Photo Credit: Alex Chalkley Photography

I want to stay in this place. I want to sit here and focus on my baby girl.  I want to capture more of her stories in my writing. I want to work through the frustration of nights when she won’t sleep.   I want to remind myself how she hushes me at bedtime so she can sing the songs I’ve taught her.  “Shhh. No. No, Mommy. Top. Top,” she says while holding my cheeks before singing Twinkle Star (as she calls it), the ABC song, My Girl or Stop in the Name of Love... I want to remember how she Koala hugs me and won’t let me put her in her bed. How she chases me in a fit of frustration when I try to leave. How I have to put what feels like 5,000 teddy bears, 3,000 books, and every single blanket in exactly the right place. Angel bear, pink dog, brown dog, and water cup go in her right hand. Pink bear, brown bear, and rabbit go in her left. She must be on her belly. There must be exactly 2 books for her to lay her left cheek on. The big blanket must go first. The mermaid blanket must be on top. Every night we discuss whose turn it is to turn on the fish tank music box.

It’s easy to get lost in this place of nighttime routines and details that pretend to be important because they hold memories that are absolutely the heart of human life on earth. Having love, giving of ourselves, watching the growth of another are exactly the kinds of places in which we are better off being lost if we must be.

At 3 AM she comes to find me. With her doll in its basket she shuffles in and says, “Momma bed.” I half laugh with frustration and exhaustion. Then groan. There is no rest tonight. We mothers, we give our children breath, and with our heartbeats we set its pace. In the darkest of night, we make life safe. Don’t we?

There’s enough in this world for us all to be safe. There’s enough to eat, enough to find peace, enough love, but there’s too much hate. For so many months I’ve looked at this little girl, the one who loves nothing more than to hide on my tummy and curl up under my sweatshirt, the one who at 2 is still learning how to find peace without me. We’ve spent so much of this time battling through the transitions that come with the steps of learning how to sleep. Over these same months I look at the world and know I face the same battles to find peace. I see creeping from the shadows examples of blame and hate. I question if my surroundings are safe. That, in and of itself, scares me because I am her gate. For now, I shape her life. I let in what is safe. I keep out the rest. I lead by example, but she can’t see that yet.

At the top of the stairs and behind a baby gate she stares at me after her nap. Her hair is ruffled. I love her pout. She looks up and through her bangs, but not quite at my face as if to say, “How dare you leave me to sleep and not be there when I wake?”

She wakes up into this world more and more each day. As she grows so must my goals. I am where safe comes from; first in my belly, then on my belly, then as far as I can spread it throughout the world. There lies the leap I have to take. I can’t be lost under the 5,000 teddy bears or the 3,000 books. I can’t get stuck on my next technique to get her to sleep through the night or struck by my endless lack of sleep. These shadows in the world are not the thing of toddler nightmares. They are the broken things that threaten life and peace.

Already she is learning. She practices putting her brother to bed. “Shh,” she says as she softly pats his cheeks. “Go to sleep,” she whispers as she pulls up the sheets. Of course when she does this to me she takes the added step of opening and closing my eyelids to make sure I am asleep.  She is eager to take my place. After all her practicing, she soon will.

This is the world I’m asking her to wake up in; my comfort lies in the fact that I go first. I have no intention of staying a gate. I don’t believe that safe comes from a place where we have to block everything out. I believe safe comes from opening up. So I’ve left this blog, at least for a while. I’m focusing on something bigger- a different way to take care of my kids. You’ll find me at writing with a different focus. I need others to see the people I see. I need others to care. For all of my life, on the good days and bad, the difference in my life has always come from kind words from my friends and soon to be ones.  Some check the same demographic boxes as I do. Some grew up like me- in small towns, and then spent years in big cities.  Others don’t seem to share a thing with me; they have different hair and skin color. They spoke a different language first or came from another country. But they all mean something to me. They are so darned interesting. I can’t imagine not knowing them. I can’t imagine not caring about them. I can’t describe the peace they give me. I just don’t see this world of us vs. them. I can’t imagine how anyone could sort us into that. I can’t accept what we’d lose if we did. Because I do believe there is enough room for everything in this world- everything that is- but hate.

I am thankful to have found this place and all of you. I have appreciated your comments, your readership, your blogs. I have benefitted from your stories, advice, and presence. I hope you’ll join me for the new series Tea with Me. I hope you listen to these stories I’ve collected about friends and neighbors. I hope you’ll carry them with you. I hope you’ll care about all of these Americans as you focus on something bigger than those details that pretend to be important, that close gates, and distract us from why we’re all really here.