Evie still sleeps in my bedroom. Her crib is tucked into a quiet corner where she can see out our tiny window. For a long time, the crib was irrelevant, because she’d sleep nestled against me, anyway. I never was very diligent about teaching her to sleep on her own. She came to us after a long, childless time defined by my husband’s depression, and after a miscarriage that came when we were healed enough to want each other and children again, and so late in my childbearing years that we know our chances are dwindling. So Evie is cherished in a particular way, and we’re both old enough to know that babies don’t keep. There was just never any reason to hurry her out of my arms.
But, alas, babies don’t keep, and she grew up and away, just a little bit, all on her own. She sleeps better now by herself than she does with me, and she loves her crib, her “baby bed”, especially if she may have a book to read, too, please. So we snuggle together for a few minutes in the “big bed”, kissing and hugging and getting last drinks of “wahki”, and then I lay her in her crib and tuck her in and say goodnight.
She calls me in the dark. “Mama? I la you!”
“I love you, too,” I whisper.
“No book,” I tell her. “Close your eyes. Shh.”
And eventually, her chatter dies away, and her breaths slow and deepen, and she sleeps.
I won’t pretend that individual sleeping arrangements are not a great blessing. We both sleep better now with a little space between us, when every sigh and movement doesn’t wake the other, at least a little.
But the other night, I woke to hear her whimpering in her sleep. I waited to see if she would settle on her own, then I got out of bed and reached into the crib to stroke her sweet, round head. Sometimes, a little touch is all that’s needed. But she popped up when she felt my hand, and in an instant, she was in my arms and draped over my shoulder. We tucked ourselves back into bed together and she rolled toward me and fitted herself into the curve of my body. She nestled her head against my breast where my t-shirt had fallen away, and I listened as her anxiety faded away. Finally, she drifted off again, and I lay there in the darkness, feeling her fuzzy hair against my face, her breath on my skin, the weight of her in my arms, not anxious to fall back asleep myself at all.
A younger me would have been frustrated by this interruption of much needed sleep. Sometimes, it seemed almost like the baby was a burden. Loved, yes, but the pressures from outside are so strong, always telling us women that there is more important work than mothering. Sickness, unexpected crises, and the ordinary demands of young children – so often, I saw them as distractions. From what, I don’t know, because I’ve always just been their mother.
But I know better now. There is no such thing as just mother. Mother is everything. To Evie, I am strength, security, shelter and love. And as I lay there in the darkness, breathing in her scent, holding her sturdy body against my own, I was content. Very tired in the morning, yes, but not too tired for my real work, because this is the real work.
And she’ll keep growing up and growing away all by herself, without me hurrying her along at all, so I’m just going to continue to savor it all while I can.