Over the years Brooke’s bedtime routine has changed. Or perhaps more accurately evolved. Yes, evolved is a better word. It has incrementally morphed into something different than it once was.
It used to be that as I walked out of her room at the end of every night I’d say, “Mama loves you, baby.”
She would respond with a post-echolalic, ‘”Mama loves you too, baby.”
Those last two lines capped off the performance of our designated roles, straight from the same script every night.
But over time, tiny change by tiny change, the script has changed. In many ways it has become more free-flowing, less rigid. But remnants of the original still remain – comforting in their very sameness.
Every night, we lie together in the dark just before bed. I kiss her head, tucking her hair behind her ear and say some version of, “I love you so much, my sweet girl.”
She often responds with a question – “You do?”
To which I answer softly but emphatically, “I do.”
Last night the question was different.
When I said, “I love you, sweet girl,” Brooke quietly asked, “Why?”
I couldn’t see her face in the dark. I don’t know if she really understood what she was asking, or if she was simply trying on the new word she’s been working so hard on mastering with her speech therapist.
It didn’t matter, of course.
“Because you’re my baby girl and I’m your Mama,” I said.
“I am. And I have always loved you and I will always love you.”
“Yup. But I don’t just love you because I’m your Mama.”
“Nope, I love you for a million other reasons too.”
I traced her hairline with my index finger.
“I love you because you are funny and smart and sweet and generous. Do you know what generous means, Brooke?”
“Yeah.” (code for – No, but please don’t ask me another question.)
“It means that you like to share.”
“And you know what else, sweetheart?”
“You are the bravest girl I’ve ever met in my whole life.”
“Yes, baby. You are.”
We laid together for a few more minutes in the dark. Eventually, we played out the rest of our roles, true to the remainder of the script.
As I walked out of her room, I stopped at the door and found myself saying what I’d always said. Perhaps I’m just as much to blame.
“Mama loves you, baby.”
The soft reply was muffled by the tangle of comforter and stuffed animals, but the words were clear.
“Mama loves you too, baby.”
I walked out with an overwhelming sense of peace.
Once in a very rare while the very best progress is the kind that leads you right back to where you started.