Kristin Armstrong’s Column
Life By Nightlight
by Kristin Armstrong
Illustration by Joy Gallagher
It’s hard to remember nightlife before children, since I have been a mom now for almost 17 years.
Nightlife with an infant is altered through the lens of memory. What seemed tiring at the time now glows with bliss and a vision of my son’s face softly lit by nightlight. I remember the way his lips pursed like a kiss and his eyelids fluttered in his sleep. I could have placed him gently back in his crib, but instead I rocked him in a denim blue Pottery Barn chair, mesmerized by his very existence and the fact that God entrusted something as awesome as life to someone as ordinary as me.
Nightlife with toddler twin girls is marked by the memory of the fateful day when they discovered they could escape from their cribs. I was asleep in the middle of the night when suddenly I felt a damp, hot, raspy breath on my cheek. “MOMMY! I awake!” Grace’s toothy grin with its single cavernous dimple, illuminated by the alarm clock light, hovered an inch from my face. I sat bolt upright and screamed, scaring us all. Life as I knew it was over. They could escape! The next day I called my best friend in tears, lamenting my life, thinking I would never, ever sleep again.
Nightlife with a sick kid entails making a pillow pallet on the bathroom floor, a sleepy semi-consciousness snapped awake by a telltale groan, rubbing the back of the precious person with their head in the toilet. Wringing cold washcloths to rest on fevered foreheads. Delivering Sprite and saltine crackers. Eventually falling asleep in a hot tangle of limbs on cool tile. Savoring the weary pleasure of knowing you are doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing.
Nightlife with a teenager means waking up and waiting up. Stalking them on Find my Friends, praying to God they are safe. Learning when to have an eagle eye and when to turn a blind eye. The splashing, screaming sounds of football players cannonballing into the pool. Hollering to turn the music down. Girls shrieking and giggling in the kitchen, baking something in the middle of the night and leaving the kitchen an unholy mess. Wads of wet pool towels and puddled footprints across the floor. The glow of screens and hushed voices Facetiming until the wee hours. Who the hell ordered Favor? Stepping around blanketed bodies sleeping on the floor, waking up the ones who have an early morning game or practice. Bedheads, bacon frying and shirtless boys stuffing their faces with cinnamon rolls. The unending requests for money for Texas Honey Ham and Tacodeli. The happy, noisy mess of a full house and a full life.
These years fly fast. Everyone warns me to enjoy, enjoy, enjoy it now before it’s gone. I find it hard to believe that my own baby girls are entering high school. A mere few years from now my nightlife will change as quickly and dramatically as it did 18 years prior. I may be well-rested and my house will likely be tidy, but I know I will ache for the clutter and chaos.
This month of August brings big transitions for Mama Bears everywhere. Big kids off to college. Medium kids returning to school. Little tots starting kindergarten. There are routines to revise, relationships to reconnect, identities to reconsider and careers to resurrect. Quiet hours to fill. Cracked hearts to spackle. There is no training protocol for Loving and Letting Go. It is a delicate, awkward dance with plenty of stepped-on toes and sweaty palms, fumbling to find the rhythm and learning how to hold each other just right — not too tight and not too loose.
We raise these chicks to leave the nest. The best nest of all is the one high enough to have a view, low enough to be safe, big enough to hold a lifetime of love, small enough to want to leave, strong enough to support you when you launch and soft enough to sometimes draw you back home.
Read more from the Nightlife Issue | August 2016