Thursday, August 28, 2008

Bedtime Prayers

When we were in Minnesota last May visiting Aunty K and our pseudo-cousins, we picked up part of their bedtime ritual and have since made it a part of our nightly routine.

Each night, Aunty K asks her children (at least the verbal ones): "What's something that made you happy today?" and follows with, "Did anything make you scared or sad?"

This conversation takes place after bath, toothbrushing and pajamas, and allows the freshly scrubbed and pajamaed folks to say goodbye to the day. Any parent knows that bedtime battles are common, frequent, and longlasting. I know of few people who don't spend epic amounts of time fussing their children to bed. Aunty K found a way to get her tiny ones to reflect on their day, so that saying goodbye to it wouldn't be quite so difficult, and it gives them a chance to articulate a small bit of what's going on in their fascinating little minds.

Now, every night, we ask everyone as they're climbing into bed these two questions. Jackson is so accustomed to it that he will initiate the ritual if we don't get to it quickly enough. I love hearing the boys' answers, and one of the sweetest parts is when they ask us about our days. Most often, Cooper's answers are the same. For both questions. But hey, he's two... I'm just glad he has an answer. So, here's a snippet of what this conversation usually sounds like:

Mama: Cooper, what made you happy today?
Cooper: Uhhhhhh.... see JamieJohnny! (His heroes - twins from his class who have a single moniker.)
Daddy: Cooper, did anything make you scared or sad?
Cooper: Uhhhhhh... see JamieJohnny?
Mama: Did anything else make you scared or sad? (prodding)
Cooper: No. See JamieJohnny. (He's nothing if not consistent.)

Daddy: Jackson, what made you happy today?
Jackson: Seeing my friends and my teachers and playing with animals and puzzles in the block area and seeing Cooper on my playground and resting and eating p'sghetti [Sidebar note: there must be a manual floating amongst all the preschoolers that mandates they mispronounce words like p'sghetti and lemonlade in the same way].
Mama: Wow. That's a lot! Did anything make you scared or sad?
Jackson [earnestly]: No. I just had a pretty happy day.

Can you see why this is my favorite part of my day?! What Aunty K has touched on is a way for our children to say their prayers of thanksgiving and confession at the end of the day. And, I do believe it helps them climb into bed with a little more readiness to say goodnight to us and welcome what will happen tomorrow.

What I find most interesting about this ritual is usually Jackson's answer to the second question. Many times, he gives us the gracious answer he gave tonight (see above). But, occasionally we learn something we didn't know. Yesterday, for example, we learned that a boy in Jackson's class asked to use his blanket during naptime. Jackson stood his ground and said no, which is big for him. The boy got upset and pushed him. Hard. J came home with a big knot on his forehead. He talked about it last night - he talked about how it made him sad when his friend pushed him and told him he wasn't J's friend anymore. He talked about his teacher's intervention and the child's re-direction to the journaling station where he had to write his name (no kidding!). He said it made him sad and scared.

I don't know that I would have heard all of this if we hadn't had this time banked into our nightly ritual. Maybe so - it sounded fairly dramatic. But, maybe this was the safe space for him to say these things.

I hope that this trust and honesty continues into their childhood, adolescence and high school years. We have a lot of time between now and then, but I pray that we can maintain this same sense of sharing and compassion. Because life is going to get hard. A boy pushing him down today will become a girl turning him down for a date in the future. A knot on his forehead could be a lump in his heart. Being scared about a storm in preschool will become fear of the unknown as he graduates.

We try to talk honestly about the realities of life and death, sadness and unfairness. We don't sugarcoat how things can play out - we want the boys to be prepared for the crap that can come their way. We don't preach fairness, we teach sharing. What they have is not theirs to hoard or dangle in the face of the other, but to share (except for naptime blankets, apparently).

You and I know that sometimes the rug gets pulled out from underneath you, and you have to jump onto the next rug and wait for it to happen again. The hardest part is having the faith to see that when the rug gets pulled out from underneath you... it just means you stand on the hardwoods for a while and get dusty. I hope by having the vocabulary to talk about what makes them scared or sad that these boys will be able to be brave about the flooring underneath the rug. Yes, it'll hurt, and it will take them by surprise, but hopefully they will say, with brave and quivering voices, "Today, I was scared, and I want you to know about it."

One particular night, Jackson was having an incredibly tough time. He was in that sad, sobby funk that kids get into and couldn't get out of. He couldn't really talk, he couldn't really do much more than... cry. Matt and I tried our best to reason with him, to no avail. What finally worked was some quiet time with me stroking his sweaty curls saying, "Sometimes it's just hard, J. I know. Sometimes it's hard, and I'm sorry. I love you no matter what, and I'm proud of you. I'm sorry that sometimes it's just hard." He slowly calmed down, caught his breath, took a sip of water and said that he was sad about having to come in from outside. He found his words, and uttered them quietly.

I've learned a lot from my children in these nearly four years of motherhood. I think they've taught me the most about prayer and its simple sincerity. I believe that's all God seeks from us when we pray - quiet and brave utterances of what's really in our heart. And sometimes, in our sobby frustration, we need to listen to the still, small voice that simply says:

"I know. It's hard. But I AM, and you are... and I have written you on the palm of my hand and I love you. Rest well and breathe deep and my Spirit will abide with you and comfort you, now and forever."


1 comment:

Dr. Jill Lee-Barber said...

Wow...reading this with tears in my mamma eyes. Loved sharing lunch with you today and yes, my high for the day was finding a new friend. So glad you and your family are part of our lives.