On Building a Warrior, Broken Hearts and Bedtime

All the “experts” will say that toddlers need consistent bedtimes. Sleep is extremely important to these little tantrum-throwers and should be treated with utmost care! Schedules, routines, aides, oils, noise-makers, loveys, 1,000 drinks of water… these are the topics of many an article.

Let’s get real here about toddler bedtime.

By the end of the day many of us aren’t wistfully breathing in every picture-perfect moment in a spotless room as we tuck our darling into bed. We don’t always read a book, sing a song, say a prayer and snuggle blissfully. Most of the time I close the bedroom door and either sigh or do a silent happy dance while the tune, “At Last” begins to play in my head. I often count down the hours until bedtime. That’s okay. Really.

Then everything changed. Cancer happened.
People say they can’t imagine what it is like. I’m so pained that I don’t want to tell them. Here is the vulnerable, weakest part of my heart, on display. Be kind… because I swear I have friends and family members that will punch you in the throat if you aren’t.

Last week during bedtime, my Firstborn took my husband’s hand and put in over his heart and whispered, “Ouch”. When his daddy got up from the nighttime cuddle he would cry, “Wait! Don’t go!” I think about his separation anxiety, his frustrations and the challenges he faces. Every day there could be a report of a great day or a tearful, difficult day– but on both he clings to whichever family member is dropping him off. The pain is so searing, so engrained that I cannot think of my Firstborn without thinking of all the struggles he has endured in the last three years since William the Conqueror arrived. Deployments, hundreds of appointments, new schools, illnesses, stress, evaluations, not being able to create ANY stability at all despite my best efforts, all the times he has to leave classrooms because he can’t behave…and you know what? I cry. A lot.
Right now caring for one child keeps me away from the other. It’s a pain many parents know all too well. Quite frankly, it is hard to share because it is a vulnerable and painful part of my heart.
Why share? To prompt compassion for the child that is hard to handle.

This weekend was one the precious times when I could be at home.I could rejoice in the beauty of feeling the familiar. I got to pick up from school and get hugs and kisses. We played, practiced math puzzles, danced and laughed. It was glorious.
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Then there was bedtime. Sweet bedtime.
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We changed into jammies. I smelled his skin and his hair. We snuggled and built a pillow fort, laughed, said our prayers and he turned on his night light that projects stars. I was with him. I put my son to bed. He hugged me, kissed me and said, “I love you.” It was beautiful. It healed my heart.

I must cling to these Friday nights because Leaving Day is coming.
It’s like Deployment Day, which throws off life and sends kids into a tail-spin…except it happens every week.

It’s heart-wrenching and sends my little man into an emotional spiral. This morning we battled over not bringing a toy to preschool, which brought on his tears. He cried and grabbed my legs like a spider-monkey as I moved him to the van. He refused to get into his seat, standing in the doorway. He sobbed so hard that he sneezed, yielding the ugly-cry-snot that is so impressive that it stops the crying. Ready with wipes, I got that remedied and told him to sit again. He grabbed my hands and put them around his body and made me hug him. We held each other and I cried too. Sobbed, in fact. I told him the words I needed to hear. I didn’t need to hear what he was supposed to be doing, advice for correcting behavior or warnings about milestones he should be hitting by now and potential diagnoses. I didn’t need to feel like we were failing to meet expectations. No, I needed to hear truth when all of my feelings and fears contradicted truth. That is when we need truth the most.

“Baby, what you are doing is HARD. It is hard to grow up when Mommy and Daddy have to be away from you. I will be back after 5 times sleeping and then I will be back to you. -Sob- I love you and I know it is sad to go to school sometimes. -Sniffle- God NEVER hurts us to be mean. You are a rock, and God is turning you into a great sculpture that he will use. It hurts to be chipped away and reshaped. I don’t know why all this has happened to you so young, but you must be strong and courageous. God loves us, even when it hurts.”

I held my boy and broke. I held a helpless, sad kid that was struggling to grapple with all life has handed him in his first 3 years. I also held a strong warrior of a boy who would not yield when he wanted something, who loved us all fiercely, who learned about compassion through suffering in his earliest moments and who knew the value of an adult’s apology to a child. I held a warrior in the making…and broke. Then I resolved to FIGHT FOR that child.

Slowly, he let go. He looked at me and smiled. He got into his seat and we drove to school. Never underestimate the power of speaking truth and blessings over your children.
Once at school, the sobbing and clinging continued. Two months ago he ran to the door, waved bye and didn’t look back. Now he looked at me knowing he wouldn’t see me for days. This is the totally sucky time of fighting cancer.
I got back into my car and sobbed. Then I got out my phone and looked at Friday night.
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Perhaps the greatest unsung hero in my family is the one who struggles the most and is the most difficult to handle. Rock on, my son. What a warrior you will be.

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