There's a thing I like to do with whomever I get as my last kid. I save it for just the right kind of night, when my snugglee is quiet and ready for sleep, not talkative or bouncy, not crying or overtired. Goldilocksian. Just right.
I whisper affirmations. I challenge myself to whisper in a constant murmur until s/he falls asleep.
I love your smile.
I love your generosity.
You played so nicely with your friends today.
I liked watching you share.
You ask such good questions.
You make me think.
I love your curiosity.
I love your laugh.
You're so smart.
You're so gentle.
You're so kind.
I don't know if they roll their eyes and think some small child version of "oh, mother." I like to think they fall asleep feeling positively about themselves. Standing tall while lying flat, if you will.
I had lunch with a friend on Friday (hi, friend) and she was speaking with candor about how she doesn't like to see herself in pictures. I was hearing her complaints about herself but in my mind I was thinking, "but I don't think of you like that. I think of you as a very beautiful woman." Somehow, though, through the flow of our conversation, I never got to say that aloud to her. I wish I had.
Sometimes E tells me I'm a beautiful mommy. Oh, Mama. You're such a beautiful mommy. It's not how I'd characterize myself. I think I'm cute. I have a twinkle in my eye. And I could sass you like nobody's business and make you laugh while I did it. (Emily recently called me 'effervescent.' I like that one.) But I wouldn't choose 'beautiful.' I say "thank you, love!" each time because to speak a spontaneous compliment is a kind of generosity we need more of, don't you think? And the more we hear good things about ourselves, the easier it becomes to believe those things.
So when I get a snuggle with a kid on the precipice of sleep, I whisper beautiful, wonderful truths to pave the way to dreamland. I draw them pictures of their very best selves. I chant their goodness in their ears, tattooing a beat of faith and promise and building them taller for the next day and the next and the next.