It had been a long stretch of less-than-smooth bedtimes. Ever since our boys decided to play Houdini and escape their cribs months before, the whole bedtime process had taken on a life of its own. While we kept a gate at the doorway to their bedroom (my husband laughed at me but the visions of one of my boys wandering out of his room in the dark and tumbling head first down the stairs were just too great to bear), this didn't mean that they physically stayed in their beds or tried to hide the fact that they disagreed it was time for sleeping.
However, besides the occasional need to be tucked in "one more time" (particularly by my little Michael), things had been getting steadily better.
And then there was "the stink bug incident".
If you don't have much experience with these somewhat disgusting-looking, annoying little creatures, consider yourself lucky. They seem to hang around sunny windows and somehow find their way inside. At any rate, one happened to fly into/touch/bother Michael one night while he stood at the gate for his "last tuck" -- having been stung by a bee out in the yard only days prior, he freaked. I took pity on him. After all, I loathed they things myself and being touched by one (in the dark, no less) would've been difficult for me to shake, too.
So I did what any mother with half-a-heart would do and I laid next to him in his bed, singing "Amazing Grace", "In Christ Alone", "Silent Night" and any other hymn I could think of until he forgot about the bug enough to fall asleep. By the time I returned downstairs, my husband had finished cleaning up from dinner and was already asleep in his favorite chair in the living room.
The next night proceeded much the same, the memory of the stinkbug trauma continuing to cause my Michael to need extra help falling asleep. My husband took one for the team and after several trips upstairs, decided it was easier to lay on the floor for a bit between our twin sons' beds while Michael settled in and fell asleep.
The troublesome nights continued long after the stinkbug memory had faded. Night after night I'd lay there, singing hymns, desperate for my son to fall asleep.
They're only little once, I kept telling myself.
Soon there will come a day when they won't ask me to sing and they'll have grown so big that there won't be room for me in the bed next to them, not that they'd even want there.
But soon, my patience began to wear thin. After several weeks of this routine, I was worn and tired. And my son's "demands" were only getting stronger and more involved. I needed a break. I intentionally left my boys' room before my husband (I am always the one who lingers) ad I heard him tell the boys that he would be the one coming back up the stairs on this particular night if they called.
And a small part of my heart broke in two.
As I kissed my girls goodnight in their room next door, I heard my husband return to my sons' doorway with a gentle yet stern reminder to get back in bed. As I walked down the hallway to the top of the stairs, I expected to see my son's brown eyes peering out from behind the door with an adorable plea for me to tuck him in and sing "just one song".
But I didn't. The door was closed. All was quiet.
And my heart broke again.
Downstairs, I found my husband dutifully starting the dishes. I looked at him and then at the clock. Was I really seeing him in an upright position and prior to 9pm? It felt like it had been months.
"So, did that go a little bit smoother for you?" he asked.
"Yes..." I said, undisguised reluctance in my tone. "It's so tough," I continued, "because so much of myself is saying: Just go in there. Sing the hymns. Give a few extra hugs and kisses. Fall asleep next to him. Because I know that day is coming when I can't.
My husband gave me a half-smile; the kind that seemed to say I love how tirelessly you love our kids.
"But I've missed you," he said.
I stood there for a moment, stunned and perhaps a bit ashamed. By continually, night after night, saying "yes" to my son's increasingly long rituals for falling asleep, had I actually been saying "no" to my husband?
Now, believe you me, I will be the first to tell you to sing the songs, give the extra snuggles, tuck them in "one more time". There will no doubt be times as a parent when our kids need us more than others -- embrace those times, enjoy them, be there. And hopefully, your spouse, like mine, will support you in those times.
But it's the staying in balance that us "tirelessly loving mothers" need to keep in mind.
Are we meeting the needs of our children? Are we showing them love as much as we are able? I think these are questions we ask ourselves quite often. But what about our spouse?
I often think about the short amount of time I have left with my children still "needing" and "wanting" me in the way that they do now. I figure there will be time for my husband and I once the kids have grown -- when I'm not tucking multiple times and singing half of the hymnal each night. But the truth is, there's no guarantee we'll get that opportunity years and years down the road. And without him, I wouldn't even be a mother. Isn't our love for each other which started this family in the first place? And if I don't take the time to invest in our relationship now, that could be one uncomfortable "empty nest" scenario.
As I look ahead at the kids getting older and becoming more aware, I realize the utmost importance of staying connected with my husband and functioning as a team. It is essential that they see me making him a priority so that one day they, too, may be blessed with a thriving marriage -- one that stems from an incredible friendship and partnership.
So the next time someone less than four feet tall is clamoring for your attention, ask yourself: Is anyone sick or ill? If not, does this require my immediate response? Is this within my reasonable boundary to tend to right now? And then, once you've made your decision, turn and hug your husband. He'll be glad you did :)