Oliver’s bedtime routine is fairly simple. He chooses milk and a snack – typically fruit snack – and chooses a parent, typically dad. He holds his iPad an inch and a half from his face while chosen parent (Dad) wrestles his pajamas on. He says good night to Mom, jumps off the bed, and walks to his room to snuggle with his father. On goes the humidifier, off go the lights, and Oliver’s head hits the Paw Patrol pillow.
But this night was different and either by choice or by chance, Oliver was stuck in bed with me. We talked for a minute, he says something funny that keeps us giggling under our breath, and I tell him it’s time for me to go back to my bed. He protests, per usual, and uses every procrastination tactic he has to get me to stay.
So to move the conversation along, I say, “Okay, I’m going to go check on Milo and I will come back.”
“Okay, Mom,” he says. “Come right back.”
We’ve pulled this stunt before, as I’m sure many parents have, and I thought nothing of it. He’ll fall asleep, forget about me, and morning will greet us soon enough. I walk back to my room, turn on Friends and prepared myself for the inside of my eyelids. But because Brandon could hardly stand that Oliver had chosen to use his before-bed snuggle with me instead of him, I heard him sneak into Oliver’s room to say goodnight again.
And through the monitor I hear Oliver say, “Why didn’t Mommy come back?” And in the same way it is again now, my heart dropped into the pit of my stomach, and I felt an instant wave of guilt overwhelm me.
Such a simple question gave me such a sad feeling. He wasn’t angry, he didn’t cry, Brandon told him I was sleeping and he should sleep, too. He accepted this answer, but I could not.
At the center, when parents drop off their munchkins in the morning, it typically goes off without a hitch. But there are mornings where the tears fall and the objections erupt. And every time, we tell them to squeeze their babies goodbye, tell them you’ll be back after work, and let them see you leave. The kiddos don’t always like it, but more times than not, the tears have dried before Mom even leaves the parking lot.
But not if she sneaks out. She thinks she’s doing him a favor – not letting him get upset by watching her leave – but when he realizes, minutes later, that she has disappeared without saying goodbye, the tears fall harder and faster.
They seem like such small white lies we tell our kids, all stemming from an instinctual need to protect them.
But as Oliver gets older, I’m learning that sometimes the best way to protect him is with honesty. There will still be those half-truths we spill to our kids to keep them safe and happy — like what Santa Claus is doing or where babies come from — but the next time my son catches me in another lie, it better be one that was worth telling.
P.S. I feel so exceptionally blessed that this can be considered my worst day as a parent thus far. I have lived a truly fortunate life with my boys.