“Good night, Emma Vance. I have to put Cricket night-night, so stay here in your bed. I’ll check on you once she’s asleep. Wait up for me, okay?”
“Okay,” a tiny voice replies. I know she’s sad to be alone for a little while, but I push down those feelings of inadequacy bubbling up from within me. She’ll be fine, I try to convince myself as I shut her door behind me.
Cricket’s slow to go down tonight. She is eager and energetic as we make our way through her nightly pile of books, and then demands the whole stack be read again. I oblige because her bottle is still half full, and I know that she doesn’t stand a chance to make it through the night if she doesn’t finish it.
Eventually I lay Cricket in her crib, and she’s heavy but awake. She shifts her weight around, searching for the perfect spot for slumber; her eyes flutter slowly closed, popping open quickly at each realization that she’s falling asleep. Each time she checks to see that I’m still there, and I am. I’m perched next to her crib, my forehead resting on the spindles so that she can easily see me. Inevitably sleep takes over, and I slowly back out the door.
It’s silent in E.V.’s room, and I’m tempted to head straight to my computer. I glance down at my watch. Man, Cricket took a loooong time tonight. I’ve got a lot of work to do, so I sit in the hallway contemplating which direction to go.
I slowly crack open E.V.’s door, allowing the light from the hallway to fill her room. I’m fully expecting to hear gentle snores from her bed, but instead I’m met with two wide eyes peering at me in the half-light. I smile at that tiny, tired face, and get a quick grin back.
My work can wait.
Her bed is cold; it’s too big for her little body, and every inch that she doesn’t occupy is freezing. I know one day she’ll grow out of this supposed “big girl” bed, but for now I’m happy to help her warm it up. I curl up next to her, wrapping one of her cozy throws around my arms and pulling her duvet up over my legs. We’re laying in the inky darkness, face-to-face. We each have our own pillows, but we’re so close our noses are practically touching; her arm is draped over my neck; her warm toes are curled up against my knees. My eyes are adjusting to the dark. It’s quiet, almost silent.
“Hey, E.V.? Do you like it when Mommy snuggles you?” I break the silence.
“Good, because I like to snuggle you. And kiss you.” I plant a kiss on her forehead, and she cracks a small smile. I kiss her cheeks and her nose and her lips, and she relishes every moment. I can feel her smile grow into a grin, and I’m filled with joy. I kiss and kiss and kiss her little face. I’m happy that she’s happy, and I get caught up in the moment.
“I’m going to kiss you one million times before I die!” I say without thinking. I mean it to be sweet, but I immediately regret saying it. My three-year old has no concept of dying, and, truthfully, I don’t want her to yet. She’s too young, too innocent, too happy. I’ve spoiled the moment.
I hold my breathe as I sink into fear and regret. Why would I even say such a thing? In an instant I’m trying to muster up the response to what I know will the next words out of her mouth — Mommy, what’s ‘dying?’ –and I’m drowning in a loss for words. How do you explain the unexplainable to a child? I can’t even conjure the simplest of sentences to answer that question. I’m reeling, terrified as she opens her mouth to speak…
“And then I’ll die, too!” she gleefully chirps back to me.
I can barely speak. I want to smile and cry at the same moment in time. I’m flooded with emotion and with a million thoughts — with the thought of her dying, with the thought of my dying and leaving her to wonder about her mother for the rest of her life, with the thought of her life being so complete after my one million kisses that we’re both content enough to go to heaven, with wondering if loving my children is enough to make my time here on earth complete and purposeful, with wondering if I can keep my promise to kiss her one million times before this life is over…
I can barely speak because I can’t seem to find words that adequately express joy and sorrow equally — and then I find them.
“I love you.”
“I love you, too, Mommy.”
There, in the half-light of bedtime, I hold my child and she holds onto me. And I kiss her and kiss her…and calculate how many more times I get to kiss her each day before I reach one million. There are a lot of days left in this life until I’m done, and I pray that God grants me enough to fulfill that promise.