The Lion, the Witch, and the Mommy

I listened futilely as Thalia hacked and coughed in bed in the semi-darkness of her room. The helpless misery of having sick child hurts the heart far worse than childbirth ever hurt the body.

The final straw seemed to be the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. The dusty, aging book from her school library made my eyes water and my throat itch immediately; I asked to switch books after a few pages but she was so excited to delve into the fantasy she had waited weeks to procure, that I continued. We got through two full chapters before I realized that it was exacerbating her already troubling symptoms. (I’m sure Nate, who was working late, would call it some sort of karmic proof that we shouldn’t be reading an evangelical allegory in the first place.)

I shut the book and ushered her to bed, tucking her tight under the covers. I poured a spoonful of natural cough syrup and a little Benadryl. Then I told her it would make her tired pretty fast so she should get right to sleep. Her mind worked quickly.

“That would be great for babies!” she said.

“What do you mean?”

“I was thinking that sometimes moms can’t get their babies to go to sleep. Why don’t they give them some of this?”

“I wonder why no one ever thought of that,” I laughed And I tucked her into bed.

Nothing seemed to work. I could hear the coughing interspersed with the thrashing of a restless, sick girl who just wants to sleep. 5 minutes. 10 minutes. 15 minutes. Finally I called to her.”

“Do you want to come in and sleep with me for a bit?”

Holding my 7 year old in my arms, feeling her warm forehead through the cotton tee on my chest, seeing the little hint of a smile resulting from the vaguely illicit action of falling asleep in Mommy’s bed all struck the most profound mix of emotions in me.  I felt helpless that I couldn’t do more. I felt powerful in that I could do this small thing. I felt frightened in hearing her wheezy, labored breathing. And above all, I felt this crush of belief that these kinds of moments won’t happen forever.

How much longer will she want to sleep next to me? How much longer will she hug me and squeeze me like a girl in love? How much longer will she need me like this?

I used to get so annoyed at every parent who looked down at my young babies and advised, it will go so fast.

Whatever, I used to think. Just get me through the diaper years.

Now I can’t stop thinking when I look at young babies, it will go so fast.

I try to only say it out loud half of the time. I can live with the price of annoyance.

Soon, Thalia fell asleep, if not as restfully as I’d have liked.

And yet the hardest part of all of it, I’m sure–once I knew she was okay–was having to carry her back to her own bed.


47 thoughts on “The Lion, the Witch, and the Mommy”

  1. So beautiful, thank you, loved this. Not sure it was a small thing you did. Bringing our children comfort, as those who love them the most, is a gift to them and us.

  2. Beautiful. When my kids are sick I often get those moments too. The rest of the time when everyone is well and moving in ten different directions at once, I don’t have time for contemplation. I hope Thalia is feeling better today:)

    1. Oh and I’m sure you’ve heard this before but 8yo son is fully emmersed in the Rick Riordan Percy Jackson series. In the second book, a very strong character (Zeus’ daughter) Thalia is introduced. If she is into the Lord of the Rings and such, she would probably love the Greek mythology in this series and would probably get a kick out seeing the adventures of Thalia!

      1. I’d second this one. My girls ADORE these books. In fact they made me download the new one today, even though they knew they couldn’t read it until later.

        I love having book nerds.

  3. Oh, how I feel this already, and my girl is only 2.5. I read this & tears run into my Starbucks coffee, a new luxury I enjoy twice a week since my daughter started preschool three weeks ago. I don’t even want to think how I’ll be feeling when my N is Thalia’s age.

    And yet, even though I KNOW you are right, it goes SO fast, and I can feel the ache of that already, it is difficult to not think the same thing you did. Just get me through. Because 2.5 is HARD. Just as three will be. And four. And, and, and… What I need to learn, and I’m trying, is to appreciate the hard times because of you wait for the simpler times, you’ll waste so much of the little time you have while they’re still willing to let you steal those snuggles.

    I hope Thalia is feeling better today.

    1. Thank you. She’s getting there. Ugh, I look back at my posts from 2008 and think was she ever that age? Was I?

  4. Oh, yes, I’ve been feeling this too, lately. My “new baby” is 3 years old today. Her older sister started kindergarten last month. The 3 year old has been having a hard time falling asleep and often wants to be rocked in the rocking chair. She is big, and it is awkward. But I don’t mind so much, because my snuggling days are limited. Well, I’ll confess. I did mind quite a bit when she needed to be rocked for an hour to go back to sleep after waking u at 2 a.m. the other night. But mostly, I don’t mind!

    I hope Thalia feels better soon.

  5. Our kids (6 and almost 5) come to our bed less and less than they used to. This morning my son climbed into bed with us around 5–coughing and sniffling. He snuggled in next to me, as I wrapped my arm around him. So sweet.

    I dread the day this ends. My husband lets the kids sleep in our bed when I am out of town, partly because it is easier and partly because he fears the day they won’t want to.

