At night, when I tuck my kids into bed, we say affirmations. It goes something like this:
Me: Repeat after me.
Kid: Repeat after me.
(Years of doing affirmations and they still laugh at the ‘repeat’ thing.)
Me: I am brave.
Kid: I am brave.
Me: I am kind.
Kid: I am kind.
You get the idea. A few more generic ones, and then I deviate according to the kid’s personality, something we struggled with that day, or something silly. I love to make up songs on the spot and they enjoy my goofiness as well, which I know won’t last forever so I’m soaking it in. We always end with “I love myself, I’m proud of myself, and I can do great things.”
I love myself and I’m proud of myself were not part of my original formula, they came to me a couple of years ago when I was thinking about how to have the kids’ validation come from within, rather than from others, including their parents. I’m not of the opinion that me arriving on Earth earlier makes me any more of an authority on how to be human, it only makes me responsible for their care, safety, and guiding them with things like manners, potty training, and when it’s acceptable to yell “Go Dawgs” at strangers. (Hint: Always. It’s always acceptable.)
Some nights I thank them for choosing me to be their Mama when they were souls preparing to come to Earth. I feel so grateful and honored that they chose me, knowing they’d be vulnerable and I’d be so very … well, flawed. Human. Ill-prepared for the task.
When I was young enough to have a bedtime, Bonmama tucked me into bed most nights. My mom worked late nights as a radio DJ, so she was usually gone and Bonpapa was downstairs working in his office or occasionally asleep in his recliner in front of an episode of Dragnet.
We walked down the narrow hallway, Bonmama and I, feet scuffing on the vintage green carpet (it had odd sections that looked a lot like the tops of cauliflower to me and I liked how it felt underfoot) until we reached her bedroom. I had my own bed in my own bedroom across the hall, but didn’t sleep in it because it was big and I was small and afraid of the dark.
So she had an antique bed brought in from Lacanau – her mother’s home – and squeezed it beside her bed, the foot of it nearly touching her delicate dark wooden vanity, and that bed, pushed back into the corner of her room, is where I slept every night. That was our room. Bonmama, Bonpapa, and me.
[[Side note: Eventually, I acquired an ugly gray radio/alarm clock and I was allowed to listen to the public broadcasts each night until one of them came to bed. It helped me to sleep and not feel alone. Usually, my choices for night time listening were the grainy audio from some mediocre stage production of Macbeth, or an opera with commercials interspersed. I always chose the opera. It’s so romantic, dramatic, and while I couldn’t ever understand what was being sung about, I could tell it was earnest and urgent. As an idealistic young dreamer, I loved the sounds of catastrophe, climax, and resignation. If Bonpapa chose the station – which he sometimes did – it was Beethoven. I still listen to music when I nap, usually Italian opera or Beethoven.]]
I climbed into my little bed, nestled amongst my “menagerie” of stuffed animals, including a mangy-looking white Persian cat and its equally scruffy black sibling, and Bonmama sat beside me arranging pillows and blankets around us. Once I was still, she prayed with me, beginning with the Lord’s prayer in French, and sometimes invoking Archangel Michael to watch over me. “You are special to Michel,” she’d say. “You’re named after him.” There was something about the way she said it. I believed the fiercest of Heaven’s warriors might actually have taken time to check in on me as I slept, if I asked him to.
Some nights she rubbed my back or chatted with me about the day. Every night without fail, she said to me and I repeated back to her:
Bonne Reves, and
Je t’aime beaucoup.
Those are French for Good Night, Sweet Dreams, and I love you.
Not exactly affirmations, but no less affirming to my heart and soul.
It’s been a hard week, mostly due to missing her, and today was a welcome reprieve. I spent all day with my boys, just the three of us. We began with breakfast, then painting. We went to the field and kicked the soccer ball around, threw a football, raced, and fell down and laughed with each other. We shared a pizza for dinner, and they played video games while I sat in my big chair and read a book.
Forgive me if my writing is scattered. All of these thoughts are strung like twinkling patio lights in my head, a web of love and comfort and tradition. Tradition in the sense that no one is really gone as long as you remember, and echo, and say their name and – here’s the important part, the reason I’m writing this tonight – pay their love forward into new hearts.
A lightning-strike realization. Another revelation. They keep coming, unexpectedly, as I think and overthink my life and hers and that sweet spot where they intersected, and I wonder if this isn’t another unrecognized stage of grief:
Honoring Bonmama is not just about saying her name or making her bread. It’s about the love she’s given me, that can never be divided, only multiplied, and pouring that devotion into my children so that they meet her, and know the best parts of her, even if they don’t know it’s her they are meeting.
I felt like a good mom today. A Bonmama – type of mom. At the end of the day, my kids knew without any doubt just how treasured they are. Cherished. That’s a word she liked to use. I like it, too. (As I type this, my boys are asleep in my bed, surrounded by 15-20 of their “favorite” stuffed animals. This is the kind of history I don’t mind repeating.)
What I’m thinking about over and over as I listen to them gently snoring is, I am so grateful for the choosing.
That Bonmama chose to be more to us – and give more to us – than she was required.
That my sons chose me in the “before”, and that they continue to choose me every day despite my shortcomings.
Grateful, too, that I am choosing and choose in each moment to show up for them, to be better than I might have been, to give more than I sometimes want to, to try again and fail and apologize and cry and keep working at it.
The words are a comfort and certainly, we like to say them. I want to hear the words, repeat the words, have fun with the affirmations. But the love – the evidence and proof and depth of that love – exists, I think, in the choosing.