Rest is something I’ve struggled with for a long time. I don’t sit still well. I don’t enjoy watching movies because two hours is too long to sit in one place. I don’t fall asleep well, because my brain keeps going even when my body is ready to stop.
“Just a few more minutes,” I tell myself almost every night when I should be going to bed. “I just need to finish one more thing.” As if it’s a sign of weakness that I need to stop.
It’s ridiculous when you think about it. Even the Creator rested on the seventh day, and He sure has a lot more on His plate than I do.
E struggles with going to sleep too. As a baby it took him a full year before he slept through the night for the first time. Even now, a few years later, we have to work at getting him to settle in and go to sleep every night. Like me, he can’t seem to shut his brain off.
For him, the simple act of going to bed requires a specific routine, in a specific order, with specific things. This is not unique – a lot of kids have preferred bedtime routines and items – but for him it’s not just “preferred”, it is a necessary precursor to him getting any rest at all.
Take a bath, and don’t rush it. Bath time play helps to transition him to a calmer state.
Put on pajamas – soft ones, with short sleeves and the tags cut out. Brush our teeth, carefully so as not to have a single drop of water fall on our pajamas (or we will need to change them).
Deep breath. We’ve made it halfway.
Climb into bed, after inspecting to ensure that the “soft sheets” are still on the bed. Read a bedtime story, but only one of the stories that I know will not trigger him into an excited, animated state, thus rendering sleep futile.
Story done. Pull up the covers and layer on multiple blankets, including his ever-present “blue blankie.” Tuck his favorite stuffed animals and characters in tightly next to him, then tuck the blankets in tight around him and all his “friends”. The nest is complete.
Say bedtime prayers. First him – with the same words in the same order every single night – then me.
Then finally, my favorite part. I lean over to hug him, pressing my body weight on his and staying there like a weighted blanket across his chest for a few seconds to a minute. The pressure calms him. It’s the closest he gets to snuggling, and it is the greatest moment of my day.
In that moment tonight, I watch his face. He seems deep in thought, with a faint smile on his face.
“Are you happy, buddy?” I ask.
Without turning his eyes toward me, his smile gets a little bigger.
“What is making you happy right now?” I prod gently.
“Trains sleeping,” he says. “In their house. We’ll play tomorrow.”
Recently E received a new toy train set as a gift. He loves trains so he was quick to open the new set and set up the tracks. This particular set came with a little train depot, and each train has a designated spot in the depot. The front “doors” of the depot even close, like a pull-down garage door. He played with the train set most of the afternoon today, and then put the trains in their depot spots before we started our bedtime routine.
“Your new trains are resting, E? Your trains need to sleep?”
Quizzically, he glances at me, as if I should know the answer.
“Trains are sleeping. They will get bigger tomorrow. We’ll play tomorrow.”
‘Get bigger tomorrow?’ I think.
And then I realize what he is saying. They are resting so they can grow. Just like I tell him that he needs to rest so he will grow.
In this moment, my son is taking my words and teaching me a lesson about rest. Rest is not a sign of our weakness, it’s a building block of our strength.
Rest, like most of life, is a habit we create.
And rest is a part of growth.
Like E’s bedtime routine, this new journey we are on will require consistent structure. Life-building habits. And rest.
In that rest there will be growth.
The promise of that growth fueled his smile tonight, and that smile will fuel me every day of the journey ahead.