G slept fitfully, coughing his way through the remnants of the croup his sisters passed him dutifully; did I tell you he was sick this weekend? They share, those girls, it's lovely. They dote on him and squeeze him and kiss on him and then they fall like dominoes; three weeks in a row, three separate kids in the pediatrician's office, waiting for a dose of steroid and the respite of a deep breath.
After the 87th shh-shhing visit to his room, I gave up on my own evening and brought him to our bed. He finally slept, one finger on my ear, one hand curled around a Dora the Explorer book. He and Dora are in love, you know, it's all he ever wants, Mama, he says as he cups my chin in his dimpled hands, I can watch TV? Ummm, (like this choice is a spontaneous one, a surprise) watch Dora?
Two nights ago I experimented with reading all three kids' bedtime books together in one bed, rather than having them each wait their turn in their own rooms, because how else do you handle three readings when you're the only parent? And the bedtime reading is sacred stuff, so the otherwise inviolate "stay in your beds; I'll be there in a minute" is set gently aside. L pulled an old Dora paperback off her shelf. She doesn't really love Dora anymore but she was feeling nostalgic, and that was one of her book choices. G grasped it with wonder. Dora lives on paper, too! you could see his little brain thinking. After we left L's room he clutched that book as he climbed into his own bed; I hadn't ever noticed. The past two nights he's slept all night holding that Dora book. We have an enormous soft Dora doll their grandmother bought for E years ago, not even knowing that Dora was a television character, just seeing a toddler-body-pillow-sized softie, but G doesn't want the doll. He wants the book. We're raising readers, you know.
So he clutched Dora and my ear and finally slept. His curls tucked under my nose; he desperately needs a haircut and after we get to it (this weekend, maybe? but it's the county's annual farm hop and doesn't that sound more fun?) I wonder how much curl will be left. I've wondered that through the first two haircuts and so far they're still there. They're tenacious, like a dimpled fist unyielding its clutch of his sister's book. And of course she wants it back.
His head smells like vanilla and pennies, I think that every time it's mine for sniffing, puppy dog tails and whatever else is supposed to be there have nothing on vanilla and pennies. Just as I fell asleep myself, L cried out. She was, I'm not kidding, upset about a hangnail. She picks at her cuticles, sweet girl, and I'm trying so hard to help her break the habit. She wanted a bandaid but I've made a no-blood-no-bandaid rule, she picks every day and wears them like merit badges, Elmo on her pointer finger and Barbie on her thumbkin and a metallic rainbowy on on her tall man; didn't you have to sing "Where is Thumbkin" on an endless loop last night, too? So the fastest course of action short of caving on my harsh bandaid stance was to bring her into my bed, too, where she rolled on a perfect diagonal and slept. She's the kid who's not a head-sweater when she sleeps; there's less trademark scent to inhale.
And then sometime, I don't know when, E came into our bed. She's the stealth one; she doesn't call out or complain of bad dreams. She just makes herself at home. If we're deeply enough asleep we don't even always know she's there until we wake up in the morning.
But last night she came in and immediately started whimpering loudly. There was no place for her. And that's true. Her sister and brother were at a perfect intersection to my body, the mattress meridian, from which I had not an inch of wiggle room.
This girl, I never understand how she brings herself to come in here. For years her sensory...triggers, whatever they are, were most heightened at night. She couldn't sleep. The sheets were too scratchy. The pillow was too hot. It was awful. After much experimentation I found organic bamboo jersey sheets (in purple, no less) and they were soft enough. I bought two sets, and for four years those have been the only sheets on her bed, one set after the other, and she learned to sleep. She has the nicest sheets in the house. But she wants the company more, and luckily I was wearing my softest PJ pants.
When both your arms are pinned down at right angles to your body and you still have to snuggle a third kid, this is what you do: you bend one knee to the side, dipping recklessly off your mattress meridian, and offer up a quick prayer of thanks that you are indeed wearing your softest pajama pants. She snuggled in, my thigh her pillow, my legs holding her like parentheses her comfort, and finally, she slept.
And the alarm went off and none of them heard it, all finally sleeping deeply, and I woke without them. I showered and packed lunch and prepped breakfast and another night, it's in the books. This is how we do it, a swirled up soup of improvisation and compassion trumping most everything else and a whole lot of flexibility, some of it literal, but I got to smell my boy's vanilla head as he finally relaxed and put the midnight hangnails behind us and the nervy demons that summer anxieties can conjure. We all slept, and I got up to start the day, and now it's their turn.