The moon hung itself high above Austin when a little eight year-old boy crawled in my bed Friday. The stillness of 4 am lay on our house like the comfort of an old friend, finally come home.
"I can't sleep," was all he said.
I made space for him and settled myself into a new, cooler section of the sheets. The fan whirred gently overhead and all was peaceful, but even so, I couldn't get comfortable.
"I don't think I can sleep now, either," I whispered.
"Mama, I feel like I'm going to throw up," he moaned.
Then it began. Every parent in the history of the world has done this dark-of-night duty at some point. The rushing to bathrooms, the horrendous cleaning, the eager comforting, the agony of wishing you could make it all better, right here, right now. It's never fun, and it's always awful.
After about an hour of misery, he lay weak and wrung out on the bathroom floor. I sat on that odd little bench the builder put in our bathroom thirty years ago, and I stared at his golden hair, flushed cheek, and little turned-up nose.
From deep within my exhausted lungs, I felt it rise. It streamed through my heart down my arm, and flowed into my fingers that swirled endless circles on his weary back.
My mouth opened and I spoke quietly over this boy who was woven from pieces of my own soul, "I will stay with you until you sleep. I won't leave you. I promise."
It is a privilege to be the one who holds his head in her lap until the sickness passes. To have him need me, want me, and feel loved by me digs down into the difficult soil of my life and builds a home where we can all abide together in peace.
In the morning I mopped the floors, scrubbed the toilets, and washed the sheets clean while he slept. When he was better, I handed him a glass bottle of Coke and his happiness was only equaled by my own relief that the worst had passed.
After lunch I sliced juicy peaches to make a crisp and then grabbed another cup of coffee. I was tired, I was spent. I was frustrated with silly nothings because my need for sleep had left me frayed and dry. But I was home, and that meant everything was going to be okay.
Tonight, my son will sleep comfortably in his own bed. He will gently snore in the top bunk, and wake up eager for books and Legos before breakfast. In a month he will have a difficult time remembering the details of his night on the bathroom floor. In a year or two, he may not recall how he lay his head on me and sobbed, or how delicious a sip of water was when he could finally keep it down.
That awful night will melt and dissolve into the mysterious thing called the past. Its scenes and colors will bleed into yesterday and tomorrow, creating a kaleidoscope of time and life. Although the details will be forgotten, he will carry the imprint of it all deep within himself. In the hazy shadows of his memories there will be a mama who stayed close by his side, a home full of love, and hope for a happy ending.
I will carry it, too; but in a different way, I suppose. My treasure will be remembering that he was once my little boy, that I was once his whole world, and that taking care of him brought me home.
I feel it now, again, rising this time above the sadness of babies that grow up and time that passes too quickly. It flows from my own messy, colorful past and into the bright light of the unknown future.