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The Bedtime Routine
by Shannah Hogue
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Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the King’s horses and all the King’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

The words seem so completely out of place amidst the whirring and beeping and rushing of all the machines that surround my daughter’s bed. The book of nursery rhymes lays open in front of me, propped against her still leg as I lean on my elbows on her mattress. My chair is uncomfortable, and I need to stretch every few minutes to keep my rear end from falling asleep.

My husband has gone home to put our son to bed. I stay for a few minutes longer, faithful to the bedtime routine that we had established long before that awful night. First she would pick a few nursery rhymes or a short picture book. She had started asking for longer books, but now I am glad to still be reading the familiar favorites. Three days ago, my mom brought me some more books to read to her. It’s funny. I have them almost memorized, but I have no idea if she’s even heard them once.

I finish the rhyme and close the book. First a story, and then bedtime prayer. At home, in her pale pink bedroom, she prays first. Nothing too fancy, nothing too spiritual. A four-year old chatting to a God she hasn’t yet learned to doubt. She talks to God like he’s sitting next to me, next to her, on the edge of her bed.

“God.” She starts with just his name. “God, it’s bedtime again. And Mommy says I have to go to sleep so that you can make a new day while it’s night outside. Thanks for that. Thanks for Mommy and Daddy and Jeffy and Bobby Sue. And I’m sorry that I blamed Bobby Sue for getting into the cookies yesterday. It was me, but help Mommy not to be mad at me. Bobby Sue and I both wanted one.”

Bobby Sue is our dog.

“And God, thank you for making everything. Amem.”

She always mispronounces “Amen”; I’ve stopped correcting her.

I want to be back in the pink bedroom. It used to be so simple. She’d pray; she’d say Amen. Then I would offer my own short blessing for her night’s sleep and for our family’s safety, a grown-up prayer to supersede her childish one.

She is teaching me how to pray.

I remember my prayer about the Bobby Sue incident. “Father, please help Bobby Sue to know that I’m sorry for punishing her about the cookies, and help Jessie to remember to always tell the truth from now on. Amen.”

That night seems so long ago now, like I lived it in another lifetime. Lately, it’s only beeping that pierces the silent struggle that is bedtime prayer. Tears have replaced words, ragged breathing the expression of emotions that I don’t have words for. I hope God understands these kinds of prayers. They are all I have in the face of the grief, anger, worry and fear that have become my daily companions.

My husband can still pray. I’m glad for that. But even his words are fewer than they used to be. Sometimes, he’ll just pray, “Help us, Jesus.” And then we commune together in our own worlds, expressing to God in the quiet what we dare not say out loud in the other’s presence. But at least he can still pray in words.

I shift again in the chair, wiping my prayer-streaked cheeks with an already-wet tissue. The routine is almost done. We share the story, then prayer, and after prayer, a drink, a final trip to the bathroom, a final good night to her Daddy, and then a final collapse into bed. I’d pull up her pale pink bedspread and tuck it under her chin, brush the wisps of light brown hair off her forehead and kiss her gently.

“Good night Mommy,” she’d whisper. “Love you. See you when I wake up!”

“Good night, Jessie. I love you, too. Sleep well. I’ll see you when you wake up.”

Tonight there is no pale pink blanket. I will bring it tomorrow perhaps. Tonight I make sure her crisp white hospital sheets are covering her up, it’s so cold in this place. I brush the light brown hair off her face. I kiss her pale forehead, careful not to dislodge any tubes or tape.

“Good night, Jessie. I love you.”

I make my way towards the door. The light from the bedside lamp creates a pale halo around her unmoving form. I won’t turn the light out. She prefers a nightlight. In case she wakes up and is scared of the dark, she says. So I will leave a light on for her. In case she wakes up.

At the door I stop one more time before I leave for the night.

“Sleep well, Jessie. I’ll see you when you wake up.”

The hallway is too quiet as I make my way to the parking lot. For the first time, I realize I have brought the book of nursery rhymes with me.

All the King’s horses and all the King’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

Humpty, I know exactly how you feel.

Read more articles by Shannah Hogue or search for other articles by topic below.

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