    Although the kids can’t imagine a day they won’t want to snuggle with us to read a book or watch a movie, I know those days will come and I want to relish them as much as possible.

  6. I remember thinking the same thing when I heard the “It goes so fast” line. Now I want to run up to every mother with a baby or toddler and tell her “Enjoy it.”
    My oldest will turn 16 next month. She drives and goes to high school dances, but she still gives me the best hugs.
    My boy is 13 and is hairy and smelly and grunty, but he still wants me to take care of him when he is sick.
    My youngest is almost 10 and I can feel her approaching puberty and getting older and taller by the second. It makes me sad, but I know that there is so much good stuff to come.

  7. Last night I listened to my oldest cough from her bedroom, walk to the kitchen for water, back to bed to cough, back to the kitchen. Finally I made her warm water, honey, and lemon (because SOMEONE keeps forgetting to buy tea). That didn’t seem to help. We only had allergy meds, none of which claimed to help with a cough. My husband suggested vodka because isn’t that what helps you fall asleep when you take NyQuil? Well, partly, sure, but NyQuil isn’t for kids and just no to giving vodka to an 11-year-old. Besides, how much would you give her? No, it’s just wrong. You’re not supposed to do that, it’s bad parenting and might make her sick. But if we did, how much would we give her? Google it. No. We cannot do that. Give her more non-tea and a blanket; she’ll be fine. WE NEVER HAD THIS CONVERSATION. (I did, however, see the prescription my mother still has and giggles over, dated 1977, when her pediatrician prescribed warm bourbon for my older sister’s cough).

    I look at my daughter and see this too-developed little girl who is at the same time so not a little girl. It’s too fast. Soon enough she’ll be drinking vodka on her own accord and I have no idea where I am with that. Also, she is way too big for me to carry back to her bed.

  8. I’ve lost track of the number of times where the kids have begged to hold my hand and I pause to think “exactly when will this end?” And then I have days like this past Saturday when Amelia told me she wants to be 16 NOW because then she could learn to drive. I was like, PLEASE, I’d still trying to grapple with the fact that you’ll be 7 in February! I’m losing track of the number of times every day I hear from both kids “I can do it myself, Mom!” I hold on to the little, cuddly moments like they’re crack. If I were into crack.

  9. Don’t tell their friends, but there’s an argument nearly every night about who gets to fall asleep with Mommy. And it’s totally fine by me.

  10. Sick kids are the worst. So heartbreaking to see them sad or in pain. But while I’d never wish sick on my daughter, I’m still going to savor the cuddly moments that come with it. She never rests her head on my shoulder anymore except for when she has a tummy ache or a bad cold that prevents her from sleeping.

  11. I think these thoughts every time I come home and my son lights up and rushes into my arms. My baby will be six next month. My first baby is going on eleven. Watching your kids grow is practically the definition of bittersweet.

  12. This was beautiful Liz.

    Last night was night three of a hacking wheezing boy in my bed. He’s so little when he’s sick, which is odd since he’s a tall loud vibrant full of words boy most of the time.

  13. What a lovely post. Sadly, it does go fast. How well I treasure the days when you and your brother used to fight about who would hold which hand and who would sit on either side of me. As one of your readers put it so well, and to paraphrase, snuggling days are long over, but I sorely miss them. But in my heart, I hold you all the time. May Thalia feel better quickly, but not so quickly that you cannot continue to read to her and hold her.

    1. Yep. Your post made my throat tighten, but THIS comment is what made me cry.

  14. Lovely post and so true that it goes so fast. I remember when I was a young mom hearing that so often also and being a little annoyed. Now with my son being nearly 18 I find myself saying it often. I have more mommy left in me still – I’m not ready!

  15. Oh great. Holding back the tears but then YOUR DAD had to post right before me and ruin my reputation as a tiger lady at work. (Ha-ha)

    Our 5-year-old still climbs into bed with us in the middle of the night. And my husband and I keep saying this should stop, we should carry him back, he needs to sleep in his own bed through the night…but neither of us really has any conviction behind this. He’ll grow out of it soon enough, and it’s not hampering our sleep or our marriage. These little pajama clad bodies! There’s just, wonderful.

  16. This is such a beautiful blog, and my two boys are still in and out of our bed several times a night and while it makes for sleepless nights, I do feel, (like you) that these tender moments are not forever. My wife and I are routinely rundown, and I keep reminding her and reminding myself to enjoy the process and not wish that this “stage” will pass soon.

    Our younger son, who just turned 1, has had a high fever the past few nights, and it is terrifying, and it feels like he is burning up, and we just want him to sleep and feel better. I hold him and wish that I can take the pain on myself, and it is a helpless feeling. Thankfully we know from experience not to over react and race to the emergency room, and we never did with our 1st child either, but it is hard to sit by and watch their pain.

    Thanks for putting this into words and I hope Thalia is feeling better soon.

