Holding On To Bedtime

My Daughter, Age 11

When I started this blog a year ago, I often found myself dwelling on the ways that my daughter was growing up. Although she had just turned eleven, I still believed that she was more child than teen. Then there were the moments when I would catch a glimpse of the teenager she was slowly turning into. These moments would force me to confront the heart-breaking fact that my baby was growing up faster than I was prepared for.

For the last year, I have attempted to prepare myself for the inevitable by forcing myself to become numb to the shock of seeing my daughter changing. To do this, I instead focused on the positives: watching Saturday Night Live with her on Saturday nights; enjoying many of the same shows, including Friday Night Lights; being able to leave her home with her brother for an hour while I am at the grocery store—all things I couldn’t do when she was younger. That’s why, when I do see a glimpse of my little girl appear from beneath this ever-changing creature, I feel an overwhelming need to grab hold of her—to hold onto that moment for just a little longer—never knowing if it will be the last time I see the little girl she used to be.

My Daughter, Age 12

More often than not, this appearance occurs in the evening, a little before bedtime. Although there is always plenty of room on the couch for both of us, my daughter inevitably ends up sitting right next to me. Before I realize it, she is leaning against me, her head resting on my shoulder—and if the computer isn’t on my lap—her hands encircling mine.

Unfortunately, not all nights are like this, and if I am in the middle of something—like writing this blog or just wasting time on the Internet—the closeness of her body makes me feel crowded. I will sometimes snap at her, telling her to give me some space. It isn’t until long after she is already in bed that I realize that I once again lost an opportunity to hold my daughter close. In my regret, I am left worrying that maybe the next night she will be the one telling me “to give her some space.”

The same is true at bedtime. We no longer have the rituals of her youth: reading a story (or two or three); lying down next to her until she falls asleep; or telling her stories from my childhood, each one ending with the words “one more.”

Today, the routine is much simpler. Lately, some nights, after she has gotten ready for bed and brushed her teeth, she comes back into the living room for a hug and a kiss goodnight—and nothing more. I’ll admit, I don’t mind that I don’t have to stop what I am doing—or that I don’t have to get up for the 283rd time that evening—just to tuck her in. Other nights, she will stand in the doorway, silently waiting for me to walk her to bed to tuck her in. Less often, she may even ask me to cuddle with her for “just a few minutes.”

The worst nights are those in which she heads off to bed without a word, not needing a hug or a kiss good night. It is on these nights that I usually find myself standing in her doorway, watching her as she sleeps, silently praying that tomorrow she would need me once again.

When I was a child and afraid of thunderstorms, I remember being told of a way to know whether the storm was getting closer or if it was going away. The trick is to count the seconds in between seeing the lightning and hearing the thunder. If the number of seconds decreases in between each burst of lightning, the storm is getting closer. If, on the other hand, the seconds were to increase, the storm is moving further away.

I wish there were a similar correlation between bedtimes and growing up. If there were, I would be able to predict how much longer my daughter would be a child by the number of times per week she needed me at bedtime. As the number of times she barely says “good night” increases, I would know that the end is near. On the other hand, if the frequency of her needing to be tucked in suddenly increases, I’ll know that I can enjoy the child in her just a little longer.

Unfortunately, there is no way to actually predict just when unselfconscious silliness will be replaced by teen angst, or when constant questions will be replaced by indifference. I wish my advice for my daughter could be to stay my little girl for as long as possible, but I know that she would laugh—or roll her eyes—at the suggestion. Instead, I know that my advice should be for me—and it begins tonight when I’m done with this post. I will take advantage of each any every moment that my daughter wants to cuddle with me, chooses to sit right next to me, or asks me to tuck her in one more time.

My post will be hanging out with others here this week where you can check out some other great blogs.

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Looking for “Home”

We are tossing around the idea of a buying a house—we have been renting the same place since just before our son was born. Even with the housing market in flux, and the economy struggling to improve, there is still something romantic about the idea of owning a home of our own. When I mentioned this to our daughter, her reaction surprised me. She was in complete denial. She told me that she didn’t want to move—that she loved our apartment—it was home. Her strong reaction took me off guard, for even though I have always thought of this apartment as our home, I don’t think I have ever felt particularly tied to it. Her reaction made me reflect on the life we have lived in this place we have called home for the last six years: my son as a newborn, sitting in the swing that was set up in our living room; my daughter at five heading off to school for the first time, then my son five years later heading off in his sister’s footsteps; the endless nights spent together snuggling in my bed as I tried to coax the kids off to their own beds. It is an endless sea of memories, and for my children it is the only home they have ever truly known—all of their memories of our family are here within these walls.

For most people—myself included—each of the homes we have once lived in stores the memories of a part of our lives. There may be new people living in them, but the ghosts of our past still appear if ever we find ourselves standing in front of a former home. When I drive past the house I lived in during my teens, I often slow down in order to look up at my bedroom window. I sometimes even see the faint outline of the fourteen year old me peeking out from behind the billowy white curtains, anxiously awaiting something—anything—to happen.

Although I live only minutes from both of my childhood homes, I no longer live near many of the places I once called home. For this reason, I don’t find myself confronted by the memories of my past, reminding me of the life I once lived in each. I’ve decided to spend some time reflecting on the memories that each of these places possess, and by doing so I will hopefully find my words of advice for my daughter on the meaning of the word “home.”

