“Mom, tickle my back,” my three-year-old says to me as we snuggle under his covers. We just finished our typical routine; bath, a drink of water, lights off, another drink of water, prayers and now the tape player is on, and we lie in his bed. He used to be our star-sleeper, but something happened in June when he turned three. He transformed into a brand new kid. He has been trying to figure out what it means to be a step up in toddler-hood, what it is to really be a big brother to his baby sister, and how to seek independence, yet still rely on us, so greatly.
He has gone back and forth for months, between sleeping great but then needing either my husband or me, several times a night. It wasn’t too long ago that he screamed bloody murder as soon as we left his room. That was fairly close to us returning to work after having had the entire summer off as a family, but it felt like a long season. As soon as we thought we were making progress with defining consequences and helping our three-year-old sleep again, it plummetted. There was never any predictability. It didn’t seem to matter if he napped or didn’t nap during the day, the times he woke during the night would differ, and we were all just tired.
My mom listened to me vent about my exhaustion over the phone every single day. I call her daily on my way home from work. It’s only a ten-minute drive, sometimes less, that I have time to catch her up and tell her what’s been going on. “Ash, you always fell asleep listening to lullabies,” she said. “I really feel like it would help him to listen to music. Then maybe you could just sit in his rocking chair a minute before leaving his room. That’s what I always did with you kids.”
Soon after one of those talks with her, I had a small package waiting on my front porch. I brought it inside and gently opened it, smiling when I pulled out an old-school tape player with a dozen or so tapes from my childhood. That night, I showed Pierson the tape player and told him that I used to listen to these when I was his age to help me fall asleep. We prayed and then I explained that we could listen to a few songs. Then, I would move to his rocking chair to just sit silently for a few minutes.
I popped one of the lullaby soundtracks into the machine and closed my eyes.
Within seconds it all came flooding back: my tiny childhood bedroom, the stark white furniture set, the little picture frame that held a photo of Jesus next to my bed. And there she was. She laid beside me curled into a ball each and every night. Her hand would run up and down my back, across my shoulders, through my hair, and over my face, giving me ‘sleepy-time glasses,’ as I drifted into a peaceful sleep. Some nights it took me longer to fall asleep, and I remember her wrist would slightly drop in the crook of my back, going still and limp… I knew she was falling asleep. I would lightly twitch or pretend like I needed to re-situate, praying, “Please don’t be done yet. Just a minute longer.”
My eyes opened, and I was back in Pierson’s room. The only light visible was the faint twinkle of his glow-in-the-dark stars above us. The woman singing this lullaby was one I had heard time and time again. I like your eyes. I like your nose. I like your mouth. I like your ears, your hands, your toes. Tears started to trickle down my cheek as I remembered, “This was the song that she sang to me every night.” My hand paused slightly in the crook of his back, and I felt his little body twitch. I almost laughed aloud as I wondered, Is this desire to have a back scratch genetic? I tickled his a second longer and then ran my fingers through his hair. While I switched to sleepy-time-glasses around his eyes, I breathed him in, smelling his freshly shampooed hair. My first-born baby was not so much of a baby anymore but on the cusp of full-on boyhood. Sigh. I turned the tape player off and silently moved from the bed to his rocking chair.
“Mom, sing just one song?” he asked.
“Okay, baby, I’ll sing a song.” Mine to him from the moment he was born was You Are My Sunshine and the words effortlessly escaped my lips. I closed my eyes and prayed for a few minutes in the dark. His fan humming, the glowing stars lessening their light. I slipped from the room and whispered, “I love you,” closing the door. That was the night we were reminded of peaceful sleep. It hasn’t been perfect, and with winter illnesses especially, it has been up and down, but for the most part, the magic of that tape player and the lyrics that sing from it, have proven to be a success. His night time routine is slightly longer these days but that added length brings so much added sweetness.
He is growing so quickly, changing each and every day. Many days I feel an overwhelming sense of sadness knowing that I won’t have ‘babies’ for too much longer–but then I thank God for this phase that we are currently in. This phase of a few lullabies every single night, when I am given the chance to remember my own nights with my mother, and I realize: I am becoming her. At some point in early adolescence, this was a realization that kind of frightened me. But I think once we women are given our own children, and we are able to really and truly grasp how much we were loved–well, I hold tightly to what a blessing this inheritance has become.