Peeking into the kids' room, always my last stop before bed, I find my daughter lying awake, looking at the ceiling.
Tiptoeing up to the side of her bed, I lean down and whisper, "Can't sleep?"
Wide-eyed, she looks up at me. "My brain won't stop thinking, Momma," she says.
Sitting on the side of her bed, I stroke her hair.
"My project is due in nine days," she says, her lip quivering, "and I have a spelling test tomorrow. Now it's late and I'm worried I won't ever fall asleep."
"My brain does this too," I whisper.
I stroke her hair a while longer, and she closes her eyes. "Think about right now, this very moment," I say. "You are safe and warm in your bed, the world is sleeping. Listen to the sound of your breaths. Don't think about tomorrow; clear your mind."
"Say it over and over to yourself: safe and warm. I am safe and warm."
"Safe and warm," she murmurs. "Safe and warm." She reaches out and clutches my arm. "Stay for a bit, Momma, please?"
I stay, whispering into her ear: You are safe. You are safe."
Gradually, her grip on my arm relaxes, and her breathing slows to a steady rhythm. She is asleep.
Later, my eyes fly open. Outside the wind is howling, and I pull the covers up to my chin. The middle-of-the-night thoughts scratch at the door; adult sized worries thumping to get in. My world feels precariously perched, spinning like a top. So much is unknown these days - test after test to try and diagnose the lump in my neck. An operation to remove my tonsils in six days. Phrases like 'abnormal cells' ping through my brain. A cold finger of fear runs down my spine.
I close my eyes and reach under the blanket, find my husband's strong warm body, and wrap my trembling fingers around his forearm. I can feel the steady pulse of his heartbeat, hear the soothing sounds of his sleeping breaths.
Safe and warm, I think. Right now, in this moment, I'm safe and warm.
Tomorrow's worries fade with each thump of his heartbeat.
Slowly, slowly, I fall asleep, safe and warm in my bed.
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