I’m drifting off to sleep when I feel something jostling my arm. A soft voice whispering but I can’t make it out. I want to sleep. The jerky nudging continues until I can’t ignore it anymore and my eyes adjust to see the hazy outline of Liam bending over me, loud whispering something I still can’t hear. The words are lost but I can hear the urgency in his voice, a mother’s fine-tuned sense of when something is wrong with your kid.
This is the third time over the past week we’ve been through this. I urge him to tell me louder what’s the matter since I’ve taken my hearing aids off for the night and sound is like an underwater cacophony to me without them. He tells me in a louder voice, right next to my ear, he can’t fall asleep. He’s ten and five feet tall, nearly my height, practically adult sized but he wants to get in bed with us. I try to dissuade him telling him he’ll sleep better in his own bed, knowing I’ll sleep better if he’s in his own bed.
He asks me how he can fall asleep, a question I frequently hear when he goes through a phase like this. My go to is to tell him to count backward. To think about something good that happened that day. To say a prayer to God, asking for His help to fall asleep. I’m fully awake by now and he reluctantly heads back to his room only to reappear five minutes later. He’s anxious about not falling asleep. I move over to make room for him and tell him I’ll rub his back, a soothing gesture I’ve used many times through the years.
He continues to ask me how he can fall asleep and I tell him he can’t sleep if he’s talking. I continue to rub. I’m tired and want to end this scenario that has already played out three times this week. Within a half hour, I hear soft snoring on either side of me. Both boys are asleep and I’m sandwiched in our queen sized bed, awake and overheated, wondering when sleep will come for me again.
Sometime in the middle of the night I make my way to the living room and splay myself against the cool leather sofa which feels like heaven to my peri-menopause body. I’m armed with my Kindle and hope the book I’m reading will help me drift off again but realize it’s likely to have the opposite effect because the plot is a page-turner. Before I know it morning is here and on my way to the bathroom I pause to look at my sleeping boys, envying their unconscious state in the world.
It’s been a busy week with Halloween and other activities but last night I needed to tackle Liam’s sleep issue, find out what has been simmering in his brain this week that’s been preventing him from falling asleep. We sit at the table, his homework between us and I ask if anything is bothering him. It’s another one of our mother senses that when something changes in your kid’s life, you look for the clues as to why. He proclaims nothing is wrong in a way I know something is wrong but I patiently wait him out. I tell him he can talk to me or dad about anything and that if something is bothering him, we have probably experienced something similar when we were kids.
More time passes as I fix dinner and then give him some space, leaving the table to work on a puzzle in the other room. Finally, he tells me that if I really want to know, there is something bothering him. Aha. Back to the kitchen table to tackle whatever it is. Just then, Jim comes home and Liam clams up again. OK, so we know something is wrong and he doesn’t want to talk in front of dad.
My mom genes are bouncing around, eager to address the issue. Is it school? Friends? Home? Something else? I patiently wait until Jim leaves the room before I bring it up again but it looks like the moment has passed. I sit and wait, making small talk about his day. Finally, he’s ready to spill it. “What’s going to happen to me when you die?”
Death. It’s a hard topic to explain to a kid. I fumble it at first saying we aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. That he’d be long grown with a family of his own before he’d be without us. All the time realizing this is all a bunch of bunk since none of us really know how long we have. We hope we have lots more time. I decide to take a different tact and explain how when we love someone and they die, they stay with us always. In our heart and in our memories. I use my mom as an example. I miss her but I think of her with God now and how I get to keep the best parts of her in my heart.
There are tears. Fears of him being alone in the world. Assurances that there is a wide net of love around him with our extended network of family and friends. Even if something were to happen to us before he has grown up, he would never be alone. I somehow find the right words to assure him but I realize this is a conversation that is just beginning for us. Death is big and scary for a kid.
After a time, it’s getting late and his homework still lay unfinished between us. I urge him back to the task at hand so we can both go to bed. Our talk did the trick, at least for now, as there were no visits from a sleepless kid during the night.