At the day’s end, when I’m most exhausted, our youngest still makes sure that I come to tuck her into bed. As parents, this is something my husband and I have always been pretty good about. No matter how the day has gone, we make sure the last thing the kids hear before they slip into slumber is some variation of “Good-night-sweet-dreams-I-love-you.”
The act of getting on my knees beside her trundle bed reminds me that it’s time to be here, now; it pulls me into the present. Perhaps knowing that she’s about to be my sole focus, that she’s about to have my utmost attention, is what brings her to bed so giddily. She is usually very excited and giggily, or, if truly tired, she snuggles into her pillows and covers with deliberate intention, placing her hands together methodically and tucking them beneath her sweet, plump cheek before closing her eyes.
Sometimes she beats me to it.
“I love you, Mommy.”
Are there sweeter words? They’re like balm to my maternal soul that has been battered and wounded. All is well.
“I love you, too, Precious,” I reply, knowing that attachment is a dangerous thing, but the Lord of the Rings reference has become a running joke around here. She is, after all, very “precious to me,” precious to us.
Sometimes I linger a while, resting my head beside hers. Eyes closed, I listen for her breath to slow, to deepen. With older sister in the bed slightly above, I’ll send my love to her again, too — out oud if she’s awake, intentionally if she’s not. I settle into this supplication of devotion. It’s not a comfortable position, mind you. Circulation gets cut off at one limb or another, but I stay.
My hope is, of course, that the children will remember we tried to send them to bed with our love, even on nights when we kept them out or up too late and when they had long since fallen asleep. When they’re too big to carry, we sleep-walk them, guiding them in the right direction. (“Honey, your bed’s this way.”) Sometimes they need literally to be steered.
Every child wants his/her parent’s or guardian’s attention. We all want an outward and visible sign of the love that is either said too much or not enough. I suppose the nightly ritual we have going is like our parental sacrament. If the kids could experience this paternal love and affection as an outward and visible sign of an inward, invisible grace of God, then it would be, indeed — at least for us. I’m okay with that. It replaces the worldly attachment with a greater Love, one eternal and truly unconditional. It’s not my aspiration to make every evening sacred. It just is when it is (which is probably always), and some nights I’m more aware of it than others (and not nearly as often as I’d like).
Maybe I should start my days on my knees or on my meditation cushion, giving thanks for all that is and for the potential that is yet to be.
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This meditation led me to my Lenten practice of extending my maternal blessing to my children, morning and evening. I don’t always get to touch their foreheads, but even saying “bless you” or “blessings to you” somehow carries with it more deliberate Love than our vernacular “love you!” I’m working on it. As I said, it’s a practice.