Mama, I can't sleep and I'm not tired and I might have a bad dream so I need your cuddles. In your bed.
She knows, on these nights when I'm mama and papa both, that I'll always let her in. If I stay the night in my room I'll hear the other two, if they need me. I'll never hear them from her pillow-tufted burrow. And anyway, after so many years I'm not good at sleeping alone. My toes get cold.
Most nights she tucks her head in the curve where arm meets body, nestled between my breast and bicep. She'll grab my arm and cradle it against her. She'll wiggle her tush until it's as close as can be to my hip, tucks her toes against my knee. She lifts her shirt slightly and plays my fingertips in circles around her belly button. Soon, I hear her heavy breathy sleep and feel my fingers measure by measure undirected, falling to the sheet.
Last night, though, she had it bad. She nestled her head and tucked her tush and arranged her toes and her shirt and my fingers and did the most dreadful of 1:something AM things. She began to talk.
Mama, we learned konichiwa and guten tag in school today and yesterday we learned ciao and do you know what those mean?
Mama, why doesn't everyone talk in English?
Mama, konichiwa sounds silly but ciao sounds silly because it sounds like a animal.
Mama, I like animals. I like ladybugs 'cause that's me and bumblebees and I like elephants. Mama, I like hippos. Can I hold the hippo?
The hippo up there. Can I see it? She pointed.
"Oh, hon, that's not a hippo. That's Daddy's golem."
Accepting reluctantly that she was truly awake, I climbed out of bed to reach the red clay figurine for her. She turned it over in her hands, learning it by touch in the room's darkness.
Well, I call it a hippo.
It's not a hippo?
What's a golem?
"A golem comes from an old, old story from a faraway city called Prague. Your daddy got this golem when he was there once. A golem is a creature made out of dirt that protects the people where he lives."
So this golem hippo is protecting us?
"That's the story, love."
Daddy got him to protect us because Daddy's not here, Mama.
"No, he's not, love. Two more sleeps and you'll see him."
She centered the golem on her father's pillow and arranged herself beside it. She drew the covers to their chins and kissed it. Goodnight, hippo, she said, and fell asleep.
Tonight I had a terrible time getting the baby to sleep. He popped up every time I thought he was down, and when I walked away for a bit so I could read the girls their bedtime stories, he cried so angrily over my disappearance that he threw up in his crib. Their father, my lovely husband, should be home in an hour and maybe the baby has a stomachache, maybe he's teething, or maybe he senses my quiet desperation to be but a portion of a parenting team again.
I have no fear of air travel but in the first and last hours of the lovely husband's travels a portion of my mind is always occupied with marking the minutes that he soars above terra firma. The girls are finally asleep and the boy, puke-traumatized, is downstairs with me and awake and the lovely husband's plane has landed and he should be home within an hour and slowly, I feel the irrational panic abate.
But I will tell you, when I saw this evening that red clay superstitious talisman lying on my pillow, I thought: it can't hurt.
I didn't move it.