Covering parenting and child development issues
"Goodnight, sleep tight, and pleasant dreams to you.
Here's a wish and a prayer that every dream comes true.
And now 'til we meet again
Adios, au revoir, auf wiedersehen." (Jack Elliott)
I had been looking forward to the conference for more than a month. I was taking the train to Pittsburgh - a place I had never been - to spend three days networking with other writers, listening to workshops and meeting industry people I’d only ever seen online. I’d have my laptop and a hotel room to myself, so I could write or nap or order room service whenever I wanted.
So why, the night before the conference, was I so sad?
I was fine all day, pushing through procrastination to do the packing I dreaded, meeting a friend for dinner, going to my critique group….
I was fine until I kissed my daughter goodnight.
Suddenly, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go. Suddenly, I missed my family, and I hadn’t even left yet.
Now, my daughter is a teenager and perfectly capable of coping without me for a few days. My husband will hold down the fort and will also be perfectly fine without me for a few days, so this whole mushy sentimental thing is completely ridiculous. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, right?
Yeah, well Wednesday night, if my heart had been any fonder it would have broken.
What is it about kissing our kids goodnight that stirs up a maelstrom of emotion? Most nights, it's a simple ritual. But some nights - the night before something significant, the night that ends a particularly trying day, nights when they are sick or upset or you are sick or upset - all that is right in the parent-child connection is intensified in that routine moment.
When they're little, we kiss them all the time - as much as they will let us. As they grow older, the "as much as they will let us" shrinks little by little - faster perhaps in boys than in girls - until the goodnight kiss is all that remains, all that they will tolerate.
The goodnight kiss is a sort of touchstone. We go from not letting them out of our arms to not letting them out of our sight to gradually letting them go farther and farther away from us as they grow more mature and more independent. Their need to touch base with us ebbs and flows as does our need to touch base with them. And though the ebbs and flows may not line up perfectly, they're usually somewhat in sync.
Except when they're not. Like at my house on Wednesday night.
In the simple act of kissing my daughter goodnight (one of the few times I am still allowed to make that sort of contact), I realized that I wouldn't be kissing her goodnight again for several days. And then, as it sometimes does when she spends a night away from home, my mind made the leap to the future. Usually, I kiss her goodnight every night. This time, it would be a few days until we shared this ritual again. In a few years, I'd be kissing her goodbye, sending her off to college. And how about after that? How long would it be then?
In the end, I shut the bedroom door, went downstairs and felt sorry for myself for a while. When I went to bed, I shed a few tears, but by the time I got up in the morning, I'd regained my senses and my equilibrium. Wallowing would be wrong on so many levels - a waste of energy, a poor example, a wet blanket on a warm, sunny day when a picnic tablecloth was a much better choice.
And so off to the train station I went, setting up my very own little office in the half-full train, filling my mind and my screen with writing and musings and doing what smart parents do - taking time for myself to pursue something I love so that someday, my daughter would give herself permission to do the same thing. And in a few days, I'll return home to re-start the ritual I love, enjoying it for as long as I can.
Who knows? If she's like her mother, she may never outgrow it.
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