I’ve given it my all tonight. We’ve gone through a lengthy bedtime routine, the kind child psychologists tout and applaud, the kind with flossing and essential oils and prayers and multiple songs and four books. FOUR books. Four full-length books where I’ve read every word on every page, complete with enthusiasm and character voices. But of course, at the end of it all, as I turn out the lights, E.V. still complains. She doesn’t want Cricket in her bed.
When it’s just the three of us, most nights I make the girls sleep together because it’s easier logistically. However, Emma Vance doesn’t like being crowded, and Cricket tends to babble up until the moment she’s asleep. I can’t blame her, but I can’t blame me either. A mom’s gotta’ do what a mom’s gotta’ do, so I make my ruling for the night: Cricket stays.
I snuggle with the girls for a bit. Cricket blathers on and wiggles around the bed. Emma Vance gets upset that I can’t tickle her arm properly because of the wiggling. She huffs and throws her pillow over her head. I ignore Cricket in an attempt to get her to calm her down, and it seems to be working. As Cricket makes her way back to the head of the bed, I notice that E.V.’s tactic has worked too, and she’s breathing heavily in slumber. Now that Cricket seems to be settling down, I’ve decided that my limit has been reached. I slip out of the bed and into the hallway, escaping finally. I’m hopeful that Cricket will just pass out on her own.
I am wrong.
Within two minutes Cricket’s yelling for me and I can hear crying. I walk back to the room to find Cricket leaning over the far edge of the bed and E.V. standing on the ground, sobbing and screaming that Cricket pushed her off. Of course.
There’s a bit of a kerfuffle as I pull Emma Vance back onto the bed and get Cricket out of the way. In the confusion of hands and legs and blankets, my thumb accidentally scrapes E.V.’s nose. She screams and I panic, quickly saying I’m sorry and leaning down to kiss her nose. Until this moment, a Mommy Kiss has always fixed accidental boo boos. Until this moment. Emotions are heightened with sleep and with darkness, and instead of the oh-thank-you-it’s-better reaction I’m expecting, E.V. hurls at me with a sore, screaming voice, “Leave me alone!”
Leave me alone. It hits me with all the intended force, like a million daggers and like a million dull knives all at once.
This is the first time she’s ever said something that truly hurt me.
I’m not sure if it’s the words or the intent or the surprise that intensifies the impact, but her request is met. I cower back away from her as she throws her face into the pillow to continue sobbing, and I started to sob, too. I’m trying to be silent about it, but I can feel my neck and cheeks growing red with…embarrassment? Hurt? Shock? Sadness? I’m not sure how to describe it other than “pain.” All I know is that in that moment I’m thankful for the darkness.
A few minutes pass. Cricket’s wiggling around in my lap and E.V. is still moaning and crying into her pillow. I’m trying to keep it together, but the tears won’t stop streaming down my face. She’s hurt me. That’s the first time she’s ever purposely hurt me. I can’t get the thought out of my mind.
Being consumed with that thought makes me unable to muster up my usual motherly abilities, and I can’t formulate a coherent plan to get everyone calmed.
And so, exhausted and defeated, I give in and give myself over to my children completely. I lay down in between them in the pitch black. Cricket’s tangled up in my left arm, still wiggling and babbling. Emma Vance is nestled in the crook of my right, her head on my chest. Neither of us can stop crying.
“Mommy,” she sniffles and whispers, “why are you crying?”
“Because I’m sad I hurt you, and sad that you told me to leave you alone,” I reply honestly and simply.
“I don’t like it when you’re sad, Mommy,” she squeaks out.
“I know. That’s the hard part about loving someone,” I whisper to her. “They can make you happy and they can hurt you.” There’s a long pause as we both think for a moment, calming down. I kiss her forehead and squeeze her closer. “But I feel better just talking, don’t you?” Emma Vance nods a bit and then I know we’re okay because she flips over and curls up, hugging the length of my arm.
Cricket seizes the opportunity and open real estate, clambering on top of me. We are belly-to-belly as she buries her face in my chest, and for the first time all night she is still and silent. Within minutes both girls’ breaths slow, and everyone is finally asleep. Except me. I can’t stop thinking or, truthfully, crying. I don’t know if I can handle the coming years. I mean, three simple words spoken in the heat of the moment and the dark of the night cut me down and ruined me in an instant. I can just hear them reverberating around my mind, repeated in a slightly older voice, said with a slightly more purposeful aim by a sixteen-year old Emma Vance. How many hurtful things have we said to our parents and they to theirs?
Parenting, mothering, is the strangest lot in life, filled with so much vulnerability that it often doesn’t seem fair. I know that I have to shield my children from many things, but tonight I realized that I have to also let them see many things too — secrets we wish would be buried with us. Sometimes mommies cry, too.