I remember several years ago I was somewhere in between that deep sleep of the deprived and the alert sleep of the maternal. I lay there, silently and almost unconsciously, moaning over the fact that I couldn’t remember the last time I had slept through the night. I heard it again. A quiet, faint “mom”. Over and over. Several times to the point that I sat up in bed.
Just the fact that he called me “mom” was a wonderment. For the longest time, I was a stranger and then a familiar, safe person. I was his foster mom — but more like a caretaker and or a well-loved aunt. But somewhere around the end of that summer, when we were transitioning him from his biological family who could no longer care for him into our family permanently through adoption, he accepted the fact that I was going to be his new mom. Oh, how I silently fought mighty battles for that title. I cried over not hearing the words for the longest time. And then I cried when I finally heard them.
And on that night, he was calling me. In the middle of the night. And I realize for some that would’ve meant some task needed to be done. An annoying interruption. Sheets to be changed. Water to be refilled. A nightmare to be calmed. But this was different because he was calling me. Me. I shot down the hall and opened his door and I heard it again. “Mom.”
You see, at that point on our journey, we had spent a year and a half, this little boy and I, slowly but surely grafting ourselves into each other. It didn’t always come naturally. In fact, it rarely does, this separating of oneself from a family and joining into another. But over time it started happening and continued to happen, in a slow-motion speed that cannot be seen by the naked eye. After all these years it has proven to be both a painful process and also a glorious miracle, this making of one thing from two separate things.
On that night years ago, it was barely even the middle of the night and he had awoken because his pillowcase had fallen off. Something had come undone — much like what had become of his short, tumultuous life — and it took more than small, delicate five-year-old hands to fix. And he called me.
I had spent many mornings mourning over our middle of the nights. The time he was his most vulnerable. The time he thought he was alone in the world. There was the time I found the barely four-year-old making his way alone in the dark to find a bucket for himself because he thought he might be sick. Or the many times that he had woken up scared and wet the bed, and I found him changing his own clothes, alone, and trying to fix his sheets. I’ve raced down that hall more times than I can count to prove to him that he is not alone.
Even in the middle of the night, even when he just had to use the bathroom, even if he didn’t think he needed help, he was not alone. I met him in the hall, my eyes squinting to adjust to the bright light and we silently escorted each other back into his room. It was my commitment to him, my challenge to myself. I refused to miss an opportunity to meet him where he was. I would tuck him in, every single time, during our middle of the night meetings. He needed to know. I needed him to know. He was not alone.
But that night? I heard it. It crept its way into my subconscious and made it’s way into my ears. Music, the very sweetest kind.
“Mom, my pillowcase? Can you fix it?” Of course I could fix it. I’d fix it because it’s something I could fix and he’d better believe I’m all over that kind of stuff. I smiled through the dark and tucked him back in and marveled the way you watch a sunset or an eagle soar. It’s the miracle of something that you count on, like breathing, but it still requires looking and really seeing it to appreciate.
There will be many more sleepless nights in our story, no doubt. Many more middle of the nights on my resume. They won’t always be glamorous — if any, really. But that night? That night lives in the Hall of Fame of my memory. He called me. He knew. He was not alone. For most, this would mean little. But for me, it was everything. It was witnessing the grafting turned miraculously grafted at 1:03 am in my soon-to-be adopted five-year-old’s bedroom. Holy, holy ground.