Doesn’t matter that we’ve just moved house. That we, his parents, are weeks behind on sleep. That the corridor looks different. Sounds different. No more creaky floorboards, but a whole lot more mileage between his room and ours. Maybe that’s the point. This kid with mussed-up bed hair that makes him look so cool and so young all at once, he climbs out of his ‘down-bed’ that he shares with his sister, and trips his way over toys and bedding to the light.
And his high, distinct three year old voice calls it out loud and clear: ‘Mam-ma’.
Plee. Command. Trust-song.
And like the other end of a homing device I rise my head and hear.
Of course, what I want to do is to ignore. Roll head over, bury deeper into sleep-softened pillow.
But the kid’s persistent. ‘Mam -ma.’
And then there he is, nose-to-nose with me, his impossibly wide eyes fixed on mine like the illuminated screen-face of an alarm.
‘Mama, I want milk.’
It used to be his sister. The one who needed us with an intensity that simultaneously warmed and scorched. We’d predicted E would find the move away from the college campus hard, so we’d tried our best to prepare her. We’d begun early, talking it over, stretching our minds and vocabularies to find the right shape to translate: leaving, ending, ceasing, and rebeginning, reshaping, reinscribing, attempting to trace rough, yet unknown lines between the new and the continuous, bridges to span then and now. To a four year old. To ourselves. But W, well, we’d more or less expected, hoped, he’d be okay. But, it seems, our brave boy is becoming porous to the world as well, to change, even…God forbid… to heartache.
The kid’s a milk-fiend. I pull my legs out from the sheets, try not to wake Dr M breathing deep beside me. At least one of us must sleep. Together W and I click open the top baby gate and navigate the steep stairs. Click again at the bottom. Patter over cold tiles. W presses on the heater while I open the fridge, and fumble for a clean straw-bottle. I steep some tea. He sips his milk. It’s a dance we’ve done before, we know our parts. Together we cower before the heater , angling in for warmth and comfort.
He might have been the one to wake, but neither of us has been completely at rest.
It’s something Dr M and I have been talking about lately, in the fragile pockets of quiet between the kids’ clamour, how it’s possible, even in the doing of good things, desirous things, to exert more energy than you have to give. This move, it was the right thing to do. Necessary. Blessed even. We needed the space, physically and beneath our skin too. But change, any change, is taxing. Especially when its not just yourselves but your children too, mind, body and soul, that you have to carry along with you.
W starts quietly pottering about with his toys, in the way that only children can do, in a quiet, melodic-mindful way that is almost meditative. He goes into himself, and I do too. For a while we just comfortably coexist. Until he breaks the together-silence.
‘You can have this,mamma.’ He holds out his hands with the offering. A soft-toy horse, with a knight riding atop its back.
‘Wow,’ I respond in proper parental-gratefulness, taking it into my care.’What does it do?’ I mock-gallop it across the floor.
The imagery of the exchange appeals to me. Here we are, both of us, awake in the cold-dawn: he child, me adult, each struggling with the weight of our own emotions. What we need is some knight to come in an rescue us, righting wrongs with speed and strength.
Am I that knight for him?
What does it do… He considers my question. I see it in the barely furrow of his sensitive brow, the twinkling green of his daddy’s eyes. And then he answers, in his straightforward W way.
Now E, she would have filled the moment with drama, but W just says it how it is. While the rest of us are reaching for the stars, dizzying ourselves with our over-stretching, W is just focussed on the ground, drinking in the daisies. I feel my mouth lifting in a smile.
But as we pack up our things and gather ourselves to go back upstairs, to sink into the last hours of darkness and sleep before morning comes with all its rush and demands, I find myself thinking….
Is his answer all that humourous, all that inappropriate, really?
Is there anything wrong with walking? Is it necessarily better to run?
And what about when its hard to do even that.
To be honest, lately our family movements have felt more like stumbling. Moving house, coping with small scale bouts of winter sickness, and as I said, even the really good stuff, like the recent exhilaration of Dr M’s book launch, it’s all left its impressions, its combined impact felt in our tender places.
And yet, it can be tempting to think we can run, that we should run, that we need to run. To get it all done. To conquer the ‘to-do’ lists rising like giant paper towers with tick-boxes laughing their way through our days and nights….But at 3am, the quiet hour, when even getting down the new steep staircase becomes an obstacle….its hard to avoid the truth.
Walking is more than enough.
Climbing into bed once more it comes to me, a memory of a verse that seems to make sense of it all. In the morning, I chase it down. Or rather it chases me down.
Psalm 147: 10-11
His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his pleasure in the legs of a man,
but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who hope in his steadfast love.
Walking is enough.
And trusting, heart before feet, is always, infinitely, better.