I must take my life’s rare moments of calm where I find them.
Catch hold of the string holding the serenity balloon before it floats away into the blue.
I cuddle my son to sleep almost every night.
After a busy, noise-filled day, my whirlwind, bounce-off-the-walls, never-still, never-quiet younger child has listened to me reading him stories – all the while attempting handstands, inspecting the slight rip along one side of his dinosaur poster that was torn into existence by an errant foot, examining a stray vehicle rudimentarily constructed from Lego bricks.
I have done my best to contain my frustration at interruptions and interjections, my exasperation at the small limbs whose darting, distracting movements scratch at the smooth canvas of my peripheral vision or knock the picture book out of my hands. I’ve remained calm and patient, despite my exhaustion.
(I have medication now. These days, I am far better able to manage bedtimes than I was six months ago. My temper has been tempered.)
At last, his eyelids are drooping. He issues a yawn. He curls up on his side. Finally, he tells me he wants the light off, and a cuddle.
I oblige. I draw the jungle-animal-patterned duvet up around him so that he is “nice and snug”. And I lie down next to him, on top of the duvet, and I put one arm around him. Nuzzle my face into his soft hair. Often, he asks me to take his little hand in mine and hold it tight, and I do so.
Some would say that I’m too soft. That young children need to learn to self-soothe; to get themselves to sleep without parental input. That he won’t ever be independent if he can’t fall asleep by himself. That I’m making a rod for my back and not giving myself enough of a break.
Maybe. I don’t believe so. He will fall asleep alone on occasion. But where’s the harm in giving reassurance to a small child who needs it? In letting him feel safe, secure, and loved? Surely that’s a better path from which to work towards independence anyway, if that’s the thing that’s desired?
Besides, I have an ulterior motive.
The room is darkened. Still. I am comfortable. And he is quiet. This is a break.
I catch and enclose that quiet in my cupped hands like a butterfly. All too soon, I know I will need to release it; let it flutter free from my hands’ prison. I will have to let the balloon float on.
He’s been asleep for a few minutes now.
Downstairs, I hear repeated bursts of the Danger Mouse theme tune. I hear his big sister running, careering and thudding around the living room; humming, clicking, singing, squealing.
Soon, she’ll want to talk to me. She’ll need to share her latest grand idea, impart the details of her latest imaginary world, or outline the plot of her latest work of fiction. She’ll want to talk about her day. Share her worries, excitements, or causes for celebration.
And I’ll listen. I’ll be there with her.
Just Not. Quite. Yet.
It’s been a busy day. Office greetings. Kitchen small-talk. Meetings. Listening. Processing. Dark glasses in bright rooms. Headphones to block out the noise. Smells. Heat. Sweaty clothing. Sore feet. Too much tea. Dry mouth. Plans to make. Tasks to prioritise. Work to do.
And before I do my next round of listening, I need, however fleetingly, to catch the quiet, and hold it close to me as I hold my son.
[Image description: Full colour photo of a deep blue sky lit by a yellow/orange “super moon” – a full moon that appears slightly larger than normal due to its proximity to Earth at a particular point in its elliptical orbit. To the left of the picture is the black silhouette of some leafless tree branches. Photo by Dave Grubb.]