Each night, after teeth brushing and face washing and dog hugging, my daughter comes to me and says something like 'Mama, come cuddle me.' Sometimes it's just 'cuddle time' and other nights I hear only 'Come...' as she grabs my hand and leads me into her room. It makes no difference that later I will be sleeping in the bed next to hers. She needs me now, to help to through this transition into sleep.
We turn on the music, and I lay toe-to-head with her so I can reach her feet. She cuddles up into her covers and quilts and starts rocking softly, but always remembering to stick her feet out to nuzzle next to my side.
I start running my fingers along the bottom of her feet and, later, her legs. She has a repertoire of movements that are meant to signal me if I am going too slow, too lightly, or am simply being too sloppy about it. Shaking her foot up and down means I'm doing it too light, hitting me gently with a foot means speed it up, and both feet rapidly drumming the bed means 'too sloppy, mom, wake up!' And while this ritual goes on, there is the music.
It is the same music every night, in the same order. It is our music. It tells the story of our life together and our friends and family, and God forbid if I ever change it or add a new song. I won't burden you with the whole playlist, but for a taste...
We start with Lullaby by Billy Joel. A piece he wrote for own his daughter. It speaks so beautifully about that sacred time shared before bedtime. Then it's Bless the Broken Road, that tells the story of our journey to find one another. Then it is our song, the one that was playing on my CD player as I rounded the corner to the orphanage to go and take her home: The Luckiest, by Ben Folds. Three years home with her, and I still cry each time I hear this song. The tears may be fewer now, but there nonetheless. It has become our prayer to one another, our exclamation of gratitude.
Then come five or six more such songs that speak of my love for her, and then it moves into our 'family' songs. There is If I loved You and Always sung by Frank Sinatra - two songs that we pretend my Dad (her grandfather) is singing to us from Heaven. Then there is Somewhere Out There by James Ingram, that we sing to her sister, far away in Russia. Finally, there is Everything to Me by Mark Schultz, which is for her birthmom. She doesn't like me to sing that one with her. It's hers alone - a moment each night to connect with the woman who gave birth to her. Of course I cry my way through that one often enough, too.
Later, the songs become mostly instrumental -- Enya, Loreena McKinnett, old and haunting Celtic tunes. The ritual bittersweetly ends with my favorite classical piece, Clair de Lune, by Debussy. By this time she is usually asleep, and I am left awash in this pool of deep gratitude, in the dark, with her feet in my hands.
The day behind us could have been fraught with tantrums, tears, frustrations, and even full-blown ragings, but at night...it all gets laid aside. The lights go off, the feet come out, and the music speaks to us of this incredible journey we have travelled. All seems right with the world.