Tonight, I didn't have the energy for anything more exciting than pasta with red sauce, dressed up with a splash of red wine like my mother used to do. I suppose my lack of energy might have had something to do with the fact that Dora had to have not one, but two time-outs before leaving school today. I've just returned from a business trip, having spent the last several nights away from home, away from Brian, the pets, the house, and Dora. I should've slept wonderfully but for some reason I tossed and turned away from home, dreaming of work, waking up thinking about my family, sleet lashing the windows on the 15th floor. After days away, I want to come home to peace and simplicity and a obedient little girl who I can play with and enjoy, but who goes to bed when she's supposed to. Instead, I have two time-outs before even leaving daycare, spilled milk in the kitchen, and a toddler now crying in the hallway about bedtime instead of peacefully slumbering at 8:30 like her little colleagues probably are.
Dora is, quite honestly, a delightful and easy child most of the time. I think we've gotten off really easy for the most part. She has always slept well and eaten well and been fun and happy, usually. She doesn't try my patience very often, in truth, but unfortunately when she does I seem to have very little patience to give. Tonight I found myself thinking of the saying, "you can't be all things to all people". Indeed. In fact, I can barely be some things to a few people, and not even everything to the people closest to me. By bedtime, I am completely spent - I have nothing left to give. And when bedtime drags on for hours, I eventually just have to close the door and walk out, the result of which is a tear-streaked face peeking out at me from the hallway.
In an earlier bedtime attempt, I remembered something my mom used to do at bedtime. My dad would read to us - I remember lots of Richard Scarry, and Maurice Sendak, and Dr. Seuss. After stories, I'd climb under the covers and wait for my mom to come check on me. I'd lay with my back to the door, so I couldn't see her come in, and she'd sneak in and sit behind me on the bed. Then, she'd run her hand across my back, down my arms, over my legs, making imaginary check marks all over me with her finger. I can remember just what it felt like - the weight of her sitting down on the bed behind me, the way the mattress would pitch a bit towards her, the feeling of her finger floating above me. I used to absolutely love this - it would relax me, and help me fall asleep.
As I laid next to Dora tonight, rubbing her back and waiting for her breathing to slow with sleep, this memory of my own mother and her bedtime ritual flooded back to me. Tears sprung to my eyes, and my feelings of longing for her rushed back once more. Grief is a funny thing in that way, sneaking up and springing on you from some dark corner, where you didn't even know it was hiding.
It's at my lowest moments when I miss my mom the most. That is not to say that I don't miss her in the good moments, too, because I do. I think of my mom when I see the first crocus of spring, wishing I could share it with her. I wish she could see the crepe myrtle in my front yard, see my little sweet house and my little sweet life, see my latest creative endeavor, see my little baby girl. I miss her then in a wistful way, often with a smile and a tear, thinking of how she would love this or that. But when I am worried, or stressed out, or fighting with my husband, or unable to calmly parent my daughter, or facing a hard decision - I think of my mom, and her sense of humor, and her advice, and I feel like my heart could break with the pain of her loss. I just want to lay down in bed, with my back to the door, and feel her sit behind me and put her little checkmarks all over me, making sure I'm fine, making it better.
Dora is in bed finally - one last try that worked. I laid her down in bed, covered her up, kissed her forehead and told her I love her. I laid my head down next to hers on the pillow, rubbed her back, listened to her sucking her fingers as her breathing eased. I ran my hand across her arm, making imaginary checkmarks with my finger against her soft cotton pajamas. What else can I do? My mom is not here to make me feel fine and better anymore. I've got to do it for myself, by being that for Dora - by sitting on her bed, and rubbing her back, and giving her a childhood memory that might comfort her in years to come. I've got to do it for myself by remembering my mom - remembering how she loved me, how she comforted me - and holding the memory of that love in my heart to keep me warm, to give me strength, to make me feel fine and better.