I have often enjoyed sleeping in a bed other than my own (now don’t go getting all gross on me) I mean the pull out sofa in the living room, on the deck out back or on the floor in front of the fireplace. As a matter of fact, when Sean and I lived in Watertown, we spent 5 nights out of seven during the winter months, sleeping on the pullout sofa by the fireplace. There is a sort of delicious, doing-something-special kind of sensation that is all too often left behind with childhood. Unfortunately at 35 it tends to result in a morning-after filled with regret (I said don’t be gross!) it is a creaky, achey, what-made-me-think-that-was-a-good-idea remorse.

Briar has taken after me with a kind of zeal for “great ideas”and “uh-ventures” that is simply impossible to resist.

“Can we camp tonight, mama? C an we camp right here by the fireplace like we did yester-the-other day? It will be the most, best greatest camping trip night of ever!”

I looked at her, her eyes an icier, more captivating blue than ever before. I turned to Sean, his face filled with delight, knowing that I was looking through my daughter to my four year old self.

“But you won’t sleep, I don’t think,” I said wanly.

“Please, mama?” She said straining toward me as if held by ties that only I could loosen.

“Yeah mommy. It will be the best candace ever!” Avery chirped.

Briar turned to correct her and then though better of it and with head cocked and eyes twinkling, “Yes, mom, the best candace ever! Can we?”

Again I turned to Sean, he responded with a snort and a halfhearted elbow to the face to mask his smirk, “I want to see how mom plays this.”

“Ok,” I said. “Let’s camp.” What followed would be best compared to a fusing of 101 Dalmations scampering mayhem and a Superbowl celebration– it was all leaking, spewing sippy cups and gathering of princess and Dora sleeping paraphernalia, complete with one very dramatic fall down the stairs by the child who has already sported one cast in her first two years.

We lit candles and started the fire, gathered stuffed animals and tucked everyone in. We said goodnight. Gave kisses and hugs. Had water and peed. Had more water and peed more. We told stories and cuddled, said goodnight in loving but stern voices. We left the room, we returned to the room, we rolled our eyes, we clenched our teeth.

It is in those moments when they are testing us, daring us to waste this fleeting time when they want and need us, that I struggle the most. I can handle a tantrum at the check stand, can’t cope with a broken heirloom or perilous kitchen activity, but these things, they wear on me. Many times I hold my time, keep inside the heat-of-the-moment exclaims, but other times, well no one likes to talk about those, do they?

We made it. I nursed Fin to sleep while Sean played his guitar in the flickering light, filling the room with his warm voice. The girls yawned and cuddled, they talked to stay awake, circling his song with this bedtime-stalling dance of theirs and then eventually it was quiet. The only sound the occasional trill as Sean’s fingers absentmindedly strummed the guitar.

And then they slept and as Sean confirmed they were finally down he lifted them in his arms and carried them gingerly to their beds. It seemed only moments later as I snuck my first cup of coffee that they stampeded down the stairs and asked with confusion, “Did we camp last night? Did we have the best candace of ever, right here in this bed?”

I nodded and smiled at her. “Yes, honey. You camped.” She looked at me, then at the bed. “But mom, mom? How did I not end up in this bed? How did I get to my own bed?”

The next smile was for me, imagining all the times ahead when Sean and I will do something without their knowing, some little act that keeps them safe* or rights a wrong. Our secret way of loving them, even when it’s hard and anonymous.

*Thanks to the people who’ve kept us safe, even when we haven’t known or have, but just haven’t known enough to say thanks.