As I sit down to write, my mind settles on the muscles in my back and shoulders I don’t have names for. They’re pinched, tight, acidic. These are the muscles that allow my arms to wrap around my toddler in the night as we co-sleep. To wrangle my four-year-old against his cinderblock will into a diaper change I’m convinced is best for him, no matter what he has to say about it. And lately, to grip the shaking shoulders of my six-year-old who runs throughout the house in the middle of the night in a mind-world I cannot enter, terrorized by demons I cannot see.
Stop! I command. With my mind, I banish them. I bring him to bed with me, and squeeze his muscles with mine for as long as it takes to both lull him out of his night terror and into sleep. It could be ten minutes, it could be an hour. But my muscles won’t relax until his do. I apply relentless comfort to reassure his existence and kill his phantoms’—a quest that brings new meaning to the old phrase, “bedtime battles.”
Our bedroom is equal parts bloody Colosseum and mother hen haven. But it is my aching muscles that make this room anything at all. Don’t worry, child. I take this pain gladly. I will slay your dragons with my last breath.
And during daylight hours, I will train you with chores and fortify you with fairy tales and grow you with a garden, because someday, before I am ready, you must be. And I will be forced to watch you outside these eyes, hold you without these arms, and whisper, voiceless—screaming for you through the halls of heaven.
A body is a vessel. No more. And no, no less.