Sometimes it’s in the middle of the night when I feel the most motherly. It’s during those nighttime crisis that I get to use the mothering skills I squash down during the day, those skills that bubble up, eager to be used whenever the screams of pain or the whimpers of hurt erupt from the Roc. During the day if I hear an anguished cry I prepare myself as I follow the sound to the source, pin my arms down to my sides, still the fingers that ache to brush away tears, swallow the “it’s okay baby” and “oh sweeties” that gurgle against my teeth, arrange my face and voice to utter calmness instead of the loving concern that wells inside my chest. If I make the mistake and let loose those skills the screams get louder and shriller with frustration and sensory overload, eyes cloud with anger, and little arms push me away. During the day. I’ve made those mistakes, it’s hard not to, what mother doesn’t want to dole out comfort to her hurting child? Gather them up, band aid the boo boos, kiss the tears, snuggle the wet face and rock the pain and hurt away. It’s what we do. It’s what we remember our mothers doing for us. But I keep myself in check during the day, because I’ve learned that nighttime is a completely different story.
Those skills that are not wanted, not useful to the Roc during the day, are accepted, wanted even, in the dim haze of an owl nightlight with sleep a fingers grasp away. When a nightmare rushes the Roc to the surface and he awakes scared, sweaty, with tears on his cheeks nothing short of my body next to his, my hand providing a soothing deep pressure up and down his spine, and kisses to the forehead will do. When sickness strangles the air he breathes I can climb into bed with him, stretch my legs alongside his, wrap my arm around him and read enough stories to ease the annoyance of the “breathing machine.” As we wait for the magic of motrin to bring a fever down I can lay face to face, mere inches from the Roc and watch his eyes roll back into sleep as I sweep my fingers through his hair and across his forehead just as I remember my mother doing for me when I was small and ill.
This week has seen my feet skittering down the dark hall, only the glimmer of streetlights to light my way, as I rush upward towards the sounds streaming from the Roc’s room when everyone should be sleeping. On Sunday night I spied empty sheets as I swung his bedroom door open, and as I rounded the bed I found a disoriented and distinctly upset little boy on the floor. After convincing him to get back in bed I rubbed his back while he drifted away, then I honored his weepy request that I stay the night right there next to him. We both slept the rest of the night peacefully. Monday night found me rushing toward screams and a dreadfully disturbed Roc, who must have had a nightmare due to his incoherent mumblings about “not wanting to paint.” He did give a very clear but pathetically sad “Yes” when I asked him if he wanted me to rub his back. He quickly fell asleep again and I lay watching his eyes move behind his eyelids, wondering who and what in the world he had been dreaming about. Last night it was a fever. As I lay in bed with the Roc waiting to feel his skin cool under my fingertips I sighed. I hate that he gets scared, or disoriented, or sick, or startlingly uncomfortable in any way…but I do love that I can mother him at night. I love that I can free my arms to squeeze and hug, loosen my fingers to smooth sweaty hair, let my voice flow with love and concern, shush and sooth the monsters (or painters) away, bring comfort and ease when he needs it the most.
It is what I always ache to do during the day, but during the day it is not what he needs, and so I am strangely grateful for slippery sheets, bad dreams, and slight fevers.
I hope that doesn’t make me a bad mother.