When I finally returned home – after midnight – I crept into both the children’s rooms and stood at the foot of each of their beds for a moment. Emma lay sprawled out one leg thrown over her duvet despite the cold, one hand clutched a shred of her blanket. I watched her for a moment, her blonde hair fanned out on the pillow, her chest rising and falling with each breath.
Richard and the children returned to New York the week before me, though it felt as though I hadn’t seen them for a month. The next morning Emma appeared in our bedroom at 6:29AM. “Hi Mommy,” she said pointing at me. “It’s Mommy! Mommy’s back!” she cried, before climbing into bed beside me.
“Emmy!” I answered, hugging her. “It’s so good to see you! I’ve missed you.”
“Missed Mommy!” Emma said. Then she gave me a kiss on my cheek.
The following night I read to Emma before turning out the light and leaving. Emma began breathing rapidly and making little panting noises, expressing her distress at my leaving her.
“It’s okay, Emma. I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be in our bedroom when you wake up tomorrow morning,” I tried reassuring her.
“Mommy! Mommy stay!” Emma cried.
“Em, I’m not going anywhere,” I repeated. I’ll be right here. It’s okay.”
Unconvinced, Emma pointed at me, “You,” she said, then pointed to herself, “and me, in Emma’s bed.”
“Okay Em. I’ll stay here for a few more minutes and then I’m going to go into my own room.”
By the time I left her, it seemed she had finally fallen asleep, only fifteen minutes later she appeared in our bedroom. “Mommy!” She cried.
“It’s okay Em. I won’t leave. I’ll be right here when you wake up.”
“Mommy come. Mommy come into the other room,” Emma pleaded.
I returned her to her bed and sat with her for close to an hour before telling her I was going to go into our bedroom, that I was going to be there when she woke up, that I wouldn’t leave. “Okay,” she whispered.
Within five minutes she was back in our bedroom crying for me. I knew how distressed she was. I knew she was worried I was going to leave again. I knew she just needed reassurance and eventually she would understand that I wasn’t going anywhere. But I was also utterly exhausted and by this time it was after midnight. I could feel my patience dissipating. “Emma, you have to go back to your bed. You have to trust me that I’m not going to leave. I will be here in the morning. I have to go to sleep now and so do you,” I said.
When Emma didn’t return to her bed, but instead stood staring at me unconvinced, I got up and said, “Emma! Go to bed NOW!”
Emma turned away. “Mommy come!”
I followed her into her room, sat on the edge of her bed and said, “Don’t worry, Emma. I’ll be in the other room when you wake up. I promise.”
“Okay,” Emma said, holding my arm tightly.
“It’ll be okay,” I said.
Emma nodded her head, “It’ll be okay,” she repeated, not letting go of my arm.