There’s a story alive in our family lore that’s told as frequently as anyone can work it into the conversation. It’s primarily about the three oldest children when they were little and how, even when it was still light outside, I made them go to bed at a certain time.
The way they tell it, they longingly looked out of bedroom windows while neighborhood kids played outside, and even worse, saw their friends come to our front door where I kindly informed them the children at our house were in bed for the night.
Recently I was talking to my son and granddaughter on Skype when he mentioned something about her bedtime. “Yeah,” he said. “I don’t make her go to bed at EXACTLY 8:00.” “I get it,” I responded. “You’re a better parent than I was. I shouldn’t have been so strict with you guys.” He laughed and said, “Then we wouldn’t have all those great stories.”
It’s true. I was a bedtime Nazi. I like to think I softened a bit with the last two little boys that were born into our family – that there was more spontaneity and less code. More warm lingering and less razor-sharp structure.
I addressed the subject of little noses pressed to windows before the sun went down with my daughter not long ago, and she gave me some validation. “I understand it now,” she said. “You were done. You were tired. I know the feeling. But I’m not gonna lie. It was pretty awful at the time.”
She also insisted that the ribbing they hand down to me is not mean-spirited, and that if true hard feelings existed they probably wouldn’t keep telling the story. I told her I hoped I was a different person now. They seem to like me in spite of these past, dark episodes.
I’m grateful the years keep stacking up, but while my aging eyes read the word “influential” as “inflatable” (and that’s with glasses on), and I have to carefully plan the number of hours I get to sleep every night before I go back to work the next morning, I also get the less annoying bonus of perspective that comes with time.
The same way we all want endless summers and unlimited resources, I want to go back, for just another ten minutes, and see my little ones as the young mother they remember, but with the experience of my years.
Right before bed on one of those spring evenings, I would ask them to please do this for me now and then I would promise to make it up to them with fun later nights in coming years. Then I’d tell the oldest to always appreciate knowledge and fact, but mostly trust in his heart and gut. I’d tell the second one that whoever she wants to be is OK by me and offer to help her find out who that is. And I’d tell the third one to keep swinging from light fixtures and taking chances, but to be sure and look both ways first and choose only the risks that are really worth it.
Then the second before I shut each door I would make sure they looked at me directly when I tell them I will never stop loving them no matter what they do.
And yes, it would still be 8:00pm and sunny.