An Enchanting Conversation in the Quiet and Dark of Bedtime

Author: Elizabeth Foss


By Elizabeth Foss

The other day my mother-in-law discovered a stack of books and tapes that had been in her garage since 1988. They belonged to my husband and she gave them to him to sort. I laughed to discover a copy of a popular book which promises to solve a child's sleep problems. In 1988, we had one baby whom I remember as being exceedingly cheerful. I don't remember reading that book six years ago and I really don't remember needing it. Perhaps time colors our memories.

I do remember reading the book last winter. That time I had a new baby and a two- year-old, both of whom required my presence to fall sleep. Many people whom I respect told me that it was perfectly fine, even desirable, to read to my children, say prayers and then stay a while, quietly reassuring them just by being there as they fell asleep. Other people, whom I also respected, told me that children, from their very first night on earth, should go off to bed with a hug and a kiss and a nighttime prayer and should not require anyone or anything else until the morning. Maybe it was the fatigue that accompanies a new baby or maybe it was hormones or maybe it was the impatience, but I began to listen to something other than the whisperings of my own heart.

One experienced mom told me that both the baby and the two-year-old could be trained from that very night to go to sleep and stay asleep. I asked her what to tell the two-year-old and she told me to hand him a rosary and tell him to say some extra prayers until he fell asleep.

That night, I wasn't willing to let the baby cry but I did give my toddler a wooden rosary after his bedtime story. I told him to stay in bed and talk to Mary while I nursed the baby. He cried himself to sleep. He awoke crying sometime in the middle of the night, "I don't like Mary. She doesn't hold my hand when I'm sleepy." That was the last of that strategy.

I've come to accept the time it takes me to get my children to sleep. While I lay there with them, I take a few moments to transition myself from the busyness of my day to the quiet of the evening. Instead of being impatient to do whatever I have planned for the night, I welcome the respite and the quiet. Sometimes I even get a catnap.

Usually, I am privileged to the quiet confidences that come from my children just as sleep begins to settle upon them. And that is why I continue to cherish bedtime. The child who was an infant in 1988 likes to discuss his latest chapter book. Though I try to linger, he doesn't need me to stay with him anymore. Sometimes he opens up and shares something pressing that we couldn't discuss during the day, and other times he seems anxious for some quiet time to himself. Indeed, it is often this child who shoos me out of his room so that he can sit in bed and read for a while longer.

The two-year-old, who has since grown to love saying "Mary prayers" with mommy, is most expressive at bedtime. In the quiet and the dark, with my undivided attention, he is able to articulate in a most enchanting way.

On the very same day that we discovered the long-forgotten sleep-book, we had been out house hunting with the children. I think that little pitcher in the back seat had very big ears as he heard my husband and I discuss floor plans and finances. That night, after reading three times, I snuggled next to a sleepy little boy.

"Mommy, I am going to ask Santa Claus to get you that house with the porch."

"That's nice of you sweetie. We'll see what he says."

"He might not have enough money so I'll give him three monies."

"That's very generous of you, Christian. Don't you think you'd like to ask for something for yourself?"

"Oh, I'll live there too."

After a long pause that I was sure indicated that he was asleep, Christian continued, "And maybe I'll ask for a little toy house and a young mouse and a comb and a brush and a bowl full of mush..." Stepping in for the little old lady, I tucked the comforter around my little boy and whispered, "Hush."

I'm so glad I was there.

Foss is a freelance writer living in Springfield.

This article appeared in the November 16, 1995 issue of "The Arlington Catholic Herald."

Courtesy of the "Arlington Catholic Herald" diocesan newspaper of the Arlington (VA) diocese. For subscription information, call 1-800-377-0511 or write 200 North Glebe Road, Suite 607 Arlington, VA 22203.


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