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When Your Child Wakes in the Middle of the Night

When Your Child Wakes in the Middle of the Night

The scene is familiar:

It’s dark. I am in bed, but not asleep yet. Instead, I am thinking, reliving my day and predicting my tomorrow.

At bedtime, I prayed sweet dreams for my little ones, dreams of candies and princesses and strong warriors defeating dragons. I prayed peace over my children and my household. Still, when trying to put myself to bed, I lie awake thinking about events, feeling as though I should have a plan for the days to come, that I need one in order to be in control.

Then, in that too-dark moment, my worries are interrupted as a boy cries and I hear the CRACK of his door opening. He goes to  the bathroom and I go, too. I help his tired wavering body to stand. I help him flush and wash and dry his hands. Then he is back in bed and I cover him the way he likes. “Make the covers straight, please,” he says, not always so politely. He likes when the covers are flown up and then dropped like a parachute over him. Parachutes save the lives of people in mid-air, and though my boy is not jumping out of planes just yet, he is that type.

I lie next to him for a moment, stroking his thick wavy hair. It is not long, but still my fingers become buried in it.

This is as still as the boy ever gets. Usually climbing, jumping, performing supermans or mountain climbers (his favorite exercises) or wandering deep in the woods behind our home. He is adventurous and he is an adventure.

I cannot see anything when I whisper that I love him. “Sweet boy,” I say. This is something that I know exists within him, but I don’t witness it often. I kiss his head and I go.

As I close his door and make the short walk down the hallway, my only thought is Why? Not why did he wake (and truly, this scene is the easiest of any child’s wakeful moments) but why did I go to him in the middle of the night? Often when I hear a child awake after bedtime, my eyes roll and I pull the sheet over my head to hide. Sometimes I play the compassionate mother, but more often I just want my children to figure it out on their own and let me sleep. In this scenario, I moved–and was moved–to be near. But why?

What we hear so often is that our children will not be little forever, so we should cherish the time when they want us near. But that is not why I went to my son. I’m not even sure that I agree with that popular sentiment. Though there are many precious things that I may later miss about this stage of parenthood, shouldn’t we always cherish whatever we have? Every moment of life is a fight for contentment, some moments easier won than others but still the fight continues. Today, I want my children to be self-sufficient and kind, but when I am old, I might desire the needy-busyness of toddlers. Whatever I want today and might want tomorrow should not be the ruler of my parenting decisions.

So why did I go to my child in the night? It was not because I wanted to cherish the moment (actually, I wanted to sleep long and well and wasn’t getting that anyway), but because raising kids is about longevity.

What happens when we give our presence to our children? Surely, even if they are not fully aware, there is an impartation, a reminder of the peace that is necessary not just for bedtime, but for life. And since life happens in every moment, shouldn’t we seize the ones we’re given, whenever they happen, and whether or not they match our current or future desires?