One of my daughters has in her room a small pillow she calls the Parent Pillow. It’s an ordinary rectangular decorative ruffled pillow with pink and purple flowers that used to match her bedding a couple of comforters ago. Several years ago, she designated this pillow as the official one on which we the parents are to lay our heads when we lay with her at bedtime. We aren’t allowed to share her pillow because according to her, we may have parent germs and she knows it’s a bit uncomfortable for a parent to lay their head flat on the bed. Thus, the Parent Pillow was born, and it has successfully supported parent heads at least a few times a week ever since.
Each time my daughter asks, “Will you lay with me?” and gets a, “Yes, for a few minutes,” she searches and finds the Parent Pillow which may have been lost under the bed or has been hidden under a pile of dirty clothes. It may have even gotten stuck between the wall and the headboard since its last use. She happily plumps it up and places it next to her pillow, and says, “Okay lay down!” And on many nights the answer to her request to lay with her is, “Not tonight, it’s late” because bath time and bedtime have already been a two-hour process and patience is wearing very thin or the parents have lunches to make, permission slips to sign, and school papers to sort. On some nights, the parents are just too tired and hope to get a moment of quiet to themselves before they dissolve into their own bed. On these nights, the Parent Pillow sits alone in her room, under the bed or beneath the dirty clothes or stuck between the wall and the headboard.
And on these nights there are a few things that the Parent Pillow and the parent don’t hear. They don’t hear about her worries and her cares, her highs and lows. The ones that go a little deeper than the “How was your day?” that she answered when she got home from school with “Fine.” Extra snuggles under a warm blanket, the tap of her finger on my nose as she traces my face, and her long exhale as she relaxes into a well-known safe place – these things go unnoticed on the nights without the Parent Pillow. Reminders of how she looks like an angel with her eyes closed and how beautifully long her eyelashes are – hard to see if you’re not up close and personal on the pillow. Listening to her giggle as she reads books about Amelia Bedelia’s antics is music to a parent’s ears on the Parent Pillow. The serious thinking questions about heaven, fairness, death, cancer, life, friends – those are often received by a parent while resting on the Parent Pillow.
The topics that weren’t mentioned when the parent was distracted on their phone or busy making dinner or the thoughts that were muffled by the noisy shuffling of shoes and dragging of backpacks in the after work and after school hustle, might just emerge in the quiet peacefulness of her dark bedroom. Things she is really looking forward to like holidays and birthday parties and school music programs are discussed in depth. Arguments with friends, school projects, challenging homework – anything is fair game during this quiet time. She shares fears of getting a shot at her next checkup, asks about her safety after a school shooting she saw on the news, and asks for confirmation of truth in the silly rumor she heard on the school bus.
She also likes to say, “Tell me about our day tomorrow.” So I walk her step by step through what the school day or weekend day will involve, what activities we have going on, what things to look forward to. And after each activity, I mention she gives her approval (she gets to go to the park!) or disapproval (she has to clean her room?!), and makes a mental road map of her day. There is little distraction and she doesn’t have to share me with her sibling. She gets 100% of my attention.
During this time, I also get a brief break from the evening routine. No tidying, organizing, or preparing for the next day. Even if I feel like I’m delaying my own bedtime, I have rarely regretted my time spent resting on the Parent Pillow. More than once I’ve even temporarily drifted off to sleep on the Parent Pillow. And like a hawk, my daughter has somehow stayed awake and alert to revel in the fact that I might indeed sleep in her bed all night with her (her longtime request)! She never wants the Parent Pillow time to end, but as the clock ticks on another night that leads to another day, it always does.
This Parent Pillow time is truly fleeting. Kids grow up so fast. I know there will come a day sooner than I would like when rather than begging me to lay on the Parent Pillow, she is screaming at me to get out of her room (or her life) and throwing a pillow at me as I slam the door. So each time I experience our Parent Pillow time, I remember why I need more of it in my life and I tell myself I’m going to make our pillow talk a priority. Even if the dishes sit undone, the lunches remained unpacked, and the laundry lingers unfolded. Because the Parent Pillow is not only where I rest my head and hear my daughter’s quiet thoughts, but also where I find comfort and connection for my heart.