My nieces Zayda and Maggie came for an overnight visit. "I'm so excited!" Maggie proclaimed more than once on the drive up. When we got to the house and I excused myself to go the bathroom, I heard Maggie pacing outside the door, and she whispered to her sister, "Rachel's house is SO COOL."
They fed crickets to our bearded dragon, played Lego Undercover on the Wii U, and danced around the living room in their pajamas like little rockstars.
I ended up rocking all three kids to sleep, one after another. First Maggie, whose eyes welled with tears when she started to fall asleep without her momma. She murmured, "I miss my mommy. I should notta come to yo house. I should notta come. Just drwive me back to the coffee shop. Drwive me back to the coffee shop, okay?" (Elecia and I had met at a Starbucks halfway between our houses.) I stroked her hair along her sweaty hairline over and over as we rocked back and forth in a pale yellow glider that hasn't gotten much use since Eliot was a baby. I stroked her hair and kissed her forehead until she fell asleep in my arms.
No sooner had I laid Maggie down and tucked her sleeping form into Eliot's bed then Eliot appeared at my side in the dark, sneaking in from the couch where he was supposed to be sleeping with Zayda. He whispered, "Mom?" I ushered him back down the hallway to the living room and sat with him on the couch. "I miss my dad," he said, his chin dropped low, his face trying to approximate a pout.
"Do you miss your dad? Or do you really just want me to rock you, too?" I asked, smiling.
He looked up at me and nodded up and down, breaking into a mischievous grin. We walked hand-in-hand to the front room, I sat down in the glider, and he scrambled onto my lap, all elbows and knees and skinny limbs, naked except for his red and white striped underwear. I patted his back and started to sing a quiet lullaby. I looked up and there was Zayda, as if on cue.
"I suppose you wanna be next?" I laughed. She laughed and grinned and shook her head yes.
I said, "Okay, okay. Fair enough."
After I'd gone through a few songs with Eliot--songs I used to sing to him over and over, a hundred times a night until the sun peaked up over the horizon at dawn and we were still there in that yellow glider, him dozing fitfully in my arms, me thanking the universe that I'd survived another night--I deposited him in my bed and pulled the covers up to his chin.
Back down the hallway, back out to the front room, I found Zayda ready for her turn. I sat and pulled her onto my lap, her long legs dangling nearly to the floor. We laughed together in whispered conversation. She told me how she never gets much sleep at sleepovers, and I told her the story of the first time I babysat her when she was an infant, and her mother gave me a three page, detailed letter of instructions to follow, specifying even which lullaby to sing when Zayda got drowsy. (It was "One, two, three, four, five, once I caught a fish alive...") I told her how I used to rock Aunt Libby to sleep when SHE was a baby because I was a teenager when Libby was born. "How many years older are you than Libby?" she asked, and when I said, "15," she replied with, "WOW, how old ARE you, Rachel?!"
I said, "33, and my birthday is this month, and then I'll be 34."
She looked up at me with her mile long eyelashes and dark brown eyes and said, earnestly, "Well. That's okay. At least you aren't as old as Ma Ma."
I stifled my laughter, hauled her back into the living room and tossed her on the couch. "Try to sleep, kid," I said.
I went back to the yellow glider and sat there, rocking back and forth, silently.