Bedtime Magic

Bedtime has changed dramatically during my tenure as a mother. What started with swaddling so tight I bore holes into their muslin blankets has evolved into spooning by moonlight and feather light whispers about the meaning of life, or just who made them smile at school today. Something about bedtime drowsiness renders them particularly vulnerable and exceptionally eager to spill the beans, so I take advantage.

A few years ago, while we were still homeschooling, there wasn’t any necessary rush to our bedtime routine. I had three questions I asked every night –

1. What are you grateful for?
2. Who did you help today?
3. What’s one thing you love about yourself?

The minutes would tick past 7:30pm and I wouldn’t blink an eye (unless The Mindy Project or Pretty Little Liars was on, of course, then one word answers were totally acceptable). Now, after homework and dinner and prepping for the next day and just one more book and that song they love, bedtime feels more rushed than I’d like.

After the last book, we each share what we’re most grateful for that day. That’s one question that’s constant in our repertoire. Once the lights are out, I divide my time with each girl. I alternate who I start with each night because it’s almost certain while I’m waxing poetic with one, the other will drift off to sleep before we can have a heart to heart.

I don’t plan the questions I’ll ask. Who has time for that? But I do read a lot about parenting so when I come across a good question to ask kids, I make a mental note. I find questions in blog posts, parenting books, magazines, and most recently in journal prompts. A friend recently shared on Facebook how much she loves talking with her daughters at bedtime. We all mother in our own unique way but we share many common joys and from the looks of the comments she got on her post, bedtime is one of those universal gifts. Her post made me really curious about the questions other parents ask.

Here are the questions regularly making the rounds at our home plus the ones that really make my girls light up:

  • Who made you laugh at school today?
  • Did anyone help you at school today?
  • If you could travel around the world with only one friend from school, who would it be?
  • If you could have your own restaurant, what kind of food would you serve? What would you call it?
  • If you could take a vacation anywhere in the world, where would you go?
  • What job would you never, ever want to do?
  • If you wrote a children’s book, what would it be about? What would you call it?
  • Where do you think you will live when you grow up?
  • Were you able to help anyone at school today?
  • What’s the most interesting thing you learned in school today?
  • What do you want to dream about tonight?
  • What’s the best book you’ve read lately?
  • What superpower would you want?
  • If you found $100, what would you do with it?
  • If you could learn to do something new, what would it be?
  • If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
  • Who made you feel loved today?
  • Who was unkind to you today?
  • What animal would you want to be?
  • If you could build a superhero team, which 3 friends would you want by your side?
  • What do you love most about yourself?

And while we’re at it, I’ll share a few other things we do at bedtime to make it special. We don’t do these every night; they happen once in a blue moon as a treat:

  • Years ago I started giving them massages while I asked them our nightly questions. I’d take out a special lotion and rub their feet while we listened to each other’s answers.
  • When the energy is running high, I have them lie down and I say goodnight to them from their toes to the tops of their head. I rub each part of the body and give it a kiss, saying goodnight to each (goodnight toes, goodnight legs, goodnight tummy, etc.). The best is getting up to their sweet faces and kissing their little lashes.
  • Other times, when it looks like they’re having a hard time falling asleep, I tell my girls to lie still, eyes closed, and silently thank each part of their body for it’s hard work and then say goodnight to it (for example, thank you feet for allowing me to climb at the park, goodnight). Since this is something they do on their own, I can’t be certain they actually do it but the smiles on their faces always make me think they at least try.
  • It’s been ages since we did this but for awhile I used to light a candle and we’d take turns making a wish and blowing it out. Once everyone had a turn, we’d blow it out together.

All of this in addition to our nightly bedtime book(s) plus a song they love and some whispered blessings in their ear. Bedtime ain’t no joke, people. It’s my last chance each day to redeem myself for lost tempers, elusive patience, checking my phone too often, saying no more than yes, rushing, for being imperfect. Our quirky mash up of rituals anchors me to the moment, each one sinking me deeper into the present. It’s not perfect every night but we try to make it feel a little bit like magic.

What’s funny is this is nothing like bedtime was for me as a kid. I’d kiss my parents goodnight then tuck myself in and fall asleep to the sound of my television in the background. If my godmother was visiting, she’d read me a bedtime book and her husband would ask me math questions before turning out the lights. No one lied with me until I fell asleep, there were no songs, but somehow there was no lack of magic. So there’s no right way. What’s bedtime like in your home? I’d love to know what questions, conversation starters, and rituals make bedtime magical in your home.

Dating After Divorce

Last year, when my ex-husband told me he was done with our marriage, a tiny voice in my head whispered, “Might as well join a convent until the girls are in college.”

In the months leading up to the end of my marriage, I thought a lot about old relationships. I dissected what is was about them which made me feel alive and loved – first loves, one night stands, old lovers, flirtations, and even the blossoming of my relationship with my ex-husband. I dreamed of what it would be like to be a woman in love and lust again. Despite repeated attempts, I wasn’t getting there with my husband. Bound by my values to vows of loyalty, the only thing left to do was stick it out.

I  was married, emotionally exhausted, and profoundly lonely.

Here he was, breaking it off and setting us both free. You’d imagine some small part of me would have been excited at the prospect of finding romance again. A convent, however, is neither exciting nor romantic.

