I spend a fair amount of time sleeping with one or the other of my daughters: I lie down with a sleep-reluctant child, and soon enough we are both asleep; one or the other--on unfortunate evenings, both--comes into our bed in the middle of the night, less often than they used to, but often enough for it not to be unusual; on my own fractious evenings, when I'm too tired to put a child to bed, I will let her--usually the younger--go to bed with me.
I also, like any mother--or at least like all the fictional and film mothers I have encountered, for I don't, truly, know what any real mother does when she is alone with her children--look in on my children as they sleep alone, whether I am checking to see if sleep has finally come, or making sure they are still alive--yes, I still do this--or gazing at their sleeping beauty.
The point being: I see each of my children asleep frequently, and the sight of one of my children asleep is a familiar one. M still sucks her fingers, whether curled up on her side or splayed out on her back, until she is so deeply asleep that they fall from her mouth. E scratches through the night, tossing and turning as if ever on the verge of awakening, or lies on her back like a solid lump, the only sign of life her bare breathing. Each is, of course, spectacularly beautiful in the solitude of her sleep.
What I rarely see, however, is my children sleeping together, as they are tonight, on the fold-out couch on the other side of the room from my single bed. And what makes me surge with love, and breaks my heart, is the way, sleeping together, which they rarely do, they are almost always touching. Most often, as now, they lie facing each other, bent, knee to knee, heads leaning in, arms reaching for each other, entwined--right now: M's left hand to her mouth, her right hand under E's head; E's left hand under her own head, her right reaching out to M.
And as I write this, M stretches, turns away onto her back, but leaves that hand attached to E.
We have photographs of them in the exact same position at so many ages in so many beds: tiny baby E curled up to her big sister in our big bed in No Longer Red State Capital City Suburb; matching pajamas; two girls in French underpants in the hotel bed in Paris. Clearly they have always done this, and I have always loved it.
M has just turned back to E, and on they sleep.