A Shoulder To Lean On

Now that we’ve moved Owen and James to twin beds, they’re no longer napping—but they still need to nap. And I need for them to nap. They’re exhausted. I’m exhausted. It’s been a fight-back-tears and escape-to-my-bedroom-to-hide-underneath-my-down-comforter-as-soon-as-Andy-gets-home two weeks.

Today, in particular, was tough. James only spoke in whine. At first I tried to ignore it. That only seemed to escalate it. So I addressed it. I told him I wouldn’t respond to his requests unless he asked nicely and talked in a normal voice. He would whine some more. I wouldn’t budge. And then he would throw a mini fit. I’d remind him of what he needed to do. He’d ask nicely—normal voice, with a “please.” Two seconds later? Back to the whine. All.day.long.

This was in between the boys’ fighting, over everything. All.day.long.

Owen, in particular, likes to “dupe” James. He pokes him, anywhere (stomach, head, eye, arm, leg) and says “dupe!” and then giggles. James does not appreciate this. When I scold Owen, he says, “But I have to dupe him! I just have to!”

OWEN! JAMES! JUST STOP!” I said, completely and totally exasperated, more than once today.

They just stared. Every time. And went back to whining. And duping. And crying about not being able to have a Christmas cookie at 9:30 in the morning.

James, eventually exhausted, fell asleep on the couch, upright, clinging to the crust of some buttered bread, head way back, mouth slightly open. (This was about 4:30pm.) Sophie and Owen were playing grocery store upstairs. I purchased a few things—a Rubik’s cube, a pink plastic princess cell phone and a Wonder Pets figurine—and put them in a plastic, singing, much-too-low-for-me shopping cart. I pushed my purchases into the hallway. Then, I lied. I said that James was asleep on the couch (true) and that I needed to sit next to him to make sure he didn’t fall off (not true).

“Aw, James is sleeping?” Owen said so sweetly, forming his lips into a perfect “o,” his head cocked to one side.

“Yes,” I said, grateful that he was (finally) sleeping and thankful that Sophie and Owen were (finally) playing, happily.

I went downstairs and sat next to James on the couch. No TV, no computer, no book. I just sat. And I wondered how any of us were going to survive these next few weeks without a daily “break,” (for me) and without a daily nap (for them).

I watched James. I watched as the day’s stresses slowly pushed his head to the side, down and down and down until he’d startle and pop it back up. This happened again and again. He seemed calm and peaceful—for the first time today—except for the head bobbing.

So the next time his head popped back up, I scooted next to him. Once again, down his head came. But this time, my shoulder was there. He settled into me and finally, without fight, sunk into a deep sleep.

After a day in which I felt like I was failing him, over and over again, I felt successful. And I felt needed—not for a cup of milk or a too-high toy or another TV show—but for me. Just me. And for the first time today, that was enough.

I hope my shoulder is enough in years to come, as life stresses grow and widen and mature, as things become more complex in a different way. And as my children’s circles grow, I hope they find other shoulders to lean on—friends, colleagues, lovers—shoulders that help bear the weight of this often difficult and trying world. I imagine my shoulder will feel empty, initially. But I also hope they’ll remember it’s there, even as adults, even when Andy and I aren’t the only people they can—and want—to turn to. And I hope, as my children grow, I’ll find new heads for my shoulder to support just as I hope to constantly be finding new places to rest mine.

It’s almost 9pm. Andy strung Christmas lights in the boys’ room, trying to make a, for the most part, unhappy day better. There was initial excitement, wonder, even, but now we’re back to the same-old. No one is sleeping. Every five minutes or so we hear the pad-pad-pad of footed pjs walking around the hallway upstairs. They get out of bed. We put them back in. There are tears. Eventually their pillows will bear the weights of their heads tonight. Eventually. And when that time comes there will be a role reversal and I will be thankful to have someplace to rest mine.

“The burden is light on the shoulder of another.” —Russian Proverb