LIBERTY, MAINE — It turns out that the chief trick of solo-adult lakeside life is not preventing small children from drowning, as I had feared, but getting everyone to sleep and keeping them there. At home we tuck the children into bed and that’s pretty much it until breakfast. Up here, for ten days now, each night has brought some fresh variation on the theme of “Let’s Wake Mummy Up.”
One midnight, for example, my bedroom door slams open, revealing Violet. “The woofs are coming! Woofs are coming to eat us!” she cries. Unwisely, I pull her in under the covers. “No, darling. They’re loons. Birds. They just sound like wolves.”
Veteran parents will spot the error: Never let a child get into bed with you if rest is your goal. But so sleepy am I, so husband-free is the bed, and so shivery-scared is she, it seems by far the nicest course. I should also mention that Violet is a champion cuddler, all downy and soft. We fall asleep entwined. And wake simultaneously, awash in hot liquid, at 5 A.M.
“Sorry, Mummy,” says a small voice.
The next night, it is Molly who appears in the dark, confused, and cold and apparently unable to find the opening of her sleeping bag. She climbs weepily into bed with me, and spends the rest of the night trying to locate my spleen with her elbow. This is less restful than you might think.
Even nature joins in the torment. One night I wake in a kind of panic, with maternal alarm bells clanging (like Miss Clavel in the Madeline books — “Something is not right,” she says — although her internal warning system wouldn’t be maternal, exactly, she being a nun…). I dash in the dark out to the screened porch where Molly and Paris are tucked lengthwise along old-fashioned aluminum gliders, to find a typhoon roaring through the screens. Molly is muttering crossly in her sleep as the rain drenches her face and pillow; Paris is curled up inside a soaking sleeping bag. Amazingly, they’re still asleep. One at a time I half-carry, half-drag them through the dark cottage to my bedroom, then run back into the deluge with my silk nightgown soaked and flapping, like a Faulkner heroine.
Down come the blinds, slam go a few windows, and I retreat shivering and dripping to my room. And discover that a sprawled nine-year-old and a six-and-a-half-year-old more than fill up a small double bed. But there’s nowhere else to go: I creep into a six-inch gap beside Paris, and spend the rest of the night hanging on to the edge of the blankets and trying to keep from falling off the bed.
The children, needless to say, wake refreshed.
“Hey,” says Paris, “What’re we doing in your bed?”
— Meghan Cox Gurdon, who lives in Washington D.C., writes as much as her young family will permit. Watch for her new NRO column, “The Fever Swamp” starting this autumn. She wrote her first piece for NRO about vacationing with her children here.