The big kids were tucked away in their beds, and my husband and I were watching a movie on Netflix while I nursed Henry.

We heard whimpering from the kids’ room, so we paused the movie so my husband could check it out. It was Joey, but he was still asleep.

It’s about the saddest thing, hearing your kids cry in their sleep.

We went back to our movie, and my husband settled Henry in his bed. We were getting ready to go to bed ourselves, when I heard Joey crying again. This time, he was clearly awake.

I ran to check on him, to ask him what was wrong. It’s weird… I felt like something was “off” earlier. I thought he felt warm at dinnertime. But when I took his temperature after dinner, it was normal. But something was wrong.

An upset four-year-old boy is hard to have a conversation with. I mean it’s difficult for him. Not that he’s being difficult. He’s not. He’s in pain, upset, sick, something.

After a lot of holding him in my arms on the couch, talking to him, telling him how I wanted to help him, and asking him questions, he told me that his gums hurt. But not his top gums or his bottom gums, his “back gums.” I asked if he meant behind his teeth, and finally, though I had asked him to about 20 times already, he opened his mouth and pointed. His fingers pointed to his throat for a second before he gagged a little and closed his mouth.

I just wanted a peek… just to make sure there wasn’t something stuck in his throat, or something like that. It’s not unheard of. And I would feel terrible if I sent him back to bed and later found out he had an object physically stuck in his throat!

He cried some more, shivering and cuddling into me. I didn’t want to pry his mouth open, or bother him with asking 100 more times, but I couldn’t put him back to bed yet. I carried him to the kitchen and sat him on the counter, then got him a spoon full of honey. He sweetly sniffled and told me, “I’m not hungry, Mama.”

As I soothed my four year old son in the middle of the night, I realized I've come full circle in these wee hours. So many emotions and memories, and I'm so glad to be able to soothe him, as his mother.

I told him quietly, “I know you’re not. This isn’t for hunger. This is in case it helps your mouth feel better. And maybe it will help me look in your throat to see what’s going on in there.”

After two small tastes of honey, he opened his mouth for me and let me peek inside for a second. I saw a little bump on the side of his throat, like a tiny blister. I’m not sure yet what it is – maybe a small cyst or a tonsil stone? But nothing foreign stuck in there, so that made me feel a bit better.

I asked my husband to get the children’s ibuprofen, and offered some to Joey. He sniffled, and asked for a handkerchief. I opened our napkin drawer and asked him, “Would you like the green or the white?” I thought he would want green, since it’s his favorite color.

“The white. I want to save the green to be my napkin tomorrow.” I love hearing the way his mind works. I feel so lucky when he shares these little tidbits with me. A year ago, he never would’ve thought ahead to the next day. Now, as a “mature” four year old, he is always looking forward, planning.

He drank his dose of ibuprofen, then finished his honey. He clutched his white handkerchief to his chest, and told me, “I’m going to keep this to use all night.”

I scooped him off of the counter, and his arms and legs instinctively wrapped around me, the way a baby koala clings to its mama. Slowly, we walked down the hall, into his room, and I tipped him into his bed. He shivered again, “I’m cold, Mama.” I covered him with his blankets. He always has at least two blankets, usually three. He always wants to be super warm at night.

I sat on the edge of his mattress, running my fingers through his hair, pushing it away from his forehead. I asked him if he’d like me to sing the Rainbow song (The Rainbow Connection). He quietly declined. I offered the Winnie the Pooh song (Return to Pooh Corner). He shook his head.

“I’m so sorry you’re feeling so badly right now, Joey. I’m sorry you hurt. I will find a way to help you feel better soon, okay? I love you.”

“I love you too, Mama.”

“I just want you to get some good sleep tonight so you can try to feel better, okay? Do you think you will be able to get some sleep? Do you feel any better now, with the ibuprofen?”

He started to cry again, “But we used up so much of the night. There isn’t enough time for me to sleep enough now. It’s pitch black and all I can see is my bunny clock, but we used so much of the night.” I could hardly understand him between the sobs, so I had to listen more intently than usual.

“Sweetheart, we weren’t in the living room for very long, I promise. I know it felt like a long time, but there’s still plenty of night left for you to sleep. And if you wake up in the morning, and you feel like you still didn’t get enough sleep, you can just go back to sleep and I’ll stay with you.”

As I said the words, I was grateful to be a stay-at-home-mama. So grateful for the flexibility that title grants me. So thankful I could assure my hurting son that I’d be with him if he needed me, no matter what.

As I soothed my four year old son in the middle of the night, I realized I've come full circle in these wee hours. So many emotions and memories, and I'm so glad to be able to soothe him, as his mother.

His crying got louder at the mention of staying home, “Mama, but then I would miss school! I wouldn’t be able to go to my school and get as much work done.” (In Montessori schools, the lessons are called work, not games or toys.) “I wouldn’t get to see all of my friends!”

