The Velveteen Chair

I often sit in my 5-year-olds’ room at night while they fall asleep. I think about the day. And then I write. To you. To them. To God. To me.

Being here soothes my boys. That’s my excuse.

But being here soothes me, too.

One of my twin boys rockets to Land of Sleep so quickly I’m always stunned he doesn’t give himself a concussion when his head hits his pillow with such force. He doesn’t so much fall asleep – which implies a process – as he becomes sleep. The switch flips, and he is enthusiastically done with his day.

My other twin boy wrestles with sleep like it’s a theological dilemma. If there IS sleep – and I’m not saying there is – how can I know that it’s intimately involved in MY life? … and … What’s the meaning of sleep, anyway? … and … Why does bad sleep happen to good people? 

I sit in the Velveteen Rabbit of chairs, a hard, boxy, perfect club chair that belonged a long while ago to my boys’ great-grandfather, and then to my parents-in-law, and then, ever since the occasion of our marriage 17 years ago, to Greg and me. It’s the kind of sturdy chair that makes people say things like, “They just don’t make things like they used to.” My mom-in-law tells stories of reading happily in it in college, both legs flung over an arm of the chair while her head nestled in the corner of the wingback. My boys use it today as a diving platform for jumping across their hot, raging lava floor and onto their bed.

The Velveteen Chair has been reupholstered several times throughout the decades of its rich and long life, and one glance at its patchy, anemic velour will tell you that it needs to be again. But I lack the resolve to make the change because I fear that the pursuit of beauty will somehow alter its character or release its soul or dilute its magic. And that will never do.

I sit here in the almost dark, and I listen to Cael.

“Mom?” Cael says in his sturdy voice.

“Yes, Cael?”

“Why does lava bubble up from a volcano?”

“We’ll talk about it in the morning, Cael. It’s sleeping time.”

And a few minutes later…

“Mom?” Cael asks, wide awake.

“Yes, Cael?”

“When people go into outer space, they can’t breathe. That’s why they wear space suits. Right, Mom?”

“We’ll talk about it in the morning, Cael. It’s sleeping time.”

And a few minutes later we do it again.

And a few minutes later we do it again.

And a few minutes later we do it again.

Until I’ve said “Yes, Cael.” and “We’ll talk about it in the morning, Cael. It’s sleeping time.” at least four thousand times.

For a long time, I thought I should stop him at “Mom?”

But every once in a while, he whispers something that tugs at my heart.

“Mom?”

“Yes, Cael?”

“What’s that sound?”

It whistles as it blows. To me, it’s comforting, being warm and cozy inside while the storm rages. I’ve learned that the storm always rages, that it’s ever-present, that it’s part of life. And so I’ve learned to love it when there’s shelter and we’re all curled up together and safe at home. To Cael, though, the wind is a stark reminder that storms exist at all.

“It’s just the wind, baby. It’s just the wind,” I say, which soothes him for reasons I don’t understand.

I don’t want to miss these questions. These thoughts. So even though I tell him that we’ll talk about most things in the morning, I still keep my foot in the conversation door, not closing it on “Mom?”

“Mom?”

“Yes, Cael?”

“Are you going to leave?” He means tonight and as soon as I fall asleep.

And I have to say, “Yes, Cael. I’m going to leave.”

He’s sad. And I think the Velveteen Chair is sad, too. And I know the mama in the story is sad. Because I am her. And I’m going to leave.

I don’t poo-poo his five-year-old fears at being left by his mama. I don’t tell him that he has a twin brother whose hand is mere inches away and ready for holding. I don’t suggest that he should be brave, because courage in the night is never an expectation I have of anyone at all. I don’t remind him that he ends up in my bed still every single night and that our minutes apart from each other will be few and fleeting.

Because I know that it’ll only be a short while – just a matter of the growing-up years – ’til I say, “Cael, are you going to leave?”

And he’ll say, “Yes, Mom. I’m going to leave.”

I pet the arm of my Velveteen Chair, hand moving with the grain of the fabric.

Being here soothes my boys. That’s my excuse.

But being here soothes me, too.

The Velveteen Chair knows. I think she really does.

 

ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
29 comments
  1. You will never EVER regret spending time with them at the end of the day. Keep doing it until they leave home – even teenagers open up their souls before bed if they know you care and will listen (you just have to somehow stay awake until their bedtime!). Obviously, I’m an “old” mom, but your blog takes me back in time, bringing smiles and chuckles to my day. Thanks!

  2. I just love this one. Reminds me of nights when I worried about the day my mom would die and just wanted her to stay in my room for a few more minutes cuddling me, listening to the sound of her eyes opening and closing.

