4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
She manipulates me.
I have finished the hour-long process of reading to all four of them together something like Harry Potter or The War That Saved Me and then with each of them individually some book appropriate for their age, sometimes interesting like Boys in the Boat, but often mind-numbingly boring like Pat the Cat (spoiler alert: it involves a mat and perhaps a hat.) Finally, I sit down by myself on a piece of furniture, for perhaps the first time in six hours, with a glass of wine and a deep sigh.
My six-year-old looks over the banister and begs, “Will you come and cuddle with me?”
I am torn.
I have learned not to encourage the after-lights-out attention. Can you imagine if I actually entertained every, “I can’t sleep,” or “I’m thirsty,” or “My belly aches,” that they threw at me? I could be putting them all to bed until they get accepted to college.
“She’s manipulating you,” my husband says.
I look over at him.
“I know, I know,” I say, sighing.
“She just came down here and cuddled with me while you were reading to the other ones,” he continues, turning back to the Celtics game. I look at his profile. “I am rolling my eyes at you,” I say.
He is such a sucker.
But still, it is almost 9 o’clock and she is only six. She has had a long day. She needs to go to sleep. Every night, she needs to go to sleep. They all need to sleep.
“Buddy, you need to go to sleep. You need to go back in your room and go to bed.”
She gets more teary, starts to whine, which strengthens my resolve. I can’t have her whining about this every night, manipulating. That’s me for the next ten years getting glasses of water after lights out plus whining. No way.
But also, I can’t help but think, When is the last time she’ll ask me to cuddle with her? She’s getting so big. Everything has slipped by, and she is my youngest. So fast, so fast.
“Go to bed,” I repeat as if my word is always final. “And then, we can cuddle later. If you go to sleep, I will come up and check on you before I go to bed, and then I will crawl into your bed and cuddle with you.” Which is messed up of course. She wants me when she’s awake. I want her sleeping. But nonetheless, she’s gotten something from me she didn’t have before, and so she sighs, shudders, slip slaps back to her bedroom, closes the door.
And so when it is nearly midnight, when I’ve finished my glass of wine and gotten back up to load the dishwasher, finished my artwork, straightened up the Legos, switched a load of laundry, lay out things for the next day, decided what will be for breakfast, and made sure all their shoes have worked their way back into the mudroom, I treat myself.
I go back into her room, climb over the railing that keeps her from rolling out and crawl through a minefield of stuffed animals. I push aside the body pillow that was last used to cradle my belly when she resided in it. I sneak my arm under her pillow and my other arm over her shoulder. I reach over her, find her hand. I bend my knees into her bent knees, fitting us together like two spoons or an ear. I am the outer shell, all exposed curves and purposeful edges, and she is the spiraling center, unknown, mysterious, dirtier than is appropriate. And I wonder if I could possibly feel this small when my husband spoons me. He is nearly twice my size, and I am twice her size. And I think, It could not possibly be so. She feels so tiny.
The pads on her hand are incredibly soft, and she grabs my hand with such sweetness. I nestle my face into the feathering braids still in her hair, breathing deeply.
I stay for just a handful of minutes, but it is sweet, so dear, the scent of her like flowers and shampoo, except her hands which smell like dirt. I settle into the solidity of her back pressed against me, cradle the fragility of her small arms.
Breathe it in, breathe it in.
Then it is time. And so I pull my arm back out, lift my weight away, reverse my journey until I am again standing separate. I look at her sweet sleeping face, her hands now crossed one over the other across her chest, like a Renaissance painting. I step away, my footsteps muted by the plush carpet left over from her nursery. And then through the darkness she asks, “Do you have a cup I could put water in?” Her eyes open.
She’s done it again.
So I go to my room and get the cup of water I brought up for my nightstand, bring it to her, and she is sitting up waiting. She drinks the whole thing, leaving me nothing, not even a sip, not even a drip.
Then she lays back down, rolls over, closes her eyes smiling, satisfied.
She’s gotten me again, that girl of mine. She’s got me.