It does provide tremendous comedic relief, though. I told friends about my holy thoughts and we had ourselves some good laughs imagining my life as a dating single mother. Humor was good medicine during those first days of raw emotions and trying to keep it together. Once the laughter died down, my separation and divorce became a fact of life not this grand tragic moment, and the reality set in – I’m single.

The last time I was single was over a decade ago when I was living on a college campus in the middle of Boston. I didn’t know tragedy or pain, just possibility. My heart was ripe for the taking, my breasts were perky, and my options for love or a lover were limitless. Whatever my desire, all I had to do was look in any direction and strike up a conversation. People, familiar and new, swarmed all around me, every minute of every day.

Now I’m a mother of two daughters living in the suburbs of Rhode Island. I know pain intimately; and I’m mending a wounded spirit and heart. New people rarely enter my life and I spend more than 50% of my time at places and events geared at the under 10 crowd. Options for love and lust are few and far between.

I tell friends this and they all point me to online dating.

“Everyone’s doing it.”
“People get married after meeting through online dating sites.”
“It’s just how it’s done now. I mean, what else are you going to do? Go clubbing?”
“At the very least you could get laid.”

I gave in. I set up a blank account on Match to lurk around and see if there was hope out there. I made two major discoveries. First, men take horrible pictures of themselves (my advice: step away from the mirror, lose the wife beater, make absolutely no face which you imagine looks sexy or handsome – you will look like Zoolander, hand the camera to someone else). Second, every man within a 50 mile radius of my zip code is incredibly creepy. I searched maybe a dozen times over the course of a few months, and while I saw a handful who seemed not creepy and interesting, I walked away from Match.com with my assumptions confirmed – there’s no way in hell I want anyone on that site knowing who I am or how to contact me. The convent looks more attractive everyday. Even a blind date looks more appealing.

I report back to my friends, those hopeful fools I love so much, they say I can’t give up. I can’t be single for the rest of my life, they tell me. Only until they’re eighteen, I correct them. That’s not so long, right? Aren’t humans living much longer lives these days?

“Use it or lose it” and “You have to get under someone to get over someone”, my newly divorced friends who are dating remind me. Did I mention my divorced friends? Like attracts like and once I got separated, I found myself in this wonderful community of other newly single mothers. These women are supportive, encouraging, and inspiring. They are also very clearly divided down the middle – the dating and the not dating.

The dating crowd tells me you’ve just got to jump back in and have fun (wink-wink-Tinder-Tinder). The not dating ladies remind me to take my time, wait until I’m good and ready, what’s the rush (wink-wink-failed-marriage)? I believe them both.

Have I gone on any dates since my separation? Nope. Do I want to? Yesnomaybe. Do I want to be in a relationship? Yikes, slow down. Do I want to get married again? I don’t know.

I do know –

I want to love again. I want to kiss and hold hands and be caressed. I want to sit and talk about everything and nothing until forever. I want tenderness and a hand on the small of my back. I want to put my head on someone’s lap when I need to cry, when I need to close my eyes, when my favorite show is on. I want someone to hold, to stand by. I want someone willing to put in the work. I want someone to go through the best and worst of it with me and be willing to come out on the other side. I want to trust again, myself included.

So I haven’t dated since my separation. Instead of meeting new guys, I’ve spent the last year making new friends and nurturing old friendships. They’re reminding me of the kind of friend I want to be and the kind of friend I’m looking for in whoever comes next. Slow and steady, this is the road I’m taking towards love.

If you’ve dated after divorce, found love after divorce, and maybe even, yikes, gotten married after divorce, I’d love to hear your story. Every story encourages the romantic in me.

Hugs

Seven has been full of eye rolls and huffing and puffing and “are you even listening to me?” Shitty diapers, midnight fevers, and not sharing seem like a walk in the park right now.

Seven, on my part, has been full of deep breaths and giving space and a voice inside whispering, “Don’t forget the fucking year we’ve all had.” It is teaching and stretching me more than any tearful, toy throwing tantrum ever has. Or maybe those moments prepared me for these moments.

Seven, thankfully, has also been full of rushing me with hugs and unexpected snuggles. Tenderness that catches me off guard. These embraces speak to me.

They tell a tale of a little girl whose world is changing – new home, new school, new routine, new family dynamic. They tell a tale of a little girl between, who can sense the changes around her and those taking place in the world she holds within – heart and mind expanding, growing richer, more complex. It’s the story of a girl who remembers being 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and knows she’s left those days behind but still carries them with her as she figures 7 out. She’s juggling a young heart and big emotions. She’s looking for her place like we all once did (and still do).

So. There are hugs, so many more than before. I relish every one. Eye rolls and raised voices, huffs, puffs and lost patience, today those are the sounds and signals of change and growth and becoming. Hugs are the space the between, the stillness.

This is her love language and I’m no linguistic specialist but I’m her mom so I learn as the moments pass. Hugs, embraces, touch, tenderness, cuddles – this her heart speaks, this her heart calls for. This I give her.

So much has been going on the last few months there’s been little time for writing. Make that no time for writing. And yesterday, in a frenzied pizza joint with 20 kids running around, inspiration called and I listened. We finally moved and are slowly making ourselves at home. This hopefully means I’ll be writing more. Come back and visit, k?