The other night I was putting Lucille and Eliza to bed when Lucille started asking questions. Her little body seemed on its way to sleep as she lay there still, her leg outstretched over the covers looking for a little relief from the summer heat in their upstairs room. Then she turned her head, propped herself up on her elbows and began peppering me with her four-year-old esoteric ruminations.
“Hey Mommy, does and elephant have a really big stomach? Because they are really big,” she said gesturing with her tiny hands palms up then clasped together. “They are so huge that they must eat a lot.”
“It’s true,” I said. “They must.”
Then she returned cheek to pillow and a few minutes later she popped up again.
“Hey Mommy, where to we go when we die?” she said dropping the second two m’s in Mommy so that it sounds something like Ma-ee.
“Well some people believe we go to a better place,” I said. “Some people call it heaven. People believe lots of different things happen when we die but they are not usually scary.”
Her big blue eyes were wide and clear. Her hair looked like she’d just stepped out of a salon in a Portland, perfectly disheveled and framing her tiny face.
“Do fairies take you to heaven? I mean how do you get there?” she said.
“I think it’s sort of like that,” I said. “It’s kind of complicated, huh?” I said.
“Yeah,” she said as she put her head down again. A few minutes later she’d drifted off to sleep. I pulled myself out from the middle of my children’s bed, careful when I moved my arms from under sweaty heads.
Lucille has a beautiful little mind that wanders all over the place. She remembers tiny details, moment that might otherwise be lost. She’s smart and tender, fierce and intuitive.
Years ago someone told me not to lie down with my children when putting them to bed because it’s a hard habit to break. They were totally right. Eliza will be six in a few weeks and there is no end in sight to our hour-long nightly ritual of books, their flopping around and my waiting, sometimes for a really long time, until they fall asleep to go back downstairs.
Some nights I find I just want them to fall asleep and I kick myself for keeping this bedtime routine going for so long. Then, other nights, when I can think past my to-do list, I relax into pillows, sweep hair out of eyes and slowly scratch an arm, a back and they whisper things only to me. On these nights I am so thankful we followed our instincts and that I’m the one who gets to try to answer Lucille’s questions.
It occurred to me again the other night as I creaked down the spiral staircase Seth built years ago that I don’t have all the answers. And I’m never going to. But Lucille, she doesn’t know that. I’m her Ma-ee and she looks to me to answer the simple and the complicated. It might be years before she discovers that, sometimes, Ma-ee is actually full of shit. But we’ve got some time before that happens. And until then I’m going to do the best I can to create for her a world of hope and magic in the moments before she falls asleep on my arm.