After letting him cry for awhile and whispering prayers to heaven that he would just fall back asleep, I flopped my legs to the floor and wandered into his darkened bedroom. When my eyes finally adjusted and focused I saw him sitting against the crib slats looking almost as disoriented as I felt. I gently laid him back down and gave him his pacifier which he angrily grabbed and threw across the crib, as if he was offended by the suggestion that he could be soothed so easily. He rolled over and around his blanket like a crocodile in a death roll and eventually bumped his head on the corner of the crib crying out even louder and longer than before.
Afraid he would wake Clara I gathered up his fuzzy blanket and hoisted his pajama clad body over the crib rail. We settled into the chair next to his crib and I laid his long body across mine. At first he tossed and turned and wiggled, but then slowly let himself relax into me as I brushed his wispy hair with my fingers. His body became heavier and softer and his breath slower. I traced figure eights across his back until sleep returned. I shifted my weight to move him back into bed, and then stopped. My inner voice whispered "stay awhile" and so I held him longer. I brought his face to mine and felt the warmth of his velvet cheek. I breathed in the sweet smell of his hair, a combination of sweat and lotion and grass and love. I noticed the way he felt in my arms - simultaneously long and lanky and yet small enough to hold forever.
I held him longer because I remembered this very night five years ago when I held his brother the same way. A sharp cry in the middle of the night. A bottle made. A diaper changed. A sweet boy soothed and cherished. I felt something hold me back that night too. Something that said "stay here longer" "remember this." And I did. I held his brother, and smelled his sweet smell, and let his feathery hair brush across my lips. I pushed away the exhaustion and stayed in that moment with him until we were both full of love and memory, not knowing then how much i would need to remember. The next morning would be our last together in this life.
I thought about that moment 5 years ago as I held Simon and it scarred me. The need to stay longer, to soak it all in, felt like a bad omen. I've often thought that I was given that prompting to hold Jonah longer because God knew I would lose him the next day, and maybe that is the truth. But as I held Simon and shook off the superstition of losing him I realized that voice is always with me as a mother. It whispers to me everyday, "be here, be present." Sometimes I'm too tired or distracted or frustrated to hear it. Sometimes I hear it and ignore it and go about checking items off of my to-do list. But in the middle of the night when the world is quiet and the room is dark, I listen. Not because calamities are coming, but because life is fleeting.
I am reminded that tomorrow everything will be different. My babies will be one day older, and they will know new things, and say new words, and climb on top of the table. Eventually they will sleep all night, and then sleep too much. Someday they will not fit in my arms or even want my touch. They will make choices and mistakes, and the only thing I can do about it is to listen to that voice, to be present, to be slow, to smell their hair and listen to them giggle, to let my muscles memorize their heaviness. Beyond that I am powerless. No matter what I do, tomorrow will come and bring with it all of the possibilities of joy and sorrow.
I believe that voice is always present, always reminding us to notice the life we've been given. We may only notice it when tragedy visits us, but I have a feeling it is always there.
Eventually I moved Simon back to his bed, gave him his pacifier and covered him with his blanket. I slipped back into bed beside Jordan, and pulled the comforter up around my shoulders. As I drifted off to sleep I heard a gentle rustling and then Clara's distinctive sputtering cry. I held my breath for a moment and waited. Then I left the warmth of my bed to hold my little girl.
When I woke, bleary eyed, in the morning I wondered what this day would bring. Today is a day of sorrow for us and for remembering. It is the day we said goodbye to our first born and learned what it meant to be broken and bruised.
I hoped for a day of happiness and peace and a nap. As I remembered the loss I experienced five years ago I tried to listen for the voice. I heard it when Simon and Clara spread tuna fish all over their faces at lunch and when we visited their brother's grave. I heard it when we sat in the late afternoon sun watching the babies throw birdseed toward a roving flock of chickens. I heard it when our family gathered for dinner, and when Simon splashed in the bath until the water ran out. "This is important" it whispered, "be here."