Monday, April 29, 2013

Speaking Spaces Part 1: The Family Bed

This series of posts is opportunity to share fun and lively stories about our children and childhood featuring three centers of kid activity: the family bed, the family table and the family room. Please join the party and share your stories too! You can link in the comment section and I'll share them here.

What draws a child to their parents' bed? Perhaps it is an invisible string that pulls them back towards the place where their existence began. Perhaps it is the comfort of their parents' scent, or just because it is a large, soft nesting place, a place to catch them, whether they need a nap or a play surface to bounce off of. In any case, it is more than a practical piece of furniture. To a child, it plays an important role in the creation of an atmosphere of well being and safety. Which is why, even if you don't practice co-sleeping, the parents' bed is always the family bed.

Let's start with a typical day. Before the sun rises, I am usually up, and the youngest, who almost always wakes up for a feeding in the middle of the night, is usually still snoozing in it. When he wakes, he comes to find me so he can be fed and changed. The other children pop up, one by one, and the circus begins. Breakfast to be fixed (boxes and bags to open, bowls to get down, milk to pour, eggs to scramble, stuck toast to remove), and the order of computer turns to be decided, and lots of things they all thought about to tell mama in the morning. Pretend plays and arguments, and my mind is swirling while I juggle the flood of input and try to make a mental list of what needs to be done that day. Sometimes I never think about the bed again, until I crash into it at the end of the day. But a lot more goes on that I rarely take the time to notice. Yet today, a bit of reflection brings light to the dark corners of my memory, and I can look a little deeper.

If I go into the bedroom to use the attached bathroom to brush my teeth, change a diaper or whatever, one or more of the kids usually follows. Naturally, there is a narrative going on and a romp begins. The room is no longer a bedroom, but the scene of a battle. And Samurai rangers are fighting the bad guys. Ha! Ho! Ya! Ha! Miriam kicks the air, swinging her body around. Reuben and Seth tumble to the floor, rolling up the bed (or so it seems) and now the warriors have a soft landing. But now they are dinosaurs crawling into their caves under the blanket. But the T-rex fight is interrupted by the Samurai warrior princess and the scene morphs again. All this is going on behind my back while I change the baby, thinking about the next thing that needs doing. To me, it is only in the background. If they get too rough, they get rebuked, but usually everything dissolves when I walk out of the room. Only the detached spread and piled pillows are evidence of the battle that was there, the one that saved the world once again from the threat of evil.

The day wears on, and the energy begins to dwindle. An argument ensues, one does not get his way, and so he slinks off to the bedroom, thumb in mouth, for a break. There he settles himself under the blanket, curls up, and lets out long sighs. Mama's pillow smells so safe, the scent that bonded them together since his birth. It remains imprinted, though gradually fades from awareness as he grows up. Today, at 6, he is just aware that the scent means comfort. The hormones released into the breast milk each time he nursed as an infant, formed a memory trigger of comfort to be always associated with that smell. After growing up, and visiting home, Mama's neck hug will greet him, and a fleeting wave that crosses the mental barriers of adolescent tensions and the breaking away that comes with growing up, unconsciously will bring out that sigh again. It is a bond that the years cannot sever.

Later in the afternoon, her pride offended after a spat with her sister, another stomps off to the bed. Lying there, straight as a board, she stares, frowning at the ceiling. Baby brother wanders in and wants up. He is still for a moment, letting her uncurl his soft hand and touch his fingertips. But only for a moment, then with a giggle and his toothy grin that is his very own, he is up. Sister's hairy head shnuzzles his belly and soon they are laughing and shouting. Next thing you know, they come out hand in hand. Sister's new pretend has begun in which she drives her baby to the store on the chairs lined up in the living room, with an invisible steering wheel and motor sounds that baby brother helps with. Armed with shopping bags, she showers him with gifts  of toys and treats from all parts of the department store that the whole house turned into. It even has a little restaurant that feeds babies cereal and raisins and cups of water and lets them color with crayons while they are waiting for their food. And the food comes with a toy prize, of course.

Papa comes home, and takes five on the bed before heading outside to his projects, surfs the net on his phone, while the eldest daughter cuddles and talks and asks incessantly about everything she has thought about and everything that pops into her head, the rate of which increases like popcorn in the popper as she gets warmed up. She takes a breath and sighs happily. It is so good to have Papa home.

Finally, it is bedtime. A circus of brushing teeth and repeated rounds of hugs, sweet dreams, kisses, goodnights, more sweet dreams and see you in the morning. One after the other goes down, then it is quiet for a moment, then one needs a drink of water he forgot, an extra hug, and the eldest thought of one more important thing. More sweet dream, goodnights, hugs, kisses and see you in the morning.

One day, it will be quiet. Very quiet. We will lie down in bed, wrinkled and frail at the end of the day, and then the echoes will rise from the mattress. Samurai battles, dinosaur roars, sighs, and endless last-minute goodnights. And we'll smile.