It’s 10 pm, an hour past the girls’ bedtime. Luau and I are sitting up in bed watching train wreck TV from the week before. Marcus sings for his life on the X-Factor while my brain races through the day, the week, the list of looming MUST-DOs.
Our door creaks open. I wonder what Katie’s complaint is this time. Too hot? Too cold? Thirsty? Lost a stuffed animal in the tangle of bedding? Or my all-time favorite – we forgot to turn on the humidifier. Turn it on yourself, kid; you’re ten. But we all know it’s never about the humidifier.
I know it’s going to be Katie because while she comes into our room probably once a week after bedtime, Brooke Does Not Leave Her Room At Night. She may leave her bed. She’s been known on rare occasions to turn on her all her lights, dump every toy out of every box in the room and play until all hours of the night, but she Does Not Leave Her Room At Night.
She will be nine in March and yet there is still a monitor in her room because she Does Not Leave Her Room At Night. In years past she has wet her bed, sobbed in bed, vomited in bed, fought fevers and stomach aches and sore throats – all without leaving her bed. Never – not one of those times – did she Leave Her Room At Night.
So I wait to see Katie’s head rounding the corner and peeking into the room.
And I’m dumbfounded when it’s not her.
Brooke walks in as though she does it every night. She seems unfazed that, but for the glow of the television, the room is completely dark.
She walks straight to our bed and climbs up. She steps up and over Luau, then pulls the covers back between us.
“I had trouble sleeping,” she announces.
She continues to speak, but I hit record. I’ll get back to the rest of the words in a second – I just need to process these first. I roll them around in my head, smooth as water-worn pebbles. I had trouble sleeping, she said. The words were just so — typical. I don’t know that I’ll ever get used to combinations of words that sound so — typical. She continues.
“I am going to be with you in here and since I love you,” she says as she crawls in beside me and throws an arm around my shoulder. Apparently, it’s decided.
We let her stay for a while. I’m tempted to give Luau the boot and keep her with me for the night, but I know on so many levels that it’s not the right thing to do. But I want to.
She clings to me like a baby koala. Eventually Daddy says, “OK, Brooke, it’s time to go to your own bed now.”
I begrudgingly concede that he’s right and he makes a move to get up.
She doesn’t argue, but says, “I will go with YOU,” into my chin.
I scoop her up into my arms and carry her to her room.
When we get there, she insists that I leave the door all the way open and the light in the hallway on. Just as she’s Never Left Her Room At Night, she’s also always Slept With The Door Closed – In The Dark.
“Are you OK, baby?” I ask.
“Just a little sinus trouble,” she answers.
When will I learn?
“OK, Bert,” I say, smiling.
She reaches over to the laminated Teletubbies on her nightstand. She picks up the little red one.
“Po is feeling sad,” she says. Her eyebrows are pulled into a ‘V’ and her chin is curled down into her chest to show me Sad.
“Why, baby?” I ask. “Why is Po feeling sad?”
“Because her Mommy is going to work tomorrow and she wants her to STAY HOME,” she says. The last two words stand alone.
I kneel next to her.
“Oh, lovey. You tell Po that I’m sure that her Mommy is a little sad too. And that she’ll miss her a LOT tomorrow, just like always. But tell her that she’ll be home RIGHT after work and they will be together again. OK?”
I curl my left hand into a fist. My fingernails dig hard into the flesh of my palm.
With my right hand, I gently cup her cheek.
She considers Po for a moment, then kisses her on the head. “Don’t worry, Po,” she says. “It’s bedtime now. Mommy loves you. It’s bedtime now, Po.” She kisses her again, then sets her back down on the nightstand.
I kiss my girl and tuck her in – first the sheet, then the duvet, then the weighted blanket. I hand her Prairie Dawn. I kiss her again, then one last time. Then one *last* last time. I can’t help it. If I could, I’d swallow her whole. I move toward the door.
“You don’t like being away from me,” she says.
It’s a script. I taught it to her ages ago because I worried that she didn’t understand my leaving. I didn’t know how to explain that I have to work. I never wanted her to think that I simply didn’t want to be with her.
“No, baby, I don’t.”
“You like being with me.”
“I sure do.”
“And since you love me.”
“More than anything in the whole wide world.”
I stand in the doorway.
How many times have I stood in this spot, looking in on my girl in her bed – lingering long after I should have gone?
“Goodnight, sweet girl,” I say one last time. “Mama loves you.”
“Goodnight, sweet girl,” she says, “Mama loves you too.”
And with that, I walk away – leaving her door open, the hallway light on and my heart on her nightstand.