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nighttime parenting

2016 December 5
by Rachel Turiel


It is 2am. I am on the living room couch with Rosie, who ghosted up to my bedside whisper-whimpering, “My ankle hurts and I can’t sleep.”

I rub arnica salve into her right leg, this startlingly lanky appendage snaking across my lap. Even in the dark I can sense she is forlorn. “Do you feel that bump?” she asks, drawing the word “bump” into two of the saddest syllables ever uttered. “That’s where Col pushed me down,” she sniffs. I refrain from a lawyerly objection to this middle of the night testimony, although last I remember Rose was kicking up into vigorous handstands a millimeter from Col’s pillow-shielded face and everyone was shrieking with laughter.

“Oh honey,” I murmur, while trying to harness my mind back from the full catastrophe of nighttime parenting. Those irrepressibly sunny daytime hours shine light into the mysterious folds of my brain, illuminating the neural centers of rational thinking, hope, and solutions. You can practically see the mental window-washers, whistling while keeping the storefronts clean and clear. But at night, when unable to sleep, the wolf of anxiety howls inside my cramped mind and the thorns of my minuscule problems become deeply, painfully embedded.

I realize that this is exactly what’s happening with Rosie. She wakes at night, alone in the precarious dark, where stuffed animals shapeshift and the shadowy darkness presses in. It’s alarming to be wide awake in the long, lonely night when everyone else in the house is safely, obliviously cocooned in the balm of sleep. So she lowers her pajamaed feet down the ladder of her top bunk to find some reassurance and comfort.

“I feel that bump,” I tell Rosie, “It feels like a bruise is forming. I’m glad you woke me up. Getting this arnica on there will help.” She leans her pony-weight into me and maybe for the first time I understand the task of nighttime parenting. I don’t need to fix her ankle pain, or tummy ache or whatever the current 2am malady is. I just need to offer her comfort, reassurance, presence. She needs the soothing tones of a parent whispering that she is safe from whatever simmers in her own 9-year old mind alone in the flat, inky night.

I feel my own nervous system unclench and I sense Rosie relaxing too. I know that we will both be back asleep soon, and that a groggy day tomorrow isn’t a real problem. In fact, I feel strangely grateful to be here with her on our long-suffering couch in the darkened house, as if tonight the nighttime has activated not my usual neurotic murmurings but the pure sweetness of being able to comfort and reassure a child who won’t be a child forever.

She thanks me for the arnica rub and tells me that her ankle is feeling much better. I carry her back to bed, the solid heft of her like a hay bale with limbs. She’s almost asleep by the time I lay her back down.

9 Responses leave one →
  1. Ryan permalink
    December 5, 2016

    Mama, I just want to know that you know that I’m here. I want you to see me. What a beautiful nugget of goodness. And how subtle the difference between irritation and pure gold. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. December 5, 2016

    Ahh! So very true. I was that little anxious girl. I’m glad I can be that mom for my girls now. And I’m glad that just like you, I understand how night turns every little worry into something out of proportion… and how big and scary this can be when you’re 9 or 10 or 12…
    Oh and this is pricelss: You can practically see the mental window-washers, whistling while keeping the storefronts clean and clear.

    You’re writing is so delicious!

  3. December 6, 2016

    Oh my… tears swell as I rethink my last opportunity to night parent and how little I offered, consumed by my own need for solitude. Sigh. We get to keep learning I suppose. Thank you for sharing and sharing and sharing… and for doing it in such beautiful language.

    • December 7, 2016

      Thank you so much for this, both the way you write and for your beautiful, wide open heart! Gives me hope for this world (and my own parenting potential). ;)

  4. Julia permalink
    December 6, 2016

    Just beautiful, Rachel. Thank you for the words you give to my feelings.

  5. December 6, 2016

    just last night, quinn got up to use the bathroom at 3am, and came and got me to re-tuck him in. rich mentioned it to him in the morning, more to point out logically that he is brave enough to run around at night with no lights on, so he shouldn’t feel scared to go in the bathroom during the day with lights on throughout the house. but also put in that one day he’ll be able to get back into bed without even waking anyone up. after rich went off to shower, i translated for quinn that what rich was trying to say was that, in actuality, quinn is very brave! that seemed to unfurrow his “wtf just happened” brow look that follows in the aftermath of a “talk” with rich. i then reassured him that i will miss it in a few years when he no longer comes and gets me to help him back to bed. though i added that i’m glad it’s not something that happens every night anymore. then we chatted about when he was a baby/toddler and woke me up multiple times every night, and he thought that was funny and wanted to know all about it. then he was finished eating and got up to use the bathroom, so he walked in, hands covering his ears as usual, then got inside the bathroom and i heard, “i’m brave!” and the sound of peeing… with the light still turned off.

    anyway, i guess what i’m saying is these lanky haybales with legs and the way you describe how they pull on the mama heartstrings, the way you articulate how the head condition of the mama can be so… night and day… and how to dig for that empathy to rub onto their bony parts, even when the window-washers are off duty, is such a gift.

  6. dale in denver permalink
    December 6, 2016

    I’m always at my best parenting when I’m night parenting. No distractions thinking about what’s for dinner, did I pay that bill, how are we going to get 3 kids to 3 different locations with only 2 parents, etc. Sadly, my youngest is 10 and when he had a stomach bug a few weeks ago that had him out of bed puking in the middle of the night, I didn’t hear him and he didn’t come get me. Bittersweet.

  7. Sheri permalink
    December 7, 2016

    Such a lovely reminder. Nighttime parenting is one thing I am usually proud of, but my daytime parenting needed this boost. Thank you for your words.

  8. Andrée permalink
    December 7, 2016

    Beautiful words. A wonderful reminder for a momma still nightly nighttime parenting a toddler.

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