Parallel process is a clinical term used to describe the common occurrence in therapy when the therapist’s own experience is reflected in the client’s. It is when a client comes in grieving over the loss of a loved one while the therapist has only just experienced his or her own loss as well. It is a therapist helping a client through feelings of anger and hurt that the therapist has also just recently confronted.
But, here’s the thing: we are all in parallel process. Too often in life it goes unsaid.
Here is where I say it.***
Mommy, will you sing to me? Four songs, mommy. Four songs, ok? Then stay with me for five minutes.
Ok, Emmett, sweet boy. Four songs. Five minutes, ok.
I sing the same four songs I sing every single night, starting with the one I made up just for him.
Emmett Stone, Emmett Stone, I love you, Emmett Stone. Handsome and strong, sweet and so kind. I love you, Emmett Stone.
I tousle his hair, rub his back, and sit…for roughly five minutes while he squirms and rolls and giggles.
Ok, Emmett. I’ll see you in the morning. Do you want a hug and a kiss?
No, mommy, no…stay! Just a little bit longer! It hasn’t been five minutes. Stay!
Emmett, let’s not do this, ok? Let’s go to bed happy…quiet and sweet. I love you, sweet boy. Give me a hug and a kiss. I will see you in the morning.
More often than not, Emmett grabs on to my leg begging me to stay. I firmly tell him I will see him in the morning. I can hardly stand hearing him cry as I walk away.
He runs out to me after a few minutes, gives me a teary hug and kiss, and goes back to bed…all is quiet.
This routine pulls on me, wears on my thoughts and emotions as night settles in. If only he would enjoy the moments we have, give me a smile, and know that tomorrow we get to do it all over again. If only he trusted that sleep is a good thing. That there is nothing else we can fit into this day…that it has been a GOOD day. That his bed is cozy, he is blessed, and the person who sang to him before sleep will be the person who makes his breakfast in a few short hours.
I stay up for a few more hours. Work to be done. Laundry to be folded. Words to be written. Emails sent. Hopefully some time with my husband.
At some point I know that bed is the responsible adult choice and I lay myself down.
That’s when I…THE ADULT…start.
Everything is quiet. There is no sound…but plenty of opportunity for my mind to grab onto any thought and beg it to STAY…stay moving, stay thinking, stay worrying, stay scanning for any possible thing I have forgotten to do, to remember, to worry about…
Emily, let’s not do this, ok? Let’s go to bed happy…quiet and sweet.
I squirm and roll…no giggles. Just a chest slightly tight with fear that somehow I have let another day go by without sucking the life out of EVERY. SINGLE. MOMENT. Fear that another day passed and I wasn’t available enough to my kids, to my work, to my husband, to LIFE. That somehow I left another day with room for REGRET.
I put Emmett to bed last night and I laid down on the couch to talk with Jon. I was already dreading the anxiety that would come with the end of the day.
Sundowning is what they call it in the elderly, right?
Then it hits me…what I’m pretty sure my Maker would say to me right now:
This routine wears on me, child…and on you, too. If only you would enjoy the moments I have given to you, smile at the day, and know that tomorrow we get to do it all over again. If only you trusted that sleep is a good thing. That there is nothing else you can fit into this day. It was a GOOD day…a day I gave to you. Your bed is cozy, you are blessed, and the Person Who puts you to sleep, Who sings over you at night, will be the Person Who sustains you tomorrow.
Bedtime is a daily act of closure. It is a daily saying “goodbye”. It is the first “goodbye” we learn…to tell the day “so long. It’s been a good time. Thanks for the memories.” Closure, endings, transitions…never easy for me. Yet, they are a regular, normal part of life. Good night’s, good bye’s, starts, stops, transitions, the end to one season…the beginning of another…they happen every single day. We start learning how to put days to bed and seasons to sleep from the day we enter this world.
It is a habit, this sundowning tendency, and one that isn’t that far off from normal for many mothers…for many parents…just like Emmett’s need for a bedtime routine is a normal, even healthy, part of childhood.
Still, I think we can learn to settle our hearts, our minds…whether we are saying good night to the day…or to a season… and say…
It was a GOOD day…a day given to you…not something to TAKE and SQUEEZE. The bed is cozy. You are blessed. The Person Who puts you to sleep, Who sings over you at night, will be the Person Who sustains you tomorrow.