after fifteen minutes I whispered, “Are you ready to go back to bed?”

She whispered “yes” so I tucked her in her bed and went back to my own but I couldn’t sleep—I almost hoped she’d wake up again but she didn’t.

Some day I’m going to be seventy and gray and I’m going to miss this part of my life.

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