I fly home today. And leave my babies behind. This tears at me and feels so unbelievably foreign. They are staying with their grandmother for a month, which is good for them, but feels terrible to me. Most of the time. I watch my son sleep, breathing in and out, mouth open, wrapped in a blue comforter. Fernanda is making muffins in the kitchen.
Joey cried again last night at the prospect of me being gone. It’s the lullaby. Sigh. It started when Aubrey was a baby and I’d sing her to sleep. Some days she’d not fall asleep until I’d dregged the pool of songs I knew way, way back when. It was on such a night – or naptime, I forget which – that I stumbled upon the Beatles’ song “All My Lovin’.” I’ve kept it handy ever since, because I like it and, really, how many times can you sing “Hush Little Baby”? This last year Aubrey’s revived it and at nine years old, asks me to sing it to her most nights.
So I had this brilliant idea to record a cassette tape for each of them with my voice doing lullabys and child meditations, dubbed “dreaming stories” by Aubrey when she was two. I even found a recording of The Beatles singing “All My Lovin’” and recorded it – just so they know what they’re missing when I sing it.
I thought it would bring comfort at bedtime and soft smiles before slumber. Nope.
Everytime Joey hears it – he cries. Now, as I watch him roll over in his makeshift bed, I’m contemplating confenscating it. But that seems underhanded and likely to cause more grief. Even trauma perhaps. Like a well-meaning relative that sends all your husband’s clothes to Goodwill right after he dies so you won’t cry when you see them. Snort. As if. (This didn’t happen to me, by the way, but could you imagine?!)
So I leave the tape and walkman in the chair above his little head – if only so he can find a morose bit of comfort from it.
I woke early this morning, 5:30, and rested with my eye mask against the Eastern sun already shining through my window. For the prior three nights, either Aubrey or Joey or both slept with me in Fernanda’s bed. Last days of sleepovers before I go. A special treat because we don’t do this at home. But last night Joey wanted to sleep in the living room and Aubrey wanted to be alone.
So I was in the bed by my lonesome this morning at 5:30 thinking about Joey alone in the living room. About Joey waking up alone in the living room. About Joey feeling alone this whole month without me. After an hour of thinking what a horrible mother I was for traumatizing my children in this way, I pulled a blanket and pillow off my bed, drug them down the hall, and snuggled up next to him.
I laid there soaking up his baby-ness, even though he’s really seven. I moved my hand several times over the minutes making sure I wasn’t crushing him with my seventeen pound arm. Chest, then waist, now hip and leg. When he rolled over to his back, I nestled my hand on his shoulder and happily closed my eyes, content to be in the same bed with my little love – though my butt and left leg were off the futon pad.
I was reminded of some of Catherine Newman’s writings. She writes of the physical pain of being in love with her children and that’s what I was feeling. Bits of love pain slicing around inside my veins like miniature razor blades. All my insecurities of being Joey’s mom surfaced and dunked below the freezing, murky depths of my consciousness, and then surfaced again.
Joey turned his head towards me and puffed little morning breaths at me. I averted my own face just slightly. Fairly soon he rolled completely over onto his stomach and slid off the futon pad, his left forearm and left foot remaining. His aching freshness was both a delight and something that took the breath from my body.
Should I move him? No. He’d wake. He looked comfortable but I was no longer lying next to him. He was on one side of the twin-sized pad and I was on the other. I could crawl onto it, and my screaming hip would prefer that, but what if he woke up and saw me snoozing on his bed and him off? Like I’d pushed him over in the night, hogging the softness to myself.
But I didn’t want to keep lying here if I wasn’t snuggling with Joey this last ime. I could go and snuggle up to Aubrey the next room. My goodbye to her. But look at this elbow! Pale, with two faint bruises near the bony prominence. How can I leave this elbow? How can I walk out of this room and leave this elbow for three weeks? Even if it’s to walk into another room down the hall where another precious elbow with my same blood and DNA pulsing through it awaits my last snuggles? How can I leave this elbow? I’m distruaght. It looks so fragile lying there, bereft.
And then I remember that I am the one that is bereft, not this contentedly sleeping elbow attached to this contentedly sleeping boy.
He opened his eyes, sat up and saw me. I smiled and he climbed back on the bed and was asleep so fast again, I wonder if he really did see me.
I covered him, kissed his hair and whispered, “I love you.”
I always say it out loud whenever I check on the kids in the middle of the night. Like a talisman of sorts. A motherly shield, a token of love that I believe can be heard through their dreams. Can cure nightmares if they’ve begun and soften any stresses that they’ve carried into sleep.
I tiptoed out the room with my pillow and tucked in with Aubrey. She was more substantial, at nine, to spoon around and I didn’t worry about crushing her as much. When standing she already reaches my shoulders, almost.
Aubrey doesn’t move as much as Joey does when they’re sleeping. I might’ve been able to fall asleep again if I wanted to. Being in an actual bed helped, but I didn’t want to succumb. I breathed in “Aubrey Angel-ness” and thought about her elbows, too. Though I couldn’t see her’s because when I first walked in she was hunched over, fetal-position, under only a sheet and had pulled up the comforter to her chin.
It’s so precious when you do this and your child just melts into warmth – like her muscles were held rigid from the cold before and now can relax.
I thought of the huge burden I put on her last night. She came to my bed to say a last goodnight and I asked her to look out for her brother while I was gone. That he was really going to miss me, and she interjected,
“I am too,” and looked sad.
“I know, but he’s really taking it hard. Please just try to understand that when he’s bugging you and not leaving you alone and just doing little brother things, that he’s really just sad and scared and lonely.
“You don’t have to do anything about it. I’m not asking you to change it or fix it. Just know that that’s what’s happening for him inside and try not to be so angry with him. And be more patient with him. OK?”
She nodded and hugged me. And now I felt like an ass for having dumped something so huge on her. Like a father going off to war and telling his ten year old son, “You’re the man of the house now. Look after your mother for me.”
God, what pressure! And responsibility that is so clearly not their’s to take!
I’m sorry, Aubrey. I felt like crying. Familiar pressure in my head, a holding of my breath and a squeeze in my lungs. Sorry for asking too much.
I slid out of bed, kissed her hair and whispered, “I love you.”