“When no one is sleeping with me, I feel very alone,” my almost seven-year-old says as he walks toward my side of the bed. His eyes are turning red, tears threatening to fall down his soft, baby cheeks, and his bottom lip trembles. I feel an ounce of guilt for the rude way I greeted him when he came into my room.
Right after I tuck my children into bed is the most coveted time of my day; I hold this time closely. I read and write, and pray I don’t see any little faces peek through the crack of my door. Rarely, if ever, am I left completely alone, though. I can count on at least one of my children walking through my door, asking for water, or to be tucked in again. I greet them with a heavy sigh and put my pen down on my bed, give them what they ask, and then tell them, usually in a sharp tone, to go to bed.
“I have nightmares in my entire body,” he tells me often. “In my legs and behind my eyes. I tell my brain to stop, but it doesn’t like to listen.”
I never know what to say to ease his fear. As much as I wish I had these quiet hours at night to myself, my king size bed is usually occupied by two out of three of my children. My husband works nights, and they are especially needy and afraid when he is gone.
Tonight, he is worried about bad guys breaking into our house. He asks if our windows are strong enough to keep them out–if they have ladders tall enough to reach the highest windows.
He’s beginning to understand how the world works. He knows some bad guys break into houses and hurt people. He knows people die and don’t come back. He is starting to understand that this world can be a hard place to live in.
I still see him as my seven-pound, eleven-ounce newborn baby– my first baby. He cuddles up next to me on the couch and gets sad when my lap is already taken. He runs to me and gives me random hugs and kisses, tells me he loves me and that I’m the best mom he’s ever had. He plays with his little sisters, crawling around and acting like a baby to make them happy. He is sweet and innocent, and I want to shield him from all of the hard and scary things giving him nightmares throughout his entire body.
“You have no reason to be afraid. You are never alone, I am always here with you,” I hold his face in my hands and stare deep into his big, brown eyes, desperate for him to believe me. “There are no bad guys in our neighborhood. I would never let anything happen to you,” my words offer little comfort. I can tell him over and over again, but he is at the age where he knows I am not capable of everything, I promise. I know my limitations, too.
“How will you keep the bad guys out?” he asks. He wants specifics. He wants facts. My words are filled with empty promises because I don’t know the answers he needs; I don’t know what words I can offer him to ease his fears. I have little control over our lives; I can do everything in my power, but I cannot keep the bad guys away from my children. I cannot stop the world from being scary.
I don’t even know how to keep my own fears at bay. I have no idea how to comfort myself when I have to do terrifying things like sending them to school. I am terrified of receiving a phone call that something happened or turning on the news and seeing their school surrounded by police cars. I worry about taking them to the grocery store or the mall or the museum, always on the lookout for bad guys trying to hurt others.
I’ll be honest here. As much as I enjoy having my king size bed to myself because sleeping with kids can be a literal pain in the neck, I miss them when they sleep in their own rooms. It brings me comfort when I wake in the middle of the night to see and hear them snoozing away right next to me. Tucking my children in brings a wave of anxiety strong enough to knock me off my feet. I wake with a jolt in the middle of the night, sneak into their rooms, and listen for their heavy breathing, watch their chests rise and fall, and pray they will wake up in the morning.
As my son grows older, he leads me into uncharted territory. I am confronted with the fact that I don’t know what I am doing. Every night he sleeps next to me, I wonder how much longer it will be acceptable to bring him into my bed, so he doesn’t have to be alone. I wonder when I will have to stop shielding him from the ugly and scary things this world has to offer.
My words never feel adequate to ease his fears. My words are never adequate to ease my own. I feel like it is my responsibility to be strong, brave, and act as if nothing terrifies me. On these nights, when he comes to me desperate for answers, handing him the fears I carry seems cruel. I want to wrap him up in a hug and whisper to him, “I’m afraid too. This world scares me too. We can be scared together.” Instead, I’ll pull him in close, whispering words of comfort we are both desperate for, words of comfort to wrap us up and keep us warm. This bed is too big for just one anyway.
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Jacey is a wife to her husband of seven years and together, they have three children. She finds solace in words and between the pages of a good book. Her writing has been featured on Coffee + Crumbs among others. You can find her on Instagram or her blog.