This is the first:

1974-1985 58 Harrington Avenue

There are no memories of my childhood that don’t include this house. It was the home that my parents brought me home to when I was just a few days old. It was also the home that sat opposite Michael, my first—and very best—friend, the boy I spent every day of my life with until we moved away when I was eleven. I sometimes wonder if the worn dirt path that extended from my back door to his is still there, and whether there are two new best friends running back and forth along it. This is the home of all my joyful and carefree childhood memories. It was a time of innocence, when kids could spend their days riding bikes around the neighborhood, only to return when we heard our mothers calling us home for dinner.

Being a tomboy who spent every waking moment of my childhood outside, my memories are all colored with the intensity of each season. My summers are tinged with the vibrant greens of freshly cut grass and the perfect blue of a sky filled with fluffy white clouds. Michael and I would spend our lazy summer afternoons lying on the cool earth looking up at the sky trying to find hidden animals and other mythical creatures in the shapes of the clouds.

My winters are shaded the bright white of an early morning snow that often blanketed the ground from one house to the next. I can still feel the heart-racing excitement of looking out the window to find the earth a frozen white. I would race to put on my snow clothes—never being able to get them on as fast as I would have liked—pants, two pairs of socks pulled up over my cuffs, shirt, sweater, snow-pant overalls, mittens, coat, scarf, then hat—in that order. We would stay outside until we couldn’t bear the cold any longer. We would then come back inside and slowly peel off each layer of clothing, one at a time, this time in reverse order.

Springtime is tinged with the pale green hue of leaves just starting to bloom, and the purples, yellows, and whites of the crocuses bursting through the warmed earth. Spring was a time to shed the layers of winter, to once again sit outside and make plans, to take our bikes out of the garage and to dust off the cobwebs left from winter.

Fall is made up of the oranges and browns of the changing leaves just before they tumble to the ground to be gathered up by us to make leaf piles to play in. During the fall, we still play outside, but our days end earlier, and more time is spent inside each other’s homes, watching television or playing games.

As I write this—as I look back on this home I once lived in—I am struck by a new truth. When you are a child, it is not about the home you grow up in, it is about the time you spend being a child, whether it’s playing with a friend or just playing with your own imagination. I had always thought that my children would somehow be happier in a larger home—maybe one with one more bathroom—but now as I look at the years we have spent in this home through their eyes, I see that I may have been wrong. My children may not have a house, a yard, and lots of neighborhood children to play with as I did growing up, but what they do have is a way of making the world around them as joyful and as carefree as my own childhood.

My advice for my daughter is simple: a house is just the backdrop of your memories as you live your life—it is the roof over your head, the place to rest at night, the place to gather your family together around the dinner table—it does not matter if it is an apartment or a house. And, if we someday find ourselves living in a new house, I want her to know that our home is wherever we find ourselves living, together.

Spend time with me!

Sometimes I look at my daughter and I see the teenager she will someday be. It isn’t a clear picture—I have no idea what she’ll actually look like, and I have a very hard time picturing her taller than me—but I sometimes envision a teenage girl who will want nothing to do with me. My future daughter will find everything I say to be completely wrong, and she will spend all of her waking moments—when not in school—in her room talking to friends or on the computer. Life with my daughter as I know it will have come to an end, and she will no longer want me around. This is my fear, and something that I sadly believe will more than likely come to pass. Because of my absolute phobia of the teen years, I have sometimes taken a possibly odd tack when it comes to parenting her. It may sounds strange, but I tell her about my fears, not in a “please don’t do this to me” kind of way, but in more of a questioning sort of way, like “When you are older, are you going to make me walk 10 feet behind you at the mall?” She usually laughs at my questions, and I smile inside knowing that she finds the idea of it somehow difficult to imagine. Part of me is just trying to prepare myself for the inevitable, while the other part of me prays that by telling her how she’ll behave, she somehow won’t do it just to prove me wrong.

Up until my daughter was about ten—maybe a year ago or so,—I had a nighttime rule that the living room became a “child-free” zone at 8:oo pm. I didn’t mind it if the kids stayed up watching television in their rooms, but I desperately needed some time to myself—my husband didn’t get home from work until about 10:00 each night—and I would look forward to an hour or two without anyone asking me for anything. Even with that rule in place, there were many nights when my daughter desperately wanted to stay up with me, wanting to watch something that I would otherwise have DVR’d for us to see the next day. She would come into the living room and ask me if she could spend time with me. I was adamant about my “alone time,” so I would say no, and she would slowly drag herself back to her room. If either of the kids came out a second time, then the threats would start: “If you come out once more, tomorrow night you’ll be going to bed at 7:00!” It usually worked, and the rest of the evening would go by quietly.

I will be honest, I didn’t feel guilty about sending her away, I know that the quiet helped me regenerate my burned out body and mind for the next day’s work, and to prepare for life in general.

This is how life used to be.

One night, maybe a year ago, I was about to send her to bed when I looked at her—I mean really looked at her—she had changed so much. She was growing so fast, and it suddenly occurred to me that the teenager I feared was closer than I had realized. At that moment, what I wanted more than anything in the world was to hold onto her youth, her sweetness, and her desire to be with me. So, I have given up my time to myself in favor of watching television with her in the evenings, listening to her insightful commentaries, and laughing at her occasional interpretive dance to the songs in commercials. Each evening I am thankful that I have been given one more night with her in which she still wants to spend time with me.

My advice to my daughter is to recognize the times in her life that are fleeting—those moments that will eventually end—and to cherish them, enjoy them, and most of all to not be afraid of them coming to an end, as ultimately they will become a part of her.