A Bedtime Story

This time it’s over a miniature stuffed zebra toy whose back lights up through a star-filled plastic plate, sending an array of changing-colored stars on nearby dark walls. It’s over a tiny thing that a minute ago was disregarded on the floor, but now, since it is in little brother’s hands, is The Most Treasured Toy of All Time.

The boys share a room because we want to force them to be friends and in each other’s space as much as possible. We figure at some point the ganging up on us for the delay of bedtime and the pre-sleep squabbles have to evolve to deep-rooted camaraderie and lifelong looking out for each other. (Please do not tell us if this did not turn out to be true for you, please and thank you.)

After 8pm, emotions are rampant here. (And let me tell you, they weren’t in short supply at sunrise.) We devolve throughout the day apparently; our meds have worn off. It ain’t pretty, folks. Tonight is no exception. Tears, so many tears, when I vetoed older brother’s demands for HIS toy to be returned to HIM because HE wants it and the enemy-he didn’t ask [for permission to pick up disregarded/treasured toy—a birthday gift from a friend—off of floor], hmph!

The 4-year-old is less calloused by life (I hate to brag…) and in his sincere yearning for older brother’s approval and eternal happiness, often appeases him. While Dante and I were in the throws of a heart to heart (read: low-toned battle), mini-zebra Hope Diamond appeared on his pillow. Asher was already back in his bed, covering his ears, for the tears from the next bed over are always accompanied with wailing, in good post-8pm fashion.

I’ll spare you the details but eventually, slowly, with many comments about being “the most grown up” and “making me sad” and “worst day ever,” we eventually talked about what the most brave and most loving thing to do could be. Dante’s tears and torment didn’t end with the return of the Crown Jewel. It stung that his brother was feeling bad, and that his brother was demonstrating one of our rules that hasn’t fully taken effect: People are more important than stuff. It made him cry more that Asher felt sad but that Asher was being praised, that now he had this mini-light-up-stuffed-animal-plastic-thing and he kind of did want it but now he kind of didn’t. He didn’t fully believe that Asher wasn’t somehow the enemy, and cried, “We never get along!”

Eventually, Dante wanted to give the treasure back to Asher. He wanted to give him permission to have it. But he didn’t want to talk to him. He wanted me to give Asher a message. I was alright with that. The titanic doesn’t turn quickly, and it was enough that he was whispering with me, to keep from disturbing Asher more from further emotional trauma, and that he wanted to do the most brave and most loving thing: hand over the toy willfully. I dutifully delivered the package and the message to a relieved little brother, and returned to Dante’s side.

“Mom,” he whispered, “Now I feel sad like Asher did. I still feel a little sad!”

It’s true. My heart beat hard. I know you do, Sweetie.

Doing the brave and loving thing can help us feel better, it can let us go to sleep, but it doesn’t leave us feeling void of sadness. It’s true, we can feel a little sad even after All the Things we could do, we’ve done. Because it is a good toy. Because we still feel shame about our part in the problem. We wanted something else, other than what happened. Because we can’t control the Other, and we can’t control the future. We can’t ensure that they’ll remember our goodness or even recognize it, that the next round will go our way, that God Himself will keep the tally according to our terms of justice, and we just feel a little sad. The emptiness of doing the right thing, or letting go when we should, or giving the benefit of the doubt when it isn’t merited. Yes, it’s all true.

It’s okay to still feel a little sad.

The journey to rest tonight was long and imperfect and messy. We achieved some semblance of peace… but it wasn’t complete. We found some way forward… but it wasn’t perfectly satisfying. And this is so grown up, little boy. This is the Already and the Not Yet, in our simple shared space, with our friend-emies, in our late night fragility. We hold on to the Not Yet part of the Story of Brave Love and do our best, with our sadness, with our brother… together.

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