The baby cried the other night around 3 a.m. As I stumbled toward the nursery, I ran into my 3-year-old in the hall. I shushed her protests as I steered her back to her bed, not wanting her to wake up her big brother, who she shares a room with. I shouldn’t have worried, though, because I had just left the 5-year-old in the “big bed,” where he’d wedged himself in between my husband and me an hour earlier. He also stole my pillow.
But this is not an airing of grievances. It’s just a description of our current reality. Our two older kids, once fantastic sleepers all night long in their own beds, are in a season of nighttime wandering. Like the most accurate of homing pigeons, my daughter, in particular, will seek me out even in the nursery, where, as she waits patiently, the cradle of my arms promptly exchanges infant for toddler.
We probably should be more firm with the bigs about staying in their beds all night. Good habits start young, after all, and need to be reinforced. But when we ask them what is prompting their nocturnal roaming, they answer “a bad dream” or, as the 3-year-old calls it, “a nightmared.” Eyes pop open, and the most natural of impulses drives them to find immediate comfort. And comfort is, thanks be to God, their parents. How can you really blame them?
A friend told me once how, when her own little boy was a frequent nighttime visitor and she asked him about it, he answered matter of factly, “I feel safe with you.” Her heart was deeply touched. As a loving parent, how could it not be?
We all need a place to feel safe and comforted sometimes. I had this feeling recently, square in the middle of the kind of day Judith Viorst might describe as only marginally better than the one experienced by her classic character. I felt the most natural of impulses to find immediate comfort. I got some food, ran some errands. I considered an Oreo milkshake but managed to choose the better part and ended up at an adoration chapel near home. Safety, comfort and peace flooded my heart.
Gazing at the Lord, the tightness in my chest releasing, the lyrics of a Matt Maher song swam into my head: “I run to the Father / I fall into grace / I’m done with the hiding / No reason to wait / My heart needs a surgeon / My soul needs a friend / So I’ll run to the Father / Again and again / And again and again.”
Sometimes all we need is the comfort of one we know loves us no matter what, who will snuggle up and share a pillow in the middle of a dark night. Our parents and their big bed might not always be there. Friends, even spouses, may come and go. But the Lord is always there. We can always run to the Father.
It’s comforting to know that I can pass on this truth to my children as they grow, when their troubles and scares and anxieties will inevitably be more than a childhood “nightmared.” He, they will always have. With him near, they will always be safe.
So, yes, the night wanderings of two little people can be a challenge. But I understand them. I understand their desire for security and peace. And I know that, all too soon, they will be a thing of the past — that childhood itself, like the worries that accompany it, is fleeting.
As we prepare to welcome our incarnate Lord, I ask for the grace to embrace this season, knowing that we all need to run to the Father — and that we should, again and again and again and again.
Gretchen R. Crowe is the editor-in-chief of OSV News. Follow her on Twitter @GretchenOSV.