“I miss the stars,” my five-year-old son said. I have no idea what prompted his comment.
I didn’t know how to respond. Bedtime is bedtime. How does a mother keep a schedule, ensure her kids get enough sleep, but ease a longing for the stars? In the summer, it’s not dark until well after he should be asleep in bed. In the winter it’s dark earlier, but it’s freezing. Either way, it seems irresponsible to take him out into the parking lot to be reacquainted with tiny pinpricks of light. But, if I’m honest, I miss the stars, too.
When my husband and I juggled shifts and childcare with just one vehicle, I worried about the strain. It was a strain on my husband and myself to be so precise with time. Five minutes delay meant that someone would be late for work. It seemed we were always running, verging on running late. During the times when the beginning of my shift overlapped with the last hour of my husband’s shift, it took the speed and coordination of a pit crew to get our sons to the sitter’s on time, so I could get to my husband’s factory during his break, so he could drive me to work, and then drive himself back to work, so he could drive himself home in an hour. There was no margin for error. There was barely time to take a breath.
When we were on opposite shifts, there was an hour between the end of my job, and the beginning of his. It was hard to leave work exactly on time. It was hard on my parents to have the kids in jackets and shoes and in the front hall waiting for me. It was hard on me to get the kids home and unpacked in time for my husband to drive to work. We juggled the kids and the car for years. We were both tired. We were both anxious. Apparently, my oldest son was stargazing.
“I’m sorry you miss the stars,” I said. “We’ll see them again some day. And we can get a book on stars at the library next weekend.” That perked him up, but I kept pondering his comment.
I’d been relieved when the swing shifts had stopped. I’d been relieved when my husband got a new job and could support us without my help, if we were careful. When we became overwhelmed with the struggle for odd-hour child care, and the difficulties of vehicle trade-offs, leaving my part-time job became an almost-welcome necessity. I missed the extra money, but not the excessive hassle. The strain of our schedules had, at times, overwhelmed us. But now that I had time, all the time in the world, on my hands, I didn’t know what to do about the stars.
The children were finally getting enough sleep. When they woke up at night, it was for normal reasons: nightmares, potty trips, car alarms in the night. It wasn’t because a guilt-ridden and anxious mother had turned on their light, pulled clothes over their heads, shoved arms into jackets, and stuffed them into car seats.
Now, however, my well-rested son missed the stars. It seemed irresponsible, bordering on mean, to keep him up late, or get him up early, or wake him hours after he’d been asleep to go see them. And what if the neighbours wondered what on earth I was thinking, taking a pyjama-clad child out into the parking lot, late at night? “He wanted to see the stars,” seemed an inadequate answer.
How elusive nighttime wonders can be. I remember the rare times when my dad drove us out to the country, beyond the streetlights of our small town, to search the sky for a comet, or a meteor shower. We never saw them. It was always cloudy. We couldn’t even see many of the regular, everyday stars. I’ve always wondered what we missed.
We did see one nighttime wonder, in our own front yard. My mother once took us out to see her evening primroses bloom.
They were a mysterious little flower. My mother insisted they bloomed when we couldn’t see them. It was one of those times I just had to trust her. I’d never seen them. They always looked on the verge of wilting when I saw them during daylight hours, those drooping, pale buds. Then my mother, who never ever breaks the rules, let us stay up and watch the flowers bloom. Those tiny, yellow dots unfolded in front of our eyes. My mother was right. They did come alive at night, after we should have been in bed. My mother, who never ever broke the rules, rushed us outside long after the street lights came on, in our pyjamas, to see the flowers whose petals refused to be seen when children were awake. It was almost magical.
I’ve wondered if I should take my son out to see the stars again, even though the night sky in southern Ontario is very unaccommodating. Perhaps I should. I still appreciate that nighttime, magical moment from my childhood. Maybe someday in the future, the magical moment my son remembers will be the night his mother took him out after bedtime, in the cold, in pyjamas and coat, to see those tiny pinpricks of light way up in the dark sky that only come out when children are sleeping.
Melissa Reeve writes from Ontario. Her work is often inspired by the strong emotions of everyday life.