Count your blessings, the saying goes. Lately, no matter how sleepy I am at the end of the day, when I put our boys to bed in their room I find myself lingering for a long and peaceful moment.
Tonight, the crescent moon rises like a conductor's baton, and I listen to a symphony of crickets. Some nights, car horns punctuate the distance; on others, the rumble of thunder rolls through the twilight.
Hands in hands: my hands and my son Sam's. Just past his first birthday, he loves to stroke my hands when he gets sleepy. As I rock him, he nestles his head into my shoulder, then round and round go his soft fingers, around mine. He goes around the backs of my knuckles as if sailing the seas, then returns to the port of my palms. What an endearing quirk! How soothing for both of us!
From across the bedroom, the wet "pop" of suction breaking tells me his three-year-old brother has stopped sucking his fingers.
"Mommy, where does the daytime go?" he asks. His voice flutters through the growing shadows of their room.
"To visit some other boys on the other side of the world," I murmur back. Through the half-light, we smile. He asks this question nearly every night, and the answer is always the same.
"Ummmmm-hmmmmm," he murmurs around the fingers he's slipped back into his mouth. He tugs on the baseball cap he has taken to wearing to bed lately. The sheets rustle as he turns toward the wall, shifting toward sleep.
I look out the window into the dappled dark of trees. The crickets throb again. A small, limp hand slips from my grasp.
Through years of nighttime nursing, soothing twitchy teethers, and rocking restless dreamers back to sleep, these timeless nights are filled with wonders: the sudden rustling of autumn leaves and the haunting question of a bird's cry cut short in the night; the whoosh of the heater coming on; the clink of the swaying chandelier; the distant bark of a dog let out on a wintry night; the snap - I was certain of it - of a crocus cracking through the frosty crust.
I have surrendered myself to a sleepy, shuffling dance and swayed with my baby's body twitching against mine as I peered out dark windows and pictured all the people I love, imagining every one of them sound asleep, as my breath fogged the windowpanes.
I have heard the sleepers of the house as they shift obliviously in warm beds, the muffled song of a sleeping child's laughter, the first tentative pitter-patter of rain at dawn.
I have walked and rocked, soothed and comforted, walked and rocked, hummed and stroked, and rocked some more while waiting for someone's head to grow heavy oh my shoulder, for the smallest sigh in my ear, while the dark room took up a dusty gray haze and then the dim glow of the coming morning.
Tonight, in my children's room, I pat my sleeping son's back and peer out into the lush dark of trees in summer. Listening to the crickets, I think how each night carries my children closer to manhood, and further from my mothering embrace.
DOWN the hall, the refrigerator door is opened. Bottles clink in the door. Milk is poured into a glass. A muffled rattle tells me a box of cookies is being opened for a late-night snack. The refrigerator door opens and shuts again as the milk is returned.
Without having to look, I can see my husband's profile by the kitchen sink. I imagine him lifting his glass to drink, his sleepy gaze catching its own reflection in the window over the sink.
I tiptoe to our room for a handful of moments to write these words. At first they flow. Then, as the shadows deepen, the dreams of my children and my husband begin playing in their minds. My handwriting slows. Safe in the embrace of a starry universe, we'll slumber tonight.
Sweet dreams, everyone.