“When I couldn’t stay awake any longer, I asked Braid Beard to tuck me in and read me a story.
‘Tuck you in?’ he bellowed. ‘Pirates don’t tuck.’
‘No tucking!’ the crew cried.
… I didn’t even bother to ask about a good-night kiss.”
- How I Became a Pirate by Melinda Long (With hilarious illustrations by David Shannon)
Because I nursed my infants, middle-of-the-night feedings were my responsibility. Those times are some of my favorites, although I can no longer capture their sweet baby scents and the feel of their soft baby skins. It’s easy to look back with nostalgia, forgetting the shock of their cries ripping me out of a deep sleep. I try to dwell on the moments of sweetness, rather than my longing to once again crawl under my covers. Even then, I knew that someday the moment of my baby and I being nearly one being was fleeting, and that I should appreciate it before it was lost forever.
When my son was about two-months-old, his father became the light of his life. As soon as the man walked through the door, my son would brighten, wrenching himself from my arms. Most of the time, I felt like a third wheel while they had their fun, except for nighttime because I was in charge of the feedings.
My son associated sleep (comfort) with me, so when he was old enough for a proper tuck-in, I was often in charge, especially if my husband worked past his bedtime or was away at a meeting. As an extension, I had the duty of nightmare soothing as well. Lest you think nighttime awakenings were a rampant problem, my son only went through a few small bouts, one when I was pregnant.
My role as the nighttime soother became ingrained so that when I was again pregnant, and passed on the duty to my husband, my son balked. Soon, my son got used to the new routine, and by the time my daughter joined our family he didn’t notice that I tended to her. Just before she was born, I was at the doctor’s office, and while the nurse was checking my blood pressure, she looked at my chart and exclaimed, “You’re having a daughter? That’s wonderful! You already have a mama’s boy and she’ll be a daddy’s girl.” Great. I’ll have no one.
By the time my daughter was one-week old, she became fiercely attached to me. When my husband held her, she would often sob, and turn her head towards my voice. One night after I fed her, she wanted to linger, but I wasn’t the lingering kind – I needed my sleep. I placed her in the bassinet, and watched with disbelief as she forced herself to the side of the bassinet to nuzzle against it. Fearing SIDS, I rolled up a thin blanket so she could feel comfort against that rather than the wall.
My daughter’s loyalty to me has continued to this day, with some adjustments. After my baby’s feeding, I’d hand her over to my early-riser husband, who would have to distract her so I could sneak back to bed. When she was old enough to get out of bed herself, she’d often camp out on the floor outside my bedroom door, and if my husband tried to coax her from her spot, she’d glare at him. She’s grown out of that, and now looks forward to spending time with her father, doing activities like ice skating and eating at Dunkin’ Donuts*.
But tuck-in-time has not had the same progression. Until she turned seven, I don’t think I missed more than sixty-evenings of tuck-ins, and that includes when sitters have had to take over the task. At some point, my son switched to having me tuck him in almost exclusively, so I was doing all bedtime rituals for nights on end.
Before you feel too sorry for me, the time these rituals take has shrunk in the last couple of years. My daughter brushes her own teeth and dresses herself, as my son has done for a long time. I have not read to my son in ages, since he now prefers to read to himself. Until recently, I did read to my daughter, but since she started reading on her own, she wants to be like her big brother. Sometimes they read quietly together (Unless they get silly, and then I have to separate them).
My son has been requesting my husband almost every night, his excuse? "I've seen you since I came home from school, but dad's only been home a couple of hours." When my son turned eleven, my husband announced that the boy was too big for tucking, but he would not be dissuaded. Although my ritual has minimized (no songs, but just a couple of nice words from us, and maybe he’ll share an anecdote about his day), he still wants a parent to climb up the steps of his loft bed as a send him to slumber.
This summer, my daughter went through a 50/50 phase, and so my husband and I would alternate nights. That was fine for a while, but then she started missing me, and now I’m chosen nearly exclusively. Yesterday morning, she told my husband to tuck her in that evening, but adamantly changed her mind by bedtime.
While my husband insists that he doesn’t like, “tucking in kids,” I enjoy it. Mostly. When it’s been a long day, and all I want to do is sit on the couch like a starchy vegetable, I try to pawn it off on another adult. In those instances, I remind myself that soon they will be appalled by the thought of being accompanied by a parent to bed. Soon they will be out in the world, and I will gradually lose my control over them. When that happens, I will look back nostalgically on this time of sweet words, sappy songs, snuggles, and smooches.
* A lovely story from inside a Dunkin’ Donuts can be found at: