We say "Nigh Nigh" to the neighborhood out the front window and shut the shades "together." I turn on the humidifier and shut the bedroom door with a little "help" from my girl. Together, we cross the room and settle down into the creaky old glider-rocker. Her efforts to get at my bare left arm renew and I soothe her again while I push up the sleeve as best I can. This long-sleeve season is NOT her friend.
As soon as she has free access to the kryptonite that is my left arm, she snuggles into the crook of my arm, She lays full length across my midriff and rubs her cheek in the soft crook of my elbow contentedly while starting her "snuggle hum." Those two fingers are getting quite a work-out and after finding her perfect spot, the little feet at the other end start to wiggle.
"Okay, Mei Mei, let's pray. Dear Jesus ("Jee-yah"), thank you for today ("day"). Thank you for .... Amen. (happy grunting ensues)."
"Mei Mei, now that we are done praying, it's time for you to be quiet and go to sleep."
In a matter of seconds, those little feet are rubbing up against my right shoulder. She's quite agile and attempts to stick her toes in my hair. By this time, I have already begun to sing our rotation of "night night" songs and hymns and she's joining along in her (also) off-key snuggle hum again. As she settles into the crook of my arm and her breathing slows, I turn to humming these songs. The rotation of songs is almost always the same. I know it's not the greatest attachment parenting practice, but lately I've taken to humming with my eyes closed and my head resting back to avoid the eye contact that will spark attempts at conversation. Because, as we've learned the hard way, CONVERSE she will! (Plus, I'm exhausted. Like 45-year-old momma chasing a 2-year-old exhausted.)
Several rounds of "Amazing Grace," "Jesus Loves Me," "It is Well," and "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" later, her snuggle hum has subsided and sweet sleep has taken over my girl. She's still. And quiet. Oh, so blessedly quite. It's a beautiful thing, watching her drift to sleep out of the peeks that I allow myself as her weight relaxes in my arms. I love holding her while she relinquishes all her grasps at control. All her super-human efforts to communicate and Tell! Me! what she's thinking. All her energies of creating elaborate playtime scenarios and her invitations to her dolls and toys to join the fun. It's no wonder she falls asleep so hard and deep.
This daily nap-time routine has become a cherished break in my day. And not just for the obvious "Mommy needs the break" relief that washes over me at 1 p.m. every afternoon. (You all can "Amen!" me here, I know you all get!) I know that the resulting sleep is so good for her. Her two-year old self needs the rest, physically and mentally. It's hard work being a super busy toddler with big world to explore. Nap time gives her the rest her body needs.
But the sleep that comes on the heels of this little routine of ours is, in my mind, almost a secondary benefit. The routine itself is just as necessary to this little one as is the actual sleep that follows. The connecting and anchoring that happens with the same-ness of this daily touch point does as much, if not more, to refresh and renew her spirit. And mine... The predictability of the walk up the stairs, the routine of the gentle rocking and my (off-key) singing. This routine is a tangible keystone in her (still) new life whereby she is granted a safe place to re-charge after the long mornings of making sense of this world into which she's been plunked with no warning and no preparation. She needs it.
I need it.
I need the stop in my day that makes me REMEMBER that she needs more of me. She needs me differently than my other kids did at this age and stage. Than they do now. She needs the reinforcement of external routines that speak to her loudly of our perseverance. Our commitment to her. The "forever-ness" of it all. She craves the consistency and the structure that moments like this routine provide to her. I see what unpredictability produces in her. And sometimes, it is not pretty. It sparks a grasping for control. An anxious stealing of attention, no matter how negative. A screeching stranglehold on the security that we are trying to lay as her foundation.
I've noticed that when I don't STOP, when I don't use that routine together as fully what it can be for her, I'm short-circuiting myself and my efforts to re-wire my girl for family (vs. institution). I'm cutting myself off from the opportunity for success. I need that time to re-focus on compassionate responses and facilitating healing. Holding her, singing over her and rocking her in my arms - that routine that (most days!) makes me fall in love with her all over again. And that? That makes me ready to move mountains to get this girl all that she needs to thrive and build on in the process of becoming all God has intended her to be.
I need her nap.