We turn out the main light and flip on the closet light, signaling the start of our bedtime routine. Then, I tell two stories– one must feature bubble gum and one must be a super-special extra surprise story that she has never heard ever in her whole life.
I do my best to make up enchanting bubble gum tales and then I fumble around piecing together a story that has an original, age-appropriate narrative arc. I avoid Disneyesque themes and steer clear of a physical description of my heroine other than to say she is brave, kind-hearted, strong, and hilarious.
I like to play with my daughter’s curls as they fan out over her pillow. If she’s wide awake, she’ll bat my hand away. “No, Mama,” in the tone that suggest that her teenage years will drive me to lots of extra therapy. If she is spent from a day of planning her birthday party or listing her favorite colors, she’ll let me twist the curly ends around my finger as I sing her a song.
Her latest request is that I sing her songs that, like the stories I tell, she’s never heard. I’ve run through every church song, the Willie Nelson canon (which took weeks), and the soundtracks of Grease, Sound of Music and Wizard of Oz. I’ve taken to making up songs which sound like really bad junior high poetry set to the tune of a tone-deaf beginning grammar school band, which is all awful, but they seem to lull her to sleep.
When her blinks lengthen into closed eyes, I move into my spoken word segment. It’s my favorite part, and it always makes me cry.
I’m grateful you are my daughter. I’m so blessed to be your Mama.
Sometimes she stirs, and I fall silent.
You did a great job being you today. Everything you did today counts. You’re loved beyond your own comprehension. You are going to outgrow this world and create new ones.
You are full of color and life and gratitude.
You have gifts to share with this world.
She may remember this one day and think I was talking to her. And I am. But I am also talking to myself, hoping we can learn together.