Late, late at night, I hear it again. A quiet, unfamiliar voice in a familiar sort of way calls, "Mommy."
The night seems so very still. More so than usual, which might explain why I've been so restless and unable to get comfortable even in my own bed. Maybe it's time to buy new pillows, I think, as I flip the hot and lumpy shape under my head.
I get up to find out who is having a bad dream or if anyone needs a drink of water. It's not Andy. As I slip into his room I smile when I hear his loud, uneven snoring that reminds me of the noise my grandfather made while he slept. Andy is only eight, though. What will he sound like when he's an old man? Already I feel sorry for his wife.
Andy hasn't called out for me at night in a long time. On the rare occasion that he needs me, he clumsily appears only inches away from my face, talking about how he didn't get dessert that night, so could he please have two Fudgesicles tomorrow.
I pull the blanket up under his chin and kiss his soft cheek as I whisper, "Good night, Andy." He mumbles something about whether tomorrow is a school day or is it still summertime, and I move on to peek in Aimee's room.
She is breathing noisily and deeply in a nest of troll dolls in her bed. The soft glow of her night light is enough to set off an interesting northern lights effect from the flourescent-colored hair of her beloved trolls. When this four-year-old wakes up at night, she either calls me hysterically, because she sees a monster--or very, very softly, because the monster is about to eat her.
Once again, I think I hear a voice. It is clear and quiet, a child's voice. Unlike the ones I know, it is neither afraid nor demanding. I realize once again that I have been blessed to hear the voices of children I have lost: one two years before Andy, the other two years before Aimee.
I walk down the stairs to the living room, where I look out into the darkness and try to catch a glimpse of a star, the moon, or even a porch light. I wonder so many things. Little ones, do you hold hands, and keep each other company? Are you friends? I assume you transcended all sibling rivalry. Does it make you sad that I only think about you sometimes? It's really not that I forget; I just can't let myself think about you all of the time.
I ought to pause more often than I do to whisper a quick prayer or hello to you. Do you miss me, too? I so wish I could have held you, known you. But I did hold you, as only a mother can--as tightly and as closely as I held my other children before they were born.
Do you visit Andy and Aimee too? Aimee told me one night she saw an angel sitting on her bed, and I tried to tell her about you. I was glad that she didn't ask too many questions that I can't even answer for myself. I don't know why two of my children were called so soon and two were not.
"Mommy." It is a gentle, peaceful voice. You are in a better place than the rest of your family; I do not worry about you getting chicken pox, falling off of your bikes, or being taken from our yard by a stranger. But I will always have this lingering sadness of not having met.
I never held them in my arms, I never nursed them to sleep. I never rocked them or sang to them or kissed their little toes. I never said good-bye, because I never really got a chance to say hello. But I trust they know that I hold them deep, deep in my heart, where it still hurts like crazy, but it's a pain I almostly selfishly embrace during quiet moments like these, while the rest of the world sleeps.
I count back to figure out how old they would be now. Wiping away my tears, I say a prayer that they both will continue to check in now and then. And when I'm so sleepy that I can't tell whether that "Mommy" called out in the middle of the night is real or a dream, I will awaken and get up and check. Just in case.