“Mommy, there’s no one to snuggle me,” my little 4-year-old’s voice called from her bedroom upstairs.
I held back a sigh and glanced at the clock. Ninety minutes past her bedtime. This was the third time my husband or I had stayed to let her snuggle our arm to help her fall asleep. She was so tired. Why wasn’t she falling asleep?
Something wasn’t quite right but I wasn’t sure what it was.
She’d been weepy from the moment she woke up, so there was that. As I walked up the stairs, I mentally flipped through her busy day. The kids' church Christmas rehearsal that she only wanted to watch even though she knew the words to her songs. Toys she didn’t get to play with long enough. A late nap interrupted. And she had seen The Grinch in the theater with her auntie and Omi. Concerned it would be too scary for her, she’d been pretty anxious the last 24 hours. She came home happy enough, but when I asked her about it, she wasn’t fully convinced she liked it.
Maybe that was keeping her up?
Her sweet face peeked around the corner of the bedpost, watching me come in. As I knelt beside the bed, she snuggled deeper under blankets and reached for my arm, cuddling it against her. She was so tired she whimpered as she drifted towards sleep. But sleep never came.
After a few minutes of watching her drifting and shifting, I noticed she held up her far forearm up. Elbow resting on the bed, one finger pointed up. The arm would relax down, down, down, then she’d jerk it up, waking herself up a bit more.
After the third time, I reached over to gently guide the soft hand down.
She jerked it away. “No, no!”
Sobbing started. Not the annoyed cry that bursts out when something she had carefully arranged didn’t go as planned. It was an overtired weepy cry that broke my heart and confused me.
“Why are you crying? Does it hurt?”
“No, I just didn’t want you to touch it.”
She held her hand farther away, pinky up, eyes closed. Tears leaked down toward her ear.
I stroked her head, as my husband came up to see what was going on. He dabbed lavender essential oil on her blanket and she calmed. The tears stopped and my husband crept back out of the room. Sleep drifted in again. Arm up, pinkie up, lowering gradually, jerking back up.
I sang her sleepy-time song, feeling her fight over-tiredness. Why wasn’t she resting into full sleep? What was wrong?
Suddenly she sat up. “I have to wash my hand.”
Her voice was clear and calm.
“Okay. How come?”
“It has germs because I touched my bum.”
She held her hand away from me, carefully climbing out of bed. “ You wash your hand, too, Mommy.”
“Is that why you didn’t want me to touch it?”
She nodded. Her whole demeanor had changed from wilty and weepy to cheerful, like clarity sparked how to own her situation and turn it around. Maybe it was for her sake, but her tender heart was probably also doing it for my sake.
She washed up. So did I. Seconds after cozying up in the covers, stillness came over her, then slumber. Both hands rested on her tummy.
The sneakiness of shame
That experience shook me. My husband told me later she’d been holding her hand up when he was tucking her in, keeping it away from him — an hour before. Something that could be so easily remedied had held her captive in shame.
How powerful shame is.
It’s deceitful. Irrational. Secretive. Tiredness and busyness magnify it, keeping us from inconvenient yet simple actions that could release us into what we long for most. Shame makes us believe we’re scared when courage is inside of us all along.
Just by naming what shame is hiding, saying it aloud and owning it, we can disempower it. We already have courage inside us to admit we did something foolish. When static remnants of failure cling to us like, gumption is waiting for us in fleeting moments of clarity and immediate action. Sometimes caring about someone else’s fate jars us out of protecting our own.
Our rewards are peace and rest in body, heart and soul.
What kind of rest and release would you love to experience if you were to let go of shame that’s kept you overtired and hiding?