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Mama

December 14, 2013

Sometimes, it is hard for her to sleep. I’m awakened by the loneliest sound: the name she calls me, Mama. I wait a while, hoping she will turn over on her pillow and close her eyes again, then drift off to sleep. Sometimes it works, but this time, no, it won’t.

I roll out of the sheets-tangle and out of bed. As I take the railing and start walking down the stairs, her “Mama” gets louder. The motion-sensor light pops on, and with the confidence of being able to see where my feet are landing, I tiptoe toward her faster than before.

“Shhh,” I say as I walk in her door. “Shhh, sweetie. Mama’s here.”

In the shadows coming from the skylight over her crib, I see her stand up. She raises her arms toward me and says “Mama” again. All the loneliness is gone from the word, and it’s become the hope and happiness of what she believed would happen all along: I’ve come for her. I wonder if I’ve waited upstairs to give time for this relief to build.

Now I have to decide: do I take her upstairs, which is what she’s asking for — “I want to go with you,” she says, and “you” is a pout that lingers on her lips as she nestles into the crook of my shoulder — or do I sit with her here in her room?

The recliner is there next to her crib for this. But I just got up from it a few hours before. It was just 8:30 (now it’s 1:00) when I sat there trying to accommodate a space for her against me that is mostly no longer there. Her legs wrapped around my waist and into the crevices of the chair. I leaned my neck to either side to make room for her head because her body is now too long.

She fit here before. First she was a little bundle, perfect in the crook of my elbow, nuzzling and nursing until her breathing changed to sleep. The she leaned against me, my chin on her head. The lavender of her wet hair then is the smell of her to me, ever and always.

I decide to sit, knowing getting up will be noisy and lurching. I have to push down on the footrest with my heels and on the arms of the chair with the palms of my hands. It is not a smooth descent and the last bit is likely to wake her.

“Mama?” she says, this time a question. It is a plea like the night I flew out to London and she cried, “Mama, don’t leave me!” as soon as the road to the airport revealed the planes. But I can’t stay here in this chair with her all night any more than I could have stayed in that car.

“Shhh,” I say again. I pat her back through the blanket and footed pajamas that warm her. She settles a bit and I stand. I rock side to side and there is a pang again because she doesn’t quite fit here either and it makes my forearms and my heart both ache. Getting her over the edge of the crib and down onto the mattress on her stomach is the thing I’m not sure I can do without waking her and her “Mama” denouncing my betrayal.

I consider sleepless hours ahead if I bring her up to our bedroom: her head hitting the railroad-tie headboard and her “Mama” ringing with surprise and pain, her foot in my stomach, her arm flung across my husband’s face.

I know it wouldn’t be snuggles and lavender hair all night so I slowly put her down. I tread like a soldier backing out of her room, watching for movement, listening for “Mama” again. I manage to make my way out, miss the creaky floorboard, turn the door handle and pull the door to lightly enough to be silent. Then I realize the cat’s in there under the dust ruffle up against the baseboard where there’s heat.

“Dozy!” I whisper, “Pstpstpst. C’mon.” She does, slinking her narrow black and white body through the crack I’ve made for her and hobbling away on her three legs into the den.

I close the door again and listen on the stairs for my sweet girl. I half regret I didn’t bring her with me; I miss her warm chest against my chest already, and the sound of her breathing is faint from this far away.

“Mama!” I hear her demanding with expectation first thing in the morning. “Come get me, Mama!” The daylight must be coming down through the glass and tree branches above her again.

“Mama’s coming baby,” I call down the hallway to her. “Mama will be right there.

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