I remember the early 2000s Indigo Girls’ song, Closer to Fine, and its lines, “Darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable. And lightness has a call that’s hard to hear.” Perhaps what we hear is a matter of attention. I wonder if my focus, if our focus, gets pulled to the darkness, fed by the 24-hour news cycle; these bombings, those homicides; that scandal; this burglary. Maybe darkness creates its own insatiable hunger. What would happen if I turn my attention to lightness. Here I go:
I am babysitting. All three grandchildren finish their raucous playtime in the tub. Two year-old Lawson has worn her swim goggles before, during and after the bath, bobbing her head under the water, popping up saying, “I swim, Susu. I swim.” She won’t take off what she calls her “sundasses.” I laugh. She laughs. Her four-year-old twin brothers Taylor and Walker laugh. After they snuggle into their pink, orange and green robe-like towels, all three ask me for what they call my “magic sleeping lotion” which I have brought from Maine, a tiny tub of Badger’s Nighty-Night Chamomile and Bergamot paste that they smear all over their bath-reddened cheeks, saying, “Mmmmm. Susu, smell me.”
At least for these moments, if I can focus on this lightness and not the dark world they will inherit, I will be closer to fine. I smell them. They smell of baby Orajel training toothpaste, Johnson’s Baby Shampoo. And Magic Sleep lotion. I smile.
I put Lawson in her crib in her nursery down the hall, then sit with the twins in their bedroom’s pillowed reading nook. We read Thomas the Train and Mr. Magee Goes Camping twice each. We play the end-of-the-day game: “My favorite part of the day is…..” Taylor says his favorite part of the day was when he hid in the car when Daddy gave a ride to Susu from the bus station and Taylor said, “Boo.” I don’t remind him that was yesterday, told him I loved that part of the day too. Walker’s favorite part of his day was playing with Taylor, chasing each other in the back yard. We do final hugs and kisses, I turn the lights out, close the door just the right amount, which takes some major negotiating, and –tired–trudge downstairs to put dinner dishes away, fold laundry and organize stacks of wooden blocks. Maybe I’ll relax now and make a big cup of hot water like my grandmother did.
I hear Taylor and Walker partying, jumping on their beds, laughing. I sneak to their door to listen. Taylor says, “Here, you take Turtle.” He throws it to his brother. Walker says, “Ok. You take Bunny,” and tosses it. Now they are rolling around, out of their beds, on the floor giggling. I hear Lawson cry, “me, me.” She’ll never get to sleep with this ruckus. She wants to be with her twin brothers. Sometimes we call them “the triplets.” At the same moment that I now hear the boys chucking blankets, I remember another Indigo Girls’ line, “I wrap my fear around me like a blanket.” The boys are ditching toys and unwrapping sheets around them and I wrap my fear around me, grandmother, babysitter. What to do? Get Lawson? Pick her up? While I wonder how to handle the rowdy boys, I also question the best way to care for Lawson. Do I leave her alone and let her practice her self-soothing sleep routine my daughter and her husband taught her? Will she ever drift off? Can you do grandmothering wrong?
In an attempt to model shhhhh and nighty-night, I tiptoe into the boys’ room and whisper, forefinger to my lips, stifling a laugh at the pile of stuffed animals strewn all over their carpet. I say, “Hey, guys, it’s time to get in your beds. It’s time to go to sleep.”
Taylor, concerned about my worry, consoles me, “Susu, it’s ok. We’re just talkin’ ’bout silly things.”
The Indigo Girls say, “there’s more than one answer to these questions pointing me in a crooked line.”
Sometimes I long for linear: If they say this, then I say that. If they do A, then I do B. But this time I take the crooked way. With no straight-line intervention, I let Lawson be (she is now singing). With perhaps less discipline than prudent, I let the boys be. I laugh ’bout the silly things. And I think we are all close to fine.
Maybe, depending on where we place our attention, lightness has a call that is not so hard to hear.