“Will you stay with me?”
I hear the small voice call to me. My oldest daughter is still not asleep. Unlike her younger sisters, especially my Rachel, Madeline’s vespertine mood is not quiet or calm. She’s moving until the very second she finally slips into nighttime hibernation mode.
In recent months, I’ve decided I can no longer stay beside her side every night until she falls asleep (not if we want any clean laundry and to eat the next day). On a typical evening, I tuck her in after stories and prayers, give her a quick back rub, and then slip out of the room after planting a kiss on her forehead.
“Will you stay with me?” she repeats.
I look at her imploring eyes – big, chocolate brown eyes that somehow have a glint in them even in the darkness. I hesitate. I had plans. I was going to tidy up, read, relax, and then spend some quiet time in prayer.
I’m about to say this much, but instead I hear myself saying, “Sure, I’ll rest beside you. Now go to sleep, sweet girl.”
She beams at me. I smile back. My arms pull her close. Her body is warm against mine. She is long and lanky now, but pressed against me she reminds me of the baby who used to fold into me to nurse and to snuggle. Her breathing slows. I swipe her hair that smells faintly of coconut shampoo from her face and tuck it behind her ear – the same ear I remember staring at a few days after she was born and breaking down, sobbing, at the perfection of it. My baby’s perfectly formed ear! Some of the awe returns now as I marvel at the growth that has taken place over the past six years. The ear is bigger but still perfect.
I kiss her forehead. She doesn’t stir. Her breathing is slow and steady. She’s asleep, but I decide to stay a little longer, to keep that space on the bed next to her warm, the same space she sometimes asks me to fill with an over-sized stuffed dog named Honey when I leave. “After awhile, Honey starts to feel a little like you,” she said to me recently. “It’s like you’re still here kind of.”
I’m still here.
On this night, my hands never were folded in prayer, but I prayed all the same accepting an opportunity to give and to love and offering my presence as an answered prayer to my child.