  17. I still sleep next to my four year old, in my bed. Haven’t slept in the same room as my husband for years and well, I can’t seem to change this because (do I need therapy, yes) I love my little baby, even though he’s 4, and in kindergarten. My seven year old still needs me to lay down next to him to put him to sleep… and I love that, too. When he calls out for me in the middle of the night, I’m there instantly. When they’re sick, it’s hard. so hard. Especially at night, when I feel helpless, when I worry more than ever, and when they need me more than ever. Being a mom is harder every day, it seems. Sure it’s easy in that we can do our own thing as our chindren entertain themselves in video games, books, LEGO, etc. but the daily of parenting? The teaching, the watching, the letting go… that is the hardest part and no one ever warned me. My heart hurts thinking about their first heartbreak. Or when they’ll move out. I WILL DIE. I can’t deal, the emotional of it all! And then stories of sick children, of sadness from other moms dealing with things unmentionable? I I sometimes wish my children don’t even have their own children to love, because it’s so crazy, this love. For their protection, you know? Of course, to KNOW this life is the greatest thing of all, too… so… yeah. Also? The fear now of having to LIVE for our children? That’s a whole other thing to worry about, isn’t it?
    Sorry for rambing. 🙂

  18. I feel the strong weight of this more and more each day. I feel tears just behind my eyes so often.

  19. Think Sarajevo. Think Documentary. Think Pt. Reyes. No matter how long we live we will alway do our best to crave the connection, the caring, the longing to be together. And when it comes we are 30 again and you are four.

  20. Crying, as usual.

    Is it bad that I already feel time slipping away, and he’s only nine months. I just love him so much, in such an aching, somatic way. I try to stay present but it can be hard.

  21. It is so hard when kids are sick.

    I see my nine year old straining toward adulthood much too quickly. But last week when she had a cold, she was cuddling with me asking if I would stay in her bed for the night.

  22. What a beautiful, bittersweet post. I hate when my boys are sick but there have been some lovely, cozy times when they weren’t so terribly sick but just under the weather and we both regressed and climbed into bed together and rested and read and sort of stopped time for a while. It sounds awful to say, but those were some of the most intensely wonderful mothering days of all.

  23. this is all so true. it goes so quickly–and I have been exhausted, frustrated and half asleep for most of it, I fear.
    what a gift we have to be able to comfort our little one though!

  24. I have a 2.5 year old and a 3 month old and I already feel it going by faster than I want it to! My newborn became a chunky infant out of nowhere. How did that happen?!

    In other words, I read a blog about a list an elementary school teacher compiled from interviewing her students at the end of every school year. The list was titled something like “the top ten things your children want you to do with them” and pretty close to the top of the list was coming into their room and comforting them or even giving them a kiss on the forehead while they were “sleeping”. It’s such a simple act, but it speaks volumes to our little ones! And the comfort you gave to your Thalia spoke volumes to her has well. I”m sure of it!

  25. I remember coming home from college on the heels of some horrible emotional adolescent trauma (can’t even remember what now, break up? Maybe?) and zooming straight into my mom’s room. She was already in bed and I crawled in & curled up next to her and cried and she murmured to me and smoothed my hair, tucking it behind my ear (her signature move) and comforted me.

    I miss her and the comfort only a mom can bring. I miss it so much.

    Cuddling days when our kids are small may be short-lived but you will be bringing comfort to your girls, always.

  26. My mom told me that when she had her first baby, someone imparted this painful but very wise truth: from the moment they are born, your children are growing away from you. We wouldn’t be parents if we didn’t wish that weren’t true, or push back against it ever so slightly by grabbing those extra snuggles where we find them. And to The New Girl – I had the same thing happen, only I was like 28, my boyfriend who I thought I’d marry unceremoniously dumped me, and my mom came and stayed in my bed. The need just takes on different forms, but a great mom will mother you forever. Wonderful post, Liz!

  27. Sadly, it will go fast, but with any luck they will treasure you forever just as you them. Just as I with my mother, you with yours; and me with you…
    Sometimes I love them so much, it hurts.

  28. Just arrived in CT as I finished this. Will linger a over those little heads longer as I tuck them in and smell the scent of childhood. Girl #1 smells like fresh mowed grass. Girl #2 sugar cookies. When this disappears I will be wrecked.

  29. So lovely, so familiar. I felt precisely the same way when people counseled me that it would go fast, to really enjoy it … I didn’t believe them, first of all, and that also felt like huge, crushing pressure. But now I see they were right. My babies are all gone. And sometimes that hits me like swift blow, almost taking my breath away with its pain. xo

  30. Lovely, lovely post Liz. It brought tears to my eyes. My middle child, Lucy, has such a knack for telling me daily with intense hugs, face pats and soulful eye searches things like, “You are so special to me, Mommy.” that make me well up with tears. The intensity of this love is what I will miss the most as she and her sisters to grow. The hugs won’t be as tight, the need to lean on me as we walk back from the bus stop. I cherish each day that Reagan holds my hand as we walk home from school.

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