Turning off the lights in my son's room

When one of my children began to potty train, they were terribly frightened of the noise and size of public toilets.

At the time, we lived in a small Montana town, and regularly drove over the mountain pass to the big city of Bozeman (population: 30,000) to do a string of errands - the co-op, Target, and Costco - before driving back home. Spending the day running errands while my child would not use a public bathroom was stressful and challenging.

I remember feeling overwhelmed, thinking this stage would never pass. My poor kiddo wouldn't use a pull up, and would cry from the pain of holding it in. I didn't know what to do until I had an epiphany:  my child could pee outside, on the grass.

What a relief to find a solution! Eventually, as the months went by, my child was no longer frightened and began to use the public bathrooms.

It was a powerful experience for me - to know that even the most vexing challenge can resolve itself, and that stressful stages eventually pass.

This story reminds me of a time when my daughter was frightened at nighttime, and she slept in a pile of pillows and blankets, a makeshift bed in our bedroom, for many weeks.

And like my other child, one day, she was no longer so frightened and returned to her own bed.

That was over fifteen years ago now. My youngest son is now a teenager, and wakes early to go to soccer practice before school. He often forgets to turn off the lights as he leaves.

One morning, a poem arose as I entered his bedroom to turn off the light on his nightstand.

This morning, when I walked by his bedroom after the whirl of his early departure, I noticed he had turned off the light. I smiled, noticing the change, and felt that bittersweet tug.

For my son's morning ritual of forgetting the lights - like the pile of blankets on the floor, and the wilderness pees on the grass - have their own hamd as the Sufis say - their own essence. In retrospect, this hamd becomes so apparent, and, finally, we feel their presence. We can't help but bow in awe at their beauty.


It is now a few weeks after I first published this poem, and I read it to my son one night before bed. He said he liked it. He said he now thinks of it when he leaves for school, and remembers to turn off the lights, most of the time.

But now, I noticed - he leaves his favorite candle burning. That is a poem for another day.

Turning off the lights in my son's room

After my son has left for school
I go into his room and turn off the light
he has forgotten to turn off again.
On the way, I turn off the bathroom light –
it, too, was left glowing.

When I go into his room, I see the piles of
soccer clothes, cleats, and shin guards –
the plate from last night's dinner –
His homework on his desk
and the laundry basket
waiting to be emptied of its clean clothes.

How many times have we asked him
to turn off the lights when he leaves the house?
How many times do I turn them off?
As many still.

In his room I see our old dog Blue
asleep with her legs in the air.
I smile, wondering how she can sleep like that –
the way she has slept
since we first brought her home, eleven years ago now.

This life is filled with irritation and delight, side by side.
And the lights –
I will continue to turn them off.
My son will continue to forget.
Until one day, he won't.

But long ago I learned:
these daily frictions are not the warts of life,
but her benediction.

Each one whispers:
Look around
at this messy room,
at this sleeping dog,
at these turned on lights.

This is the evidence of love.

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