It is always by a dim night light that I study my children's profiles and wonder how I could ever lose my patience with them. And what is it about a quiet room disturbed only by deep baby breaths that forces me to think deeply on and judge my mothering sins?
Tonight Charlie asked me if I would lay by him. "I'll be in your room folding clothes, so you don't need me to lay by you." Then Jack asked, "Mama, lay by me?"
"Maybe ... when I am done folding your clothes." Because I am busy. So busy. So, so, so busy, with so many good, justifiable, meaningful, important things to do. And maybe if I can get all of those things done …
So tonight after I admired my laundry, I looked at my boys waiting patiently for me. And as I laid down, I found my mind wandering, thinking of what I had to do next. While tracing the alphabet on Jack's spine, I thought of all the pressing matters that needed my attention right then: more laundry, wiping down the kitchen, finishing up a work project, picking up Legos, talking to my husband about upcoming travel plans, thinking about the people that I had to call tonight … and the peaches—I have got to do something with those peaches!
Now it is Charlie's turn, and hopefully he will fall asleep fast, because that list is really growing. I trace on his back too, while he tells me stories about his day, and the friends he likes to play with. He then asks me, "Mommy, will you lay by me for a long time?" "Um, sure," I say hesitantly, to his smiling face. "I would love to lay by you for a long time." And then I think about what he is really saying to me--and what all of my kids say to me often throughout the day: Will you slow down, Mom?
Will you play cars with me? Look what I colored! Will you help me practice piano? Come watch me ride my bike! Will you read me a book? Will you play a game with me? Will you help me clean my room? Can I sit by you? Can I help you water the flowers? What does this say? Can you fix this toy for me? And what they’re really saying is: "Will you slow down? Will you spend time with me? Will you look me in the eyes and validate that I am an important person in your life? Will you just be my Mom?"
I finally finish scratching backs, and slide gently out of their beds, taking special care not to wake them. After all, my to-do list has grown and I have an hour less in my day to accomplish all of those tasks that demand a check mark. Yet, as I sit at my dining room table-- list in front of me, still growing as I notice crumbs on the floor, and an empty milk carton in the trash can-- I feel covered by my daily sin of ignoring the children.
There is much a mother can learn in letting her sleeping children lie. It’s a perspective that often comes in the dark of night when the air is still and Legos cover the floor and the to-do list is left unfinished. They’re quiet flashes that cause deep reflection on decisions made, for good or bad, throughout the day and meditative moments that offer a different vantage point of mothering and motherhood, and how to be better at both. For the guilt that summons a better day tomorrow also gives permission to ignore the to-do list instead of the children.