It’s 2:14 a.m., and I’m miles deep in a dream. Through the murkiness, a thin voice reaches me, calling out, “Momma,” and again, “MOMMA!” I surface too fast and gargle the words, “I’ll be right there.”
Bad dreams require reassuring embraces. Warm and solid, I crawl under her covers. She smells of sleep and shampoo. We settle on our sides, facing one another. Her head nestles beneath my chin and her knees tuck against the soft belly that carried her. We become yin and yang, my strength filling the places where she, only five years old, is still small and weak.
In the dark, I whisper the same phrases my mother once whispered to me, drawing out the words until it becomes a lilting alto lullaby.
It was just a dream. You’re safe in your own bed, in your own house. Momma’s here. Everything’s fine.
This is what I do best.
I don’t play tedious board games or give chase in the yard until my legs become jelly. I don’t step into fantasy games or craft animals out of cut fruit. Lord knows my patience is as thin as the dust on my side tables. But I rub warm, needy backs in the middle of the night like it is my calling.
There is holiness in being a child’s midnight solace. The 11 p.m. fever, the 2 a.m. nightmare, the 3 a.m. feeding—all ask a devotion that is largely limited to parents and nurses. We are quiet caretakers, stoic if not worn, like New England lighthouses in a fog.
While the rest of the house sleeps, I minister.
Palm flat in wide circles. Enough pressure to comfort but not so much as to disturb. With each counterclockwise revolution from shoulder to waist I drive away another monster, offer another assurance that she will not be left alone and lost.
Outside her window, a few lonely cars roll on the wet street below. Their tires play a cadence on the pockmarked sections of concrete. Thump-thump . . . thump-thump . . . like the beating of our two hearts together.
From miles away, I hear the moan of a freight train trudging through town, searching for a place to belong.