Poetry Wednesday, Vol. 45

There has been a rash of children in our bed. The girls have only made occasional appearances, but the boys have been finding their way down the stairs most nights. With sickness rearing it’s head and thunderstorms with the occasional tornado siren disturbing their sleep, the boys have needed that little extra comfort, I suppose.

Sleeping with my kids starts out so sweet and snugly. I love holding their sweaty heads against my chest, cuddling up to their sticky hands and bony legs. But at some point I need to roll to my side, my back to them, in order to protect my belly from kicks and pokes. I get too hot, it’s like sleeping with a furnace. Mike, more patient than me in sleep as he is in life, can sleep the whole night through with a child’s head on each shoulder, little butts nestled in his hands. They sleep soundly when he holds them tightly to his chest. My arms would fall asleep and start burning, and I’m pretty sure I have muttered, on more than one occasion, Get off me!, as I push a sleeping young one away. In spite of all that, I do love waking up to their faces, puffy and tired and kissable. I love watching them stretch and untangle themselves from the covers.

I remember sleeping with my parents as a kid. My Dad traveled a bit, so any time he was gone we slept with my Mom. Kenny and I would both sleep with Mom, until Ken grew older and began sleeping in his own room, but I continued into adulthood sleeping with my mother any time Dad was out of town. When both parents were home and I needed comfort that only their bed could provide, it was a simple thing to climb into their bed. Walking into their room, nothing but a whispered “Mom!” would wake them. Then Mom would open her eyes, open the covers and let us climb on in. Mom would sleep on her side, with her back to me- of course not for the reasons I do – although on one memorable occasion she did wake with my feet around her neck… I would nestle in between them and soon Dad would roll over and drape one arm across my shoulders and one leg across my middle. He would resume his deep breathing, an impossibly long inhale an equally impossibly long exhale, followed by endless seconds of silence and stillness in which I was sure he would never take another breath; and then the inhale would begin, starting the process all over again. I would lay there in the dark feeling safe and secure, and just a teeny bit trapped and smothered, and swiftly fall asleep.

I have a mole on the back of my neck and one by my ear. They alternately fascinate and disgust my children. Upon waking they tangle their fingers through my hair until they find the one on my neck and can tickle it. They rub their fingers down the scar on my shin, to feel the texture, and marvel at the “grossness”. These kinds of interactions always remind me of laying with my Dad as he watched TV or read books, or just lay. Kenny and I would lay, one on either side of him, nestled on his shoulders and trace the scars on his arm, where it was broken catching a drunk in Guatemala. If he was lying on his back or side, we would trace the scars on his back from tumor depleting back surgeries. We would pet the thick dark fur that covered his back and arms and belly. It was like having your own pet gorilla.

My children will never be able to lay with their IceCream Grandpa in bed, watching Scooby-Doo, listening to him read books. They won’t be able to pet his hairy arms and chest and listen to his stories. For that reason it makes it all the more special to linger in bed with my children. Maybe they will have memories to tell their children. Maybe my grandchildren will cuddle in bed with me, finger the mole on the back of my neck, tell me how “disgusting” it is. For all the discomfort sleeping with my children brings me, the comfort far outweighs it.

Ripening

Wendell Berry

The longer we are together
the larger death grows around us.
How many we know by now
who are dead! We, who were young,
now count the cost of having been.
And yet as we know the dead
we grow familiar with the world.
We, who were young and loved each other
ignorantly, now come to know
each other in love, married
by what we have done, as much
as by what we intend. Our hair
turns white with our ripening
as though to fly away in some
coming wind, bearing the seed
of what we know. It was bitter to learn
that we come to death as we come
to love, bitter to face
the just and solving welcome
that death prepares. But that is bitter
only to the ignorant, who pray
it will not happen. Having come
the bitter way to better prayer, we have
the sweetness of ripening. How sweet
to know you by the signs of this world!

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