Every evening my husband and I put our two and a half year old daughter to bed. We’ve developed a complicated ritual as a family, a ritual of potty and tooth brushing and pajamas, of story and prayer and song. The ritual changes and grows over time as my daughter does, adapting to her new capability and independence. But the end is always the same. At the end of the ritual my husband gently hugs and kisses our baby girl and helps her turn out the light. Then he hands her back to me, wrapped in a hand knit blanket, and she and I have our snuggle time in the rocking chair. We snuggle for the first two songs on her lullaby C.D. and then I tuck her in with hugs and kisses before leaving the room for the night.
This snuggle time is our free time together. Sometimes we sing together. More often we will talk. She will ask questions and I will do my best to answer them. We’ve already had some theological conversations about God being everywhere. Sometimes I will ask questions and she will tell me about the events in her day. At other times she will talk about something that has troubled her and I will do my best to offer soothing and guidance. Most of the time though, we tell stories. She will say to me “Tell a story, Mommy!” and I will make up some adventures with a little girl who happens to share my daughter’s name. This little girl is brave, smart, kind, strong and beautiful and she has many pretend friends who share exciting adventures with her. Along the way these friends, with the help of the little girl, also learn to control their tempers, apologize, share toys, calm down and go to bed on time. I think that in her mind she is the little girl, which is what I hoped would happen. What she doesn’t know is that in my mind she is all of the characters, learning to manage herself in this beautiful, frustrating, complicated world.
I treasure this quiet time with my daughter, however it unfolds. I am gone for most of the day each day, taking the role of the main breadwinner in the family while my husband stays home with our daughter. I worry sometimes that I am absent too much, too often, and for too long. My daughter tells me she misses me sometimes, and I worry that I am not there for her enough. Our snuggle time is my insurance policy, my guarantee that she and I will have time to nurture the love between us. I know as she grows up that we will struggle with each other. She has already shown us the stubborn strong will that characterizes both her parents. So I am banking on this quiet time together, each night another tiny deposit into the account of love and connection, to buffer us through the storms of growing up.