I was somewhere in between that deep sleep of the deprived and the alert sleep of the maternal. I lay there silently and 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’s calling me “mom” is a wonderment. For the longest of times, I was a stranger and then a familiar, safe person. I was a caretaker and then like a well-loved aunt. But somewhere around the end of summer, when we were transitioning from his family who could no longer care for him into our family permanently, 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 word for the longest time. And then I cried when it finally arrived.
You see, we’ve spent a year and a half, this little boy and I, slowly but surely grafting ourselves into each other. It doesn’t always come naturally, you know, removing yourself from one family and joining into another. But over time it has happened and it is happening. It’s a painful process but a glorious miracle, this making of one thing from two separate things.
And just last night he was calling to me. In the middle of the night. I realize for some that would just mean 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.”
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 has become of his short, tumultuous life—and it took more than small, delicate five-year old hands to fix. And he called me.
I’ve spent many mornings mourning over our middle of the nights. The time when he’s most vulnerable. The time when he thinks he’s 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 bowl for himself because he thought he might be sick. Or the many times that he’s 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 has to use the bathroom, even if he didn’t think he needed help, he was not alone. I always meet him in the hall, my eyes squinting to adjust to the bright light and we silently escort each other back into his room. It’s my commitment to him, my challenge to myself. I won’t miss an opportunity to meet him where he is. I tuck him in, every single time, during our middle of the night meetings. He needs to know. I need him to know. He is not alone.
But last night. I heard it. It crept its way into my subconscious and made its way into my ears. Music, the very sweetest kind.
“Mom, my pillowcase? Can you fix it?” In my mind I’m crying, yes, of course I can fix it. I’ll fix it because it’s something I can fix and there’s plenty I can’t and you’d better believe I’m all over the kind of stuff I can. 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, no doubt. Many more middle of the nights on my résumé. They won’t always be glamorous—if any, really. But last night? Last night was spectacular because he called me. He knew. He was not alone. I was witnessing the grafting turned miraculously grafted at 1:03 am in my soon-to-be adopted five-year old son’s bedroom.
Holy, holy ground.
Katie Kenny Phillips lives in Atlanta with her husband, Jeff, and their three hilarious boys (Bigs, Middles and Littles). Their home is made up of two parts Legos, one part dirt/sticks/rocks/acorns and all parts “whose underwear is this and why is it in the middle of the family room?” She and her husband just started an orphan/foster care ministry called (1) Family at Dunwoody Baptist Church and are excited to become foster parents themselves in the next few months. Katie writes at Operation: Leap of Faith and you can visit her at www.operationleapoffaith.com.