BY Kate Edmonds
I hear his snuffle before I can see him. In the darkness of the night, there are many sounds: the sigh of the dog, the skitter of the cats as they chase invisible mice, the hum of the dryer drying the latest batch of clothes he wet during potty training. But his snuffle is distinct. A mother’s homing beacon. You could put him in a room of other children snuffling and I would know which one is mine. I can hear him shuffling through the house in the dark, not calling for help, just moving around in the familiarity of his own home. He knows where every piece of furniture is and could navigate it blindfolded (and in fact, has). I hear a pause and then a loud meow…he’s bumped into the cat. Still, I lie motionless on my bed, waiting for him to find me. He giggles. At three years old, bumping into a cat in the dark can unleash a smile when nothing else can. The shuffling resumes. Still, I wait, confident he will find his way to me. My confidence is rewarded when I hear my bedroom door open. The dog lifts her head and sighs, exasperated at what she knows is coming next. She doesn’t LIKE being shoved out of her spot by the tiny one, but she is resigned to it. The baby snuffles again, and suddenly he is at the side of my bed looking in my face.
“Mama?” he pokes my forehead.
“Yes, baby,” I reply. I smooth his hair back and he starts the climb into my bed, his arms full of all his bedtime buddies. A hippo, a bunny, a giraffe, a kitten and a daddy doll. They all must be welcomed into my bed, for he will not sleep with any other combination of critters.
He snuggles into the exact center of the queen-sized bed, forcing me to cuddle with him. Some nights this bothers me, but not tonight. Tonight I know he is not feeling well, and I need some cuddles too. We are halfway through a deployment and it is taking its toll on us. He sighs. I can hear him blinking, looking around the room. Taking in all the reminders of his daddy, of the life we have when he is home. I wonder how he feels about that. Is he comforted? Does it make him sad? Or is it just the way it is for him? He rolls towards me and sighs. The dog has had enough and relocates to the foot of the bed. It is 4 am and we are all on the bed together. Both cats, a dog, a baby and me.
We both have school in the morning and sometimes this disturbance of my sleep annoys me. The baby is not an easy sleeper. He rolls and kicks and sighs, as though the weight of the world rests on his shoulders. Perhaps it does, maybe it is too much for him to be an active duty kid. But tonight I am acutely aware that he will not be this young forever. He will not always want his mother to cuddle him when he is sick or sad. He will not always want to lay THIS CLOSE to me in my own bed. So I wrap my arms around him and hug him close, feeling him relax into my arms. He sighs. Looks up at me. In the darkness I can see what little light there is reflecting off of his eyes.
“Mama?” He queries again. This word is a statement as much as a question. Something I don’t know how to answer, so I just say, “Shhh…go to sleep, bug. I love you.”
Three words that can fix anything for him. I love you. That’s all it takes. The dog sighs again, letting me know she is displeased at the sleeping arrangements. The baby snuggles closer into me and sighs as well, but his is a sigh of content. I close my eyes and am comforted that while my husband is not here in the bed with us, he is thinking of us always. That he will be home soon, completing the missing part of the puzzle.
We are a military family, and this is our burden to bear. Our life. And though it is hard at times, though it hurts to miss so much of our family life, we will make it through, as we always do.
Featured image by theloushe on Flickr