Last night when G's fever was worst and I couldn't get him to sleep away from my body, the girls patiently entertained themselves by holding a glow-in-the-dark party. I wanted to put him quickly in his bed and tend to their nighttime routine, but G never agreed to my absence. He awoke five minutes after I left him, again and again and again. The girls bent glow sticks into bracelets and arranged them in each room of the house, shutting off lights and admiring their art and reilluminating the house to move their traveling show a room over. I was helping to bend a stick when G screamed for me. Being sick is awful. Being sick and alone in the dark is worse. I shushed him and patted him and handed him a glow stick and he slept, just long enough for me to shush girls into brushed teeth and 'jamas, but not long enough for stories.
This is the worst of alone-parenting. When they were littler (say, just-four and two-and-a-quarter and newborn), the mere thought of managing all three alone terrified me. It has never gotten easy, but it's gotten manageable. I can head into one of the lovely husband's business trips with some advance work and a pep talk (and maybe daily permission for afternoon coffee) and we will all be fine.
But when things fall apart, it's still awful. The girls went to bed last night with no nighttime stories, and cry me a river, right? but that last tender measure of love to close out the day, that individualized attention, each in her bed, in my arms, and telling me about the precious thoughts that filled her day, I hate that. They feel unsettled, they cry for their Daddy, I feel inadequate, and G felt...screamy, hot and alone.
So I tucked him into *my* bed, because if we were cosleeping again we need to do so near the alarm clock so his sweet biggest sister wouldn't miss her ride to kindergarten. I escaped long enough to whisper to one, "I'll be back if I can, but let me turn out the light and you rest;" and to the other, who had been crying, a quick hug and murmur of reassurance. "I love you, okay? Please remember that even though you're sad right now. I'm trying. I'm trying to take care of everybody.
"I'm only one mommy."
She looked at me, considering, and surprised me by drying her tears. I know, she said, and threw her arms around me. I'm sorry this is so hard for you. Good luck with G, she said with an encouraging smile. And that's when I began to cry.
In those pools of blue eyes, in those squeezing thin arms: so much grace.
In the minutes of night, my mind thought of how it seems someone gets sick every time their daddy travels; or of how his absence dries up all of my confidence; or how it encourages my self-pity. I thought of my neighbor, widowed at the beginning of her 40s and parenting forever alone, as I do every time I mama-wallow. I made myself remember the dozens of the lovely husband's business trips during which everything didn't fall apart. I thought of my boy, sickly but not tragically so, and how, if morning ever comes, this too shall pass. I counted his breaths instead of sheep and watched the clock unfold hours and let him sleep with his finger in my ear and his nose against mine, even as that meant he breathed his germs, CPR-style, right into my own breaths; so that he might find a few minutes of comfort against the ragged work of inhale-exhale-inhale again. As long as you inhale again, my sad-sweet boy.
This morning, there is a spent glow stick in my bed. There's a flushed toddler with snot running down to his belly. There are glow bracelets hung all around the first floor of the house. There is sunlight, and with it the reminder that everything (a fever, a cough, loneliness, self-doubt, the length of a minute, the pause between a baby's breaths) is bigger in the dark.
And there is, praise be, a lovely husband crossing clouds to come home.