At night I am the mother I want to be.
Nighttime has always been for just us, Olive and I.
In the beginning, when she was small, Adam would offer to take over some of the night feedings and give her a bottle so I could sleep. But he had to get up and go to work the next day whereas I could nap, and really I never minded, anyway. She wasn’t usually upset when she woke. I’d nurse her in the dim light, then sit her on my stomach with her back against my propped up knees, and we’d look at each other. My daughter and I.
She would coo and babble, I’d make faces and talk to her. I don’t remember what I used to say – perhaps I’d tell her about our plans for the next day, or discuss the one that had just slipped away.
She was so wobbly, and small. Solid, but not really present in the way she is now.
It’s been ages since she needed me like that at night. Long enough that I miss it sometimes. Every so often now she will wake up asking for water, or she’ll have a bad dream. I’ll follow the sound of her small voice into her bedroom, peering through the dark to find the shape of her lost in the huge expanse of twin bed.
At night I am patient. I never say “Just a minute” or “In a moment please, Olive! Wait!“. At night she is softly edged and hot with sleep. I get her the water, or brush away the last shreds of the nightmare, and I lie down next to her, tracing circles on her back until she falls asleep.
At night I have had a few hours to myself. A few hours of silence and order. I’ve spilled some words onto the page. At night I am the mother I thought I would be.
I murmur comforting things and my voice doesn’t have the edge that it sometimes can during the daylight hours. Time seems to move slower, and we do too. I have time to look at her, really look, because’s she’s finally staying still long enough for me to take it all in. The changing shape of her face, her wild hair. How she is starting to lose her baby fat and stretch taller. Sometimes she falls right back into sleep with those deep wave-like breaths that seem to be coming from somewhere else entirely, but other times we just lay there and look at each other, my daughter and I.
These days, she looks back. And when I talk to her in the dim of night, she talks back, too. We plan our tomorrow together, debating between playground visits or library trips. Sometimes she tells me what she has been dreaming about. Sometimes a hot little hand will cup my cheek and she’ll say “Love you, mummy”
In the beginning, special as they were, these interrupted nights drained me of everything I had. There is no other exhaustion like that of a new mother. It takes you to the brink in every way imaginable, and the next day everything becomes exponentially harder without a bolster of sleep to fuel your efforts.
It’s so different now. I don’t spend hours awake while what seems like the whole world sleeps. I don’t have to pace the halls, arms aching. I don’t sit in the rocking chair for hours staring at the moonlight shifting on her cheeks.
Now, because they are so infrequent and so fleeting, these rare nights fuel me. It is so fulfilling to be needed in such a simple way. The answers are easy: Water. Back rubs. I don’t have to think on my feet and anticipate tantrums, coerce and bribe and attempt to find reason where there is no reason to be had. At night I am, and always have been, the alpha and the omega. Life begins and ends within this warm sleepy circle, lit with the light from the hall.
These nights reassure me that the mother I thought I would be is still here, somewhere. Even if I can only find her at night.