"Mama. Mama. Mama," she calls, "Just one more thing."
My hand hovers on the doorknob, poised for escape. On the other side of that door is sweet relief that I made it through another day, quiet, and time to myself, time to get things done. I am almost free, but no.
I sigh, turn back toward her. "What is it sweetie?" I ask, trying to keep the irritation from leaking through.
"Mama? When all your work is done can you come in and lay down next to me? And if I'm awake can you rub my back and sing me a song. But if I'm NOT awake can you still give me a hug and lay down next to me for a little while?"
Every night it's the same question. Usually I cut her off mid sentence, so great is my desire to escape. "Yes, I'll lay down next to you, but you'll probably be asleep by then and won't know it," I hedge. "Goodnight, I love you, go to sleep."
I slip out quickly, hoping to cut off any more talk. I'm done. I'm tired. Bedtime exhausts me and I long for it to end.
Some nights I completely forget to go back into that room before dragging myself into bed several hours later. More than I would like to admit. Some nights I lay down, remember, and get up again to go in and hug her, though she never wakes, so I'll know I kept my promise to her.
I don't go back in before she's asleep if I can avoid it. She takes longer to sleep if I'm in with her, and talks and talks until my mind blanks out entirely and I fall asleep before she does. I can't afford naps like that. They have me up far too late at night, doing work that should have been done earlier. Little still takes so long to get to sleep and I feel I have nothing left for the Girl who has finally learned to fall asleep on her own.
Yet every night she falls asleep, happily hoping that I will come in and spend some extra time with her, sing to her, and rub her back.
I'm aware, as I choose not to most nights, that one day I'll wish I had. One day I will regret not taking the opportunity, every night, to spend some more time with my little girl. She will be all grown up and gone and I will wish I could hold her again and spend more time. I even think to myself that if she were to suddenly die tomorrow, the one thing I would regret the most is not going in before she sleeps and laying down with her and singing to her one last time.
I know this is important, and yet, at the end of the day, it feels impossible. Or I just don't want to. Or both. I feel her question like a weight, another burden added to my already full load. Or perhaps it is my own selfishness that burdens me so, I never can tell.
There are so many choices like this that we parents are confronted with. Pay the bills or read a story? Make a healthy nutritious dinner or play together outside and eat something convenient? Lay down with my little girl, or do work that keeps 35 other children I've never met, and hopefully many more, from starving to death or being sold in the street while mine safely rests in her bed on the other side of the wall.
Sometimes the choices we have to make tear our hearts apart. We can never be present as much as we would like. We will always wonder if in the moments when we are, it is enough? Or at least, I will, every night when I hear, "Just one more thing mama, just one more thing," and then shut the door.