“Mom?” Her voice is quiet and serious as it travels from her bedroom down the hall to me, and the question is a little hesitant. As it is every night. I wonder with a smile, as I do every night, why this question, the one she asks every single night, always sounds new, unheard, as if she’s never asked it before.
I hear her bare feet faintly tap the hardwood as she follows her voice. She finds me hunched over my laptop, replying to texts and emails received during the late afternoon carpool/dinner/homework melee. I raise my head and focus on the sweet figure in the doorway.
Her hair is long and loose around her face, her clear, gray eyes big and hopeful. In her soft pajama pants and old T-shirt emblazoned with her name, she looks much younger than her 10 years. She looks like a slightly taller, slightly leaner version of the cheery toddler who started asking me this question. Every night.
“Yes?” Even though I know what’s coming.
“Will you come kiss me goodnight?”
I hit send, and uncurl my stiff body from the chair with a groan. “Coming,” I say to her already retreating back. She doesn’t really need to hear my answer. She knows I’ll come, as I have every night for the last 2,000 or so nights. But I say it anyway. We all have our rituals.
I find her in her bedroom, as I knew I would, arranging the pillows she doesn’t sleep with at the foot of her bed. The bright yellow emoji pillow with the winky face and garish pink fabric tongue beams up at me. Her backpack lies open on the floor next to her desk, ready for tomorrow, and the book she’s reading is neatly lined up with the tissue box, alarm clock and other knickknacks on her nightstand.
She climbs into bed and pulls the covers under her chin. She lies on her back, perfectly still, her hair a soft dark fan against the white pillowcase. Serene at last after a busy day of school, friends and swimming. Happily ready for me to bid her a calm and restful journey to dreamland.
Not for the first time, I am blanketed with the memory of myself at 10, lying in the dark in my bed, waiting for my own mother to come kiss me goodnight. “Ma,” I hear myself call, as clear as if I say it out loud into this room, many decades and miles away, “come kiss me goodnight!” I hear her footsteps on the carpet, smell her perfume, feel her hair tickle my nose.
Like me, she never missed a night. She would come whether I called for her or not. I knew this in my young brain. But to my growing heart, this part of my childhood night, calling out for her to come kiss me goodnight, was as important, as integral, as non-negotiable as brushing my teeth before bed. Not doing it was not an option. Doing it was right and comforting and symbolized, for me, a clear, restful path through the night toward morning.
Like dipping the apple into honey at Rosh Hashanah, or lighting the bright candles at the start of Shabbat, my daughter’s nightly ritual of asking me to come kiss her goodnight — even though she knows I will whether she asks me to or not — is steeped in a symbolism that shapes her day. The simple, consistent and repeated request, night after night, brings her comfort and serenity, joy and tranquility.
When we dip the apple into the honey, we ask Hashem to bless us with a sweet and good year. We celebrate Rosh Hashanah with the joyful anticipation of these good and sweet things, and feel reassured and hopeful in the act of eating the apples and honey. Until the next year, when we perform this delicious ritual once again.
“Good night, lovey. Sleep tight.” I plant a gentle kiss on my daughter’s smooth cheek and brush a hair away from her eyes. “OK,” she murmurs, already half asleep. I turn off the light as I leave her room. Until tomorrow.