By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
I woke up early this morning to a familiar feeling. It was an elbow in the middle of my back. I scooted out of its way and turned my head to see who it was connected to. It was Adam, our 7-year-old. Next to him was his 5-year-old brother Jack snuggled under my husband’s arm.
Like many couples with young kids, Tom and I don’t always wake up alone. We start out that way – just the two of us – which is nice. But at some point in the wee hours, at least one and sometimes both of the boys shuffle sleepily into our room. I imagine our 2-year-old daughter would join the night parade as well, if she could. But we still have a baby gate on her room and she hasn’t yet figured out how to open it when she’s half asleep. On the nights when she stands at the gate and howls in protest, I pick her up and haul her back to bed with me because it’s easier than sleeping on the floor beside her crib.
But Tom is a light sleeper – the kind who wakes up when someone three counties away coughs at 2 a.m. So he almost always knows when a sleepy headed visitor shows up at our door. He usually sends them straight back to their rooms, which I’m sure is the responsible thing to do.
I, on the other hand, sleep so soundly it looks like a coma. I hear nothing – not a thunder clap, not a howling wind and certainly not the pitter-pat of socked feet on the bedroom carpet. So the kids have learned through trial and error that, if they can clear the doorway without Dad waking up, they’re better off creeping around to my side of the bed. Chances are, I won’t wake up when they stealthily crawl onto the bed and worm their way under the covers beside me. Most of the time I don’t even know someone is there until I feel the familiar pointy elbow between my shoulder blades. On the off chance that I do wake up, they know I’m a sucker for a sleepy kid in pajamas who needs a snuggle to get back to sleep. I almost always cave and make room for them on my side of the bed.
Of course, it’s much more comfortable on the nights when they manage to stay in their own rooms until morning. Even though our bed is a king size, it fills up pretty fast with little kids who sprawl out in their sleep and turn sideways and kick off covers. Some nights I wake up to find that I’m clinging to the last two inches on the edge of the bed, wondering how people so little can take up so much space. And it doesn’t matter how many times I scoot a kid toward the center of the bed so I can have some space, because little kids are like heat-seeking missiles. Even unconscious, they gravitate to their mother’s warmth and stick like Velcro.
Despite the lack of space and all the squirming around, I still secretly love these moments. I am never more content than when I’m nestled in with my sleeping kids sandwiched securely between me and Tom. The house is still and dark, and the only sounds are those of their soft snoring. It’s so peaceful, and it feels like our bed is full of blessings.
During those quiet moments, my mind flashes back to a memory of a cat we had when I was growing up. She was an outdoor calico cat we named “Callie.” My dad always called her “the cat factory” because it seemed like she was having kittens every other week. I loved every new batch of kittens and spent lots of time watching them in the cardboard box maternity ward we always fixed up for her.
I remember that, after her kittens would nurse and fall asleep still nuzzled against their mother’s warm belly, Callie would get this certain look on her face. I know cats can’t technically smile, but this look came pretty close. It was almost like she was drunk on the perfect cocktail of peace, love and contentment. She was in bliss – pure, maternal bliss in its truest form.
During those quiet nights in my king size bed crowded with little knees and elbows, I think I understand how she felt.
So I’m going to treasure these nights because I know that one day there won’t be any kids in dinosaur pajamas tiptoeing into our room at night. They will grow up. They will become “too cool.” They won’t want to sleep in the bend of my arm the way they did when they were babies. There won’t be any more Saturday morning snuggles under the covers while cartoons play on TV.
I figure I’ll have plenty of years to sprawl out in bed and hog the covers when they’re teenagers and they can’t be bothered with their ancient mother. But for now, I hold them close, like a mama cat purring with her babies. Because for now, they’re all mine. Sweet dreams.