I read a study once that found siblings, in terms of personality, aren’t demonstrably more similar than two people you might pull off the street. Researchers speculated on a variety of causes, but whatever the reason, in our house, this could not be more true.
Julia is a night owl. Even when she was a toddler, she would stay up long past her big brother. We looked forward each night to the “nine o’ clock crazies.” (Sleep deprived parents are not particularly creative namers of phenomena.) She would stay up, dancing and singing and generally boogie-ing around the house until T. and I were dropping into our pillows, anticipating the inevitable waking of big brother Ethan, who notoriously gets up for the day between 4:30 and 6.
Yes, you read that right.
So, generally, I am quite strict about bedtime, and no tiny eyes shall be open past 7:30 when it’s in my hands. There have been times in recent history when everyone was asleep by 6:45. Daddy, who does the kids’ evening routine 90 percent of the time, is also a night owl and tends to be more lenient with bedtimes. This is when I disappear to my meditation rug, however, so it usually works out fine.
Last night, I was tasked with bedtime. I read two kid-approved books in their shared bedroom and sang Twinkle Twinkle, You are My Sunshine, I’ve Been Working on the Railroad and Michael Row the Boat Ashore. This is usually sufficient to put Ethan to sleep and settle Julia enough to let me walk gently into that good night. But no. She was restless, tossing and turning, popping her head up and complaining of being itchy and not tired, never tired. Every parent has dealt with this. It is not a big deal. She probably IS itchy and never tired. But I figure now is as good a time as any to start teaching her how to relax herself.
So I talked the kids through a technique that I used when I was little and I was itchy and restless and not tired and a bit sad and lonely. I moved through my body from my head to my feet, bidding each part to relax. “Relax eyes, relax. Relax jaw, relax. Relax throat, relax.” And so on. In retrospect, these were my earliest meditations and meant for self-soothing.
This should be the part in the post where I tell you about how my kids connected immediately with this lovely, sweet mindfulness technique I was offering them and they drifted off to sleep quietly, dreaming of ways to repay me for my thoughtfulness and care throughout my long and fruitful life. Dear readers, can you guess what really happened?
They were exactly and fully themselves. They brought their A game. Ethan, for his part, jumped ahead in the guidance. While I was trying to relax their throats (well, really, vocal cords), Ethan was relaxing his arms. While I was directing their arms to relax, Julia spent a good amount of time verbally working out the difference between upper arms and forearms. By the way, the heart is IN the chest, Mom. And upper legs, lest you forget, are THIGHS. I didn’t dare try to relax their bums. We would have been up all night giggling about that.
In the end, Ethan requested more songs, which I personally was too relaxed to sing (the technique works for me to this day!), and Julia reticently let me go after a few more hugs and kisses.
Did it work? Should you try it with your kids? Well sure, absolutely. I gave them something from my heart, and I didn’t make a problem about the way they accepted it. This is a success, a win. This is progress. The beauty, I suppose, is in the offering. It’s in the effort, the giving. It’s not, as I have learned again and again, in the outcome. It’s in the wildly divergent responses to the same conditions. And, even, in the conditions themselves. Learning to relax, lean in, arrive at the present, give what I have and let go of the rest. This is the lesson for me today and everyday. And I’m happy, at last, to be learning it.