Even though he was wailing, hurting, and upset, I couldn’t help but smile at this. Frequently, Joey asks me if he can stay home with me instead of going to school. He asks to be with me, tells me he misses me, and asks me to homeschool him. It’s always in the morning; by the time I pick him up from school, he’s had a wonderful day, loves school, and enjoyed his teachers and friends. Still, it’s caused me to consider taking him out of school to try homeschooling, even though we love his school. So hearing him genuinely sad about the prospect of missing school was a delight.

Then he reconsidered, still sobbing, “Actually, the only day of school I like is pajama day. Because,” he took a shuddering breath, “we get to wear our pajamas all. day. long.” This boy of mine would live in pajamas 24/7 if he could. They’re his absolute favorite thing.

“Oh, baby. I will not let you miss pajama day. Don’t you worry. Pajama day isn’t tomorrow. And you’ll see your friends and do work soon, when you’re feeling good. But I don’t want you to worry at all about missing school. If you’re tired, you need to get more sleep. And if you’re feeling very bad in the morning, I will take you to see the doctor so you can feel better again.”

“Okay…” quiet, reluctant. His eyes closed.

“Do you want me to stay with you while you fall asleep?”

“Love you,” and he nodded.

“Love you too, Baby,” and I went back to pushing his hair off his forehead again, lightly massaging his scalp, just watching his body rise and fall with steady breaths.

There might not be anything particularly special about this evening. Kids get a little bit sick. We comfort them. We help them as well as we can. They eventually feel better. We have conversations. We soothe. We cuddle. Sleep comes at night, and everything is normal. This is just … normal parenting.

But it is so special. I knew I had to come to the computer before I forgot, to write about it. So many little moments are so important. His remarks about the handkerchief color, missing his friends and his work at school, worry about not getting enough sleep, and his sweet description of his tonsil as “the back gums”… they all make me realize how he’s growing up.

He’s fully, decidedly, completely, and divinely, four years old.

As I watched him slip into sleep, I took in the feeling of the room. The quiet stillness of a children’s bedroom. There were no excess lights, just their bunny clock. No phones charging by the beds. No toys cluttering the floor (they’re in the play room). It was still, and quiet, relaxing, clean, simple. It felt comfortable and cozy. It reminded me of the way my bedroom felt at night when I was a child.

Peaceful.

As I soothed my four year old son in the middle of the night, I realized I've come full circle in these wee hours. So many emotions and memories, and I'm so glad to be able to soothe him, as his mother.

I thought of the nights I woke up because of bad dreams, when my mother would sit me on the counter in our kitchen and give me a spoon full of honey to calm me down. I don’t remember this, but she’s since told me she would ask me to tell her three good things, to get back into a positive and safe-feeling mindset after my nightmares. We all have our ways of helping our kids, mothers. We all have our own brand of soothing.

I thought of the days I missed school because of an illness. Lying in bed, resting, reading, drinking my very own soda (a special treat so that I’d be sure to stay hydrated). The day seemed to last forever as I’d doze and wake, doze and wake. But eventually, the light would fade and it would be night again.

I remembered the summer evenings, when bedtime seemed far too early. Lying awake, listening to my parents’ movie playing in the living room, smelling their popcorn wafting down the hall. Wondering what they were up to, and occasionally sneaking out to have a little peek with an excuse like, “I’m thirsty,” or, “I can’t sleep.”

I can remember all of those moments so clearly. I think, because they’re important. They strip away all of the busyness of the day, all of the energy and rush. Time becomes nearly meaningless, and there are only the quiet interactions between parent and child.

And now, in these wee hours, I’ve come full circle. I’m on the complete other side of these experiences. I’m the mother.

And my heart is fit to burst as I kiss my four year old’s forehead, slip quietly through the door, and close it silently behind me.

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PS I took these photos of Joey a week or two ago. I promise I wasn’t sticking my camera in my upset child’s face while all of this was going on. Also, taking pictures of my sleeping kids always makes me feel kind of like a #stalkermom … anyone else?

6 Comments on Coming Full Circle in the Wee Hours

  1. Whitney says:

    What a beautiful story. You are so kind to your children. They are so blessed to have you. Thank you for sharing this moment with us.

  2. Sidonie Thomas says:

    I love this emily…glad he is feeling better…as mamas all we want is our kids to feel better when they are sick…and the stalker mom picture taking…i am in the same boat as you…i do with all three of minds…i love it…capturing them when they are so peaceful and dreaming away!

  3. Sarah says:

    I love your #stalkermom comment. I always take pics of my kids while they sleep, because it’s so peaceful! I think all parents can definitely relate to this scenario. Hope your little guy is feeling better soon!

  4. Beautiful. So beautiful.

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