just in case

image courtesy photobucket.com

My youngest was curled up on our overstuffed couch in the fetal position, her head pushed against the back of the cushion, hair blanketing her cheek. She had dragged two of the oversized pillows over her for makeshift blankets, one over her bare feet and one over her midsection. There were others within reach just in case.

As I looked on smiling, I had flashbacks to her childhood of bedtime rituals from days long past.

“Can we do whooshings, daddy?” she’d ask almost nightly for a time.

“Okay, babe, whooshings it is,” I’d agree.

She quickly learned how to count to three when it came to whooshings. Numbers one and two were like practice runs for the real deal that was exciting number three. I’d hold my little one, cradling her in my forearms as I rocked her back and forth twisting my body in the process to fling her sailing through the air and onto our king size bed. She couldn’t get enough of it.

Then there was the season of “The wrong bed” ritual.

“Will you put me to bed, dad?” She was a little older, longer arms and legs dangling over my forearms.

“Sure, babe,” I’d say in a serious tone for effect. I’d scoop up my snaggle-toothed treasure and head for odd places, and we tried everything over the years. I’d lay her gently on the dining room table, kiss her forehead and whisper, “Goodnight, babe, love you, sleep tight,”

She’d pause grinning uncontrollably, “uhh, dad?”

“Yeah, babe?” I’d ask.

“Umm, this isn’t my bed,” she’d giggle.

“What?” I’d ask with surprise, “Oh-okay,” I’d add and scoop her up again and whisk her off to the kitchen island, an occasional pinball machine, and even the dog’s bed a time or two.

Eventually, she did end up in her real bed, satisfied, we both were. We’d say prayers and exchange “I love you’s” and put another gift of a day behind us…

Then one day the number of days added up to seventeen years and the nighttime rituals had become just a sweet memory…

I grinned seeing my baby curled up asleep on the couch as I was shutting off all the lights and locking the doors in the one ritual that hasn’t changed. Melancholy filled my heart and eyes as I watched our baby in the same position she slept in as a child. I grabbed a few blankets out of the other room and as I was draping them over her she woke up, her button brown eyes squinting.

“You wanna go to bed?” I asked in a whisper.

She smiled, “I’m so comfortable here,” she answered.

“That’s okay,” I told her softly as I spread the last blanket over her shoulder. I kissed her on her cheek, just like I did in the days of “whooshings” and “the wrong bed” and whispered yet again, “I love you, babe.”

“Love you too, dad,” she whispered back, eyes already closed again. I turned the light on in the pantry and cracked the door to shed light on the course I knew she’d be taking to the “right bed” before morning.

I’ve learned to not pass up the gifts from God in this life that are more valuable than silver and gold and as fleeting as a breath. We never know in this life when we’re participating in the last day of a ritual or gift.

I guess that’s why they tell us to cherish each one like it’s your last… I did a few nights ago… just in case.