What Happens at Bedtime for These Children?
I have thought about this almost every day for the past 16 years. But I didn’t think about it at all for 38 years before that. It’s amazing what we don’t think about during the day when we’re busy working, running errands, making plans, having a good time, and getting through each day fairly unscathed. But what happens when our day is all said and done? Stop and think about it and you’ll be surprised how many feelings run through your mind just before bed. There’s one word that’s now top of mind for me at bedtime: solitude. It doesn’t matter if you are in bed alone or with someone, those last few minutes before you fall asleep you are all alone with your thoughts.
The thoughts we hold before we fall asleep stay with us all night and are usually the first thoughts we have when we wake up. I think about the bedtimes of the children we see and worry, “What’s on their minds when the lights go out?”
We really don’t have a lot of personal information about the children we serve at Pajama Program. Some are going through the worst trauma you can imagine at the hands of those who are supposed to care for them. Others are victims of the system and are in-between permanent living arrangements hoping to find a “real family.” Day to day for these children is terrifying and nighttime is even worse.
How can we ease their fears at bedtime? How can we let them know we care about them as they toss and turn, fraught with dread? How can we give every one of them a hug to comfort them so they know we care? I agonize over these “hows.”
We see these children at our Pajama Program Reading Centers. They arrive apprehensive. Too often they are afraid that where they’ve been taken will once again disrupt their lives, frighten them and throw them into alarming territory. But after an hour with loving, compassionate “reading buddies” they feel unconditional love. We can almost see their heart open. They don’t want to leave us but when they do, they are smiling big, and they have new, warm pajamas and books in their arms.
Recently 12 year old Tiffany wrote to us,
“I love my new yellow nightgown! It makes me feel happy. I never had a nightgown and I love my new one with flowers. I feel so grown up.”
I immediately pictured this shy, sweet girl with dirty blonde hair twirling in front of a mirror wearing her new nightgown and a big smile, feeling special. That’s what it’s all about for these children — feeling like they matter in this world.
If I could tuck each child in myself I would, but I know I can’t be there at their bedside. Are they tossing and turning, crying into a pillow? Do they feel safe or do their nightmares return with the heaviness of their burdens even before they close their eyes? I know we can’t take away their sadness or loneliness with just a kiss and a “sleep tight” wish. But what I do believe is that we can transfer our feelings of comfort and affection to each child through our gifts — and they will feel it. The evidence that people care is definitely palpable to them and it might just be what gets them through the night. And if they get through the night feeling our love, I believe they will wake up with that memory and maybe they’ll walk taller, feel lighter and have the courage to take on another day.
I know in my heart it’s possible to love someone you’ve never met. We love these children and will do whatever we can to get thousands more of them yellow nightgowns.
Genevieve Piturro is the founder of Pajama Program.
Pajama Program is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 2001 that believes that every child, no matter their circumstances, has the inherent right to a loving good night, complete with the comforting bedtime ritual of changing into clean, warm pajamas and enjoying an enchanting story. Pajama Program offers at-risk children the unconditional, magical gifts of new pajamas and new books so that they can enjoy the greatest benefit of a loving bedtime and peaceful good night: a fulfilling good day. After all, good nights are good days.
Too many children in this country don’t know where they’re sleeping tonight and have almost no possessions of their own. Pajama Program offers them the unconditional, magical gifts of pajamas and books to create a safe escape at bedtime, to open up their imaginations and creativity, and to give them the good night’s sleep that every child needs to realize their dreams.
This tradition helps ensure a quality night’s sleep and delivers the energy, focus and optimism children need each day to feel empowered to live their best lives.
Guided by our Good Night Bill of Rights, we encourage communities everywhere to adopt its principles so that all children can enjoy the greatest benefit of a loving bedtime: a fulfilling good day.
Pajama Program Facts
•We serve children in every State through our NYC HQ and 60 Chapter Presidents nationwide. We operate 3 Reading Centers in the New York area with additional Pajama Program Reading Centers opening in 2017, starting with Atlanta, GA in June and followed by Chicago, IL. Here we share our magical gifts of pajamas and the love of reading with a child, in person.
• More than 10,000 children have visited our Pajama Program Reading Centers in the past five years.
• We work with more than 3,500 facilities (which we call receiving organizations) including shelters, group homes, Title 1 schools, foster care and social service organizations, Head Start programs and other organizations that serve at-risk youth.
• Through these collaborations, our mission is furthered and we are able to positively impact the lives of more children, creating more good nights for good days, and ultimately brighter tomorrows, for children everywhere.