A few nights ago, I was sitting in our blue chair in the living room when the door to my daughter’s room opened for the eighth time. She was put to bed over an hour ago but has proceeded to need to go to the bathroom, get a drink, get hugs, tell us she loves us, and then get another drink.
I am sure that parents around the world have and will continue to experience the “child gets out of bed 15 times per night” stage. I am sure that after night upon night of putting your sweet child back to bed, eventually, it tests your patience. Maybe it doesn’t, and if so, you have way more patience than I do. We’ve been doing this song and dance for a while now and we anticipate that she will keep coming out of her room, but it doesn’t make things easier or enjoyable.
But yet, I am convicted every night. Somewhere around the fourth or fifth time laying our sweet daughter down to bed each night, I will walk out of her room hoping that she will stay in bed this time, and frustrated that she hasn’t yet gone to sleep. I quietly shut the door, and tell her I love her again - but by this time my voice is usually less sweet than normal.
I have, at that moment, countless times glanced ahead of me into our living room and looked at the top of our bookshelf. Every time I see the molding on the top of the bookshelf after leaving our daughter’s room, I think to myself, “but what if she doesn’t wake up in the morning? What if that was my last interaction with her?”
It’s a morbid thought to have, especially with any regularity - but it is the thought that hits me each time I get frustrated with our daughter for not staying in bed.
Entertaining the thought that it is possible we’ve interacted for the last time has pierced my heart, grounded my mind, and quieted my soul nearly every time.
You see, as a parent that has already buried one child, I live with the memory of my last interaction with Anders which was a seemingly routine interaction on a seemingly routine day. And I think about our final interaction together all of the time.
I had changed Anders’s diaper and grabbed him off the twins' changing table as Rachel grabbed Linnea to change her diaper before we took them to daycare. Anders was never fond of his car seat, and his active, 11-month old body was not excited about me placing him into it that morning. He wiggled and wrenched his body as I lowered him down, and I struggled to find the buckle which he was now sitting on.
As I held him into the seat with one hand, I ran his arms through the straps, connected the chest clip, and then the two leg clips into the buckle. He finally calmed down when the last clip was buckled and started to relax and look up to me as I tightened him into his seat.
A routine morning.
I kissed him, said goodbye, and said the same to Rachel and Linnea - and off to school I went.
But the morning turned out to be anything but routine.
Those were the last moments I shared with my son where he was able to interact with me, and I think about them often. I don’t have regrets of that day, but I was so close to living with regrets of that morning. Inside, as Anders was struggling against me, I remember wanting to be frustrated with him. I wanted to say something.
I wanted him to stop trying to climb out of his car seat. I wanted to tell him to relax. I wanted to tell him to stop moving so much and help both of us out.
But he was 11 months old, and he wouldn’t understand my frustration if I would have expressed it. Instead, I tried to be a calming presence for him.
I can’t imagine how I would feel today if I would have gotten mad at Anders that morning. If I would have been frustrated with him enough to stew about it as I left the house, how much would I want to get that time back? I am grateful that the last interaction I had with Anders turned out the way it did. I'm glad I didn't say what I wanted to say.
So when I leave Linnea’s room for the fifth time, I often think about what kind of interaction my daughter is getting from me before she goes to sleep each night. I know that Linnea will wake up tomorrow morning, God-willing, and I will get to spend another day with her. But for Rachel and I, and I am sure for some other parents that grieve the loss of a child, the fact that it has happened once puts at the forefront of our minds that the death of a child could happen again.
For whatever reason, when that bookcase comes into my line of sight, I am brought back to my final interaction with my squishy little Anders and I am grateful for the interaction we had. In those thoughts about him, I am reminded of the reality that any interaction could be the last interaction...and I desire for that interaction to be the best it can be.