Here's a confession for you. (It's actually not much of a confession because I don't consider this a secret, nor am I at all reluctant to share this information, but confession sounds so much more interesting than "mundane revelation" so I'm still going with "confession").
My earth shattering Tuesday morning confession is this: My 8 year old daughter still climbs into bed with us pretty much every single night.
Now, before you think this is about soliciting parenting advice or looking for all the latest and greatest techniques for getting your school-age child to sleep in their own bed at night, I need to make one thing clear.
I don't really care.
Superdad doesn't really care.
And for sure neither myself or Superdad care enough to do anything about it that might require we would actually have to do something in the middle of the night. So any technique involving one of us swinging our legs out of bed, opening our eyes, or marching a weeping child back to her own bed just ain't gonna happen.
We really don't care.
And the beauty of parenting your third child is you also honestly don't care what anyone else thinks. You could be shaking your head right now and muttering, "Good heavens, you need to get that child sleeping all night in her own bed! How will she ever go to camp? How will she ever go to college? Will her husband be joining all of you in 20 years? You cannot let this go on one minute longer!!"
And I would just smile and nod and say, "You may be right."
Which is my surefire strategy for dealing with any unsolicited advice. You may be right. You may not be right. We both win and I don't have to discuss it anymore. Or, if you want to try and discuss it further you will end up beating your head against a wall because my only response is going to continue to be an annoying Stepford-wifeish smile and the pleasantly robotic response of, "You may be right."
Sure, some of it is laziness. I'm not going to pretend that we don't care because having a 60 pound child arrive in your bed at 2am is all sunshine and roses. There are those nights that don't go so well. Nights when it feels like our small child has at least 70 different elbows and knees that keep appearing in both of our backs. Nights when our petite little angel snores like a truck driver or better yet, vocalizes all of her inner 8 year old angst in her sleep complete with unintelligible yelling, whimpering and occasionally frighteningly maniacal laughter. I'm not gonna lie, those nights can be unnerving.
Superdad and I will talk in whispers the next day about how we really "gotta do something about this" and we formulate plans that oddly enough always seem to involve more work for me than for him, and then we get to the middle of the night and all of those genius solutions go out the window in favor of doing nothing more than rolling over and making room for our noisy, thrashing, elbow-jab-wielding nighttime visitor.
We take our chances in the hopes of a few extra minutes of sleep.
So, yes, some it is laziness. But, at least for me, there is something else. There is another reason I haven't yet found the inner strength to exile my young daughter from our bed.
The truth is, I get it.
Annie has expressed more than once, "It's not fair. You and Daddy have somebody to sleep with. And when the boys were my age they slept together in the same room. You told me they pushed their beds right up next to each other just so they could be close to each other! And they could still sleep in the same room if they wanted to! I have nobody! I'm the only one who HAS to sleep all by myself!"
And the thing is, you can create all the rituals you want, and stuff your child's bed full of comfort objects, and turn on cute nightlights with fairies on them but your child is not stupid. None of this is the same as another person. None of this is the same as lying tucked in between the two people you love most in the world. None of this is the same as the feeling of safety you get from knowing there is another living, breathing human being sharing the dark, ready to stand side by side with you in battle against any monsters that might emerge from the closet or under the bed.
When I was a little girl, I would frequently cross the hallway in the middle of the night to my older brother's room. He had bunk beds and didn't mind if I made my way to his lower bunk in the night. What he did mind was that I felt the need to wake him up to tell him that I was going to sleep in his other bed.
It was always the same, me waking him up to ask him if I could sleep in the bottom bunk. And him, sleepily answering in an exasperated whisper, "Yes! It's fine! Why do you have to wake me up? Just go to bed!"
I never bothered to try to explain to him that I had to wake him up and tell him I was there. How would he know he needed to protect me if he didn't know I was there?
We are created for connection. We are born with an innate preference for the presence of people we love, not their absence. Absence might possibly make the heart grow fonder, but only because it creates an ever-increasing desire and longing for the other person's presence. Not because the absence itself is so idyllic.
Lately I have been standing on the outside watching too many people I know struggling to come to terms with the worst, most permanent kind of absence. There really are no words that are adequate to comfort someone grieving the loss of a loved one, so I try very hard not to offer anything other than, I'm sorry...I'm so sad for you...I'm praying for you... And I make a silent vow to myself to keep saying those things and to keep praying for a very. long. time. So much longer than we like to believe is necessary.
Sometimes, on nights when I'm feeling as though it's time - time for Annie to work out her demons and find a way to sleep peacefully in her own bed - I offer lame platitudes to her. I tell her how I'm always with her, even when we are separated by a long hallway and two closed doors. I tell her that she has her Pinky Bear and her blankie and those will keep her warm and cozy. I tell her that the nightlight is a reminder that God is with her and she has nothing to be afraid of. I tell her and I tell her and I tell her...and her incredibly sage answer every time is...
But it's not the same.
And she's right. It is not the same.
I think of that each time I'm tempted to take my words of consolation farther. To talk about how our loved ones are always with us, that they live on in our memories, that their light and spirit is still alive and moving among us. Because as true as that may be... and as much as that may bring some small measure of comfort in certain moments... I still hear the unspoken words of a grieving heart, sometimes in a whisper, sometimes screaming to the heavens, crying out and wanting the world to know that...
It's not the same.
No, it's not.
Nothing is an adequate substitute for presence. And death steals presence. For that alone, it is difficult for us to forgive the design of this world.
~Rabbi David Wolpe