    How do you distill all the most important parts of life to their essence so easily?

  3. My sister, who graduated with Greg (and I graduated with Jeff), just turned me onto your blog today. This is the first post I read. The description “On Cherishing Them Now” called to me because I have a one-year-old and, unfortunately, I am all too often having to remind myself to BE with him. Thank you for such a lovely and soft reminder that these times really are fleeting. Thank you, thank you.

    1. Aw – thanks for saying hi, Christy. And welcome.

      xo

  4. […] that’s what a 5-year-old boy who catches the sun does. He plays hard. He harnesses the light. He plunges into sleep. It’s who he […]

  5. […] the soggy floor, and I folded his long, skinny body into lap origami. We snuggled down deep in the Velveteen Chair, and it’s funny… my smarmy attitude evaporated as soon as his knobby body hit my […]

  6. Wow. I just found your blog through Rachel Held Evans (loved your post today, by the way) and started reading – and crying pretty much immediately. In a good way, of course. I am a new mom to a very energetic 10 month old who struggles to sleep. I’m trying to find a way to get him to sleep in his own crib so that I can sleep with my husband… reading this makes me wonder if it will ever happen…. and at the same time, reading this has made me thankful. Honestly, I aspire to be like you someday (not in the “aspirate” kind of way, either)! 🙂

  7. Very, very touching! I think I’ll cuddle with my 5 year old daughter tonight because she’s growing up so fast too.

  8. That was beautiful.

  9. beth, when oh when are you going to write a book? SERIOUSLY.

  10. Nothing like a good cry in the morning!
    I know what you mean about not wanting to leave at night. Most nights I’m just so done, but then I lay down with my 5 year-old, and I never want to leave. Because it is our time. for talking, and just being there with and for each other.

  11. I don’t even have kids yet, but this made me tear up. You always find a way to make me do that.

  12. It’s 7:30 in the morning and your blog made me cry! Good words….I’m gonna go wake up my daughter now and hold her.

  13. I always did like that chair, and I love that it’s playing a part in such important times for your family.

  14. This brought tears and fond memories to me. Made me think of my mom, who died 28 years ago April….who use to tell me not to complain about dirty little finger prints on the woodwork and slider, as I would be cleaning after little ones went to bed, because some day they will be all grown up and gone…and you’ll wish they were still there….SO TRUE!!!
    Beth, you are so insightful and such a wise young mother…So proud of you….

  15. This is an incredibly beautiful post.

  16. This is beautiful. I am a long time lurker (found you on that contest for funny blogs, the one Amber Dusick was nominated for too) and I may have commented once before but I think it’s time for me to start commenting more regularly.
    I love your writing style. This piece really tugs at my heart and reminds me to be more forgiving of MY 5 year old who struggles at bed time like your Cael. Thank you.

  17. Just beautiful; I loved reading this post. Thankyou. What wonderful reminders of the Important Things In Life. I have a very similar chair, made by an ancestor and passed down gradually to me. It sits in my baby’s room and I use it in the middle of the night to soothe him back to sleep. I’m also going to use it for self-soothing from now on xo

  18. Hmmm, indeed. The questions that need to be asked…

  19. I loved this so much. I feel just like Cael does about sleep, even when I’m exhausted, but I wouldn’t have thought of it in those terms. You have such a gift for figurative language!! And we have a chair, a swivel rocker with uncomfortably nubby blue fabric that my mom chose to have it recovered, that was old when my mom rocked me and I spun my brother around and around in it, and was older still when I nursed my girls through the night as babies. It’s in our playroom now and someday I hope one of my daughters will rock her little ones with it—but I plan to have it recovered with some nice fabric, maybe velvet, as a gift before it goes to her house.

  20. You don’t know me but I found your blog about a year ago and love reading it. I teach high school math, have 2 girls ( 10 & 5 ), and live in Tennessee. I love your stories, they often make me smile or even laugh. But today I teared up because your beautifully written story reminded to take the time to cherish those questions that I tend to get annoyed with because time goes too quickly. Thank you!

  21. I read every post and they make me smile. Once in a while, I am transported back to my 20 something mama self by your words.

    My little questioner is going to be 40 years old this year and I miss these late night talks.

  22. You always make me cry…. why do you keep doing that?! I think I need to go hug my 5 year old.

  23. So beautifully written. While I was laying next to my 4 year old son last night he rolled over and wrapped his arms around me and told me he loved me. Next it came as a shock when he asked me when he could get his drivers license.

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