N came with me this afternoon when I dropped Em off at a sleepover; she’s staying the night with a friend from Hebrew school, and N likes the friend’s mom a lot. So we hung out for a few, and N splashed around in the pool of the girl’s apartment complex—it was 97 degrees there in the valley, at 4:30 in the afternoon.
On the way home, he asked me to turn off the CD that was playing. “I have a question,” he announced.
“Yes?” I answered.
“Where in your body is your soul?”
Where did THAT come from? Where did he hear about the soul? And what is it about moving vehicles that shakes forth these kinds of questions from my kids?
“Well, that’s hard to answer, N. Your soul isn’t something you can see on an x-ray, like your heart or your lungs.”
“Or your bones.”
“So where is it?”
“I’m not sure. It’s not an actual ‘thing,’ so I’m not sure it has a place in the body. There are people who aren’t even sure there is such a thing as a soul, and that’s mostly because nobody can point to it and see it.”
Silence. Kids hate when you give them answers like that, that have no meaning to them.
“You know who might be able to answer that question for you? Your friend, Rabbi. Souls are really about having a little piece of God in you, so maybe he could help you figure out where you soul is.”
“Weeeeelllllll....” That didn’t seem to help much; he wanted an answer then and there. “Doesn’t God know where my soul is?”
“I would guess God would know if anyone does.”
“Good.” Finally, he seemed satisfied. “Then I’m just going to ask God, then. Maybe he’ll tell me.”
And he closed his eyes for a second, then popped them open again. “You can turn the music back on Mama. I can talk to God with the music on.”
When Em has a sleepover at a friend's, leaving N behind, we let N sleep up in our room if he wants. He always wants. He starts the night on Baroy's side of the bed, where we read books and cuddle until he falls asleep; when Baroy comes up for the night, he shifts N into his sleeping bag.
Because my social butterfly of a daughter has so many sleepovers, this has become quite the oft-played-out ritual.
Tonight, I was putting laundry away in my room when I realized it was already past nine, so I told N to go get his stuffed animals and his special pillow and his sleeping bag. "Don't try to bring them all up at once," I cautioned. "It's OK if you need to make a few trips."
He was gone for a while, but then came bumping up the stairs, carrying a stuffed-to-the-brim tie-dye sack over his shoulder, like some midget Jewish hippie version of Santa. (How he found that sack, I have no idea; it originally contained a flannel sheet set. I thought we'd gotten rid of it ages ago.)
He dumped about two dozen stuffed animals onto the floor, naming them all for me as he went: "That's Spotty, and that's Blackster, and that's Shut-the-Door, and that's Charlie, and that's...I don't remember his name...and nope, can’t remember that one, either." When the bag was empty, he slung it back over his shoulder.
The next two trips were to get the pillow and sleeping bag, but on the fourth and final trip, the sack reappeared. This time, it was too heavy for him to lift. "I have billions of books in here!" he announced.
By then, I had finished with the laundry and had already queued up a movie to watch on my computer while he fell asleep. "Oh, honey," I said, coming down the stairs. "We can't read all those books tonight. I don't even know if we'll get a chance to read any."
He ignored that last bit. "OK. I'll just bring a couple of books, don't worry, Mama."
He returned to his room for a bit, then eventually came upstairs with the sack still over his shoulder, but only his two current favorite library books were in it, books with easy-to-read riddles in them, books we've read a ridiculous number of time. (What time is it when an elephant sits on your fence?)
While he finished setting up his sleeping bag, I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth and do all those before-bed things; when I came out, he’d fallen asleep in the middle of his stuffed animals, but popped up the second I came into the room.
“OK,” he announced. “Let’s read the Halloween riddle book first.”
“No,” I said. “I’m going to watch my movie. It’s late, and I want you to get into bed here and go back to sleep.”
“But, but...” he protested.
“NO,” I repeated. “Not tonight. We’ll read them tomorrow.”
“No we won’t,” he said, beginning to pout. “You’ll sleep all the time and then you’ll have to do work or something and you won’t read them with me.”
“I will, I promise,” I said. “Even if I sleep in a bit, when I get up, I’ll read to you.”
“But they’re my favorite books,” he said, slightly teary. “And I want to read with you before I go to sleep.”
“No,” I said, not really looking at him, because I was too busy playing with the volume on the movie and fast-forwarding past commercials, and because I was getting annoyed. “Now go to bed, or I really WON’T read them with you in the morning.”
And so he got into the bed next to me, and I turned on my movie, and within three minutes, he was fast asleep, breathing steadily. I looked over at him, and suddenly my heart was in my throat. My beautiful little boy, left behind yet again. All he wanted was ten minutes from me, just a few scraps of my attention, and I couldn’t find it in my heart—I couldn’t find it in my soul—to give them to him. It took everything I had at that point to stop myself from interrupting his sweet sleep and saying, “Let’s read some riddles now. I want to read riddles now. I’m so sorry I said no, again. I’m sorry I put you off. I’m sorry I do it so often.”
But that would have been selfish. That would have been about making me feel better, not him.
Maybe if I knew where my soul was, I wouldn’t keep failing him all the time.