When I started Pajama Program my intent was to give the children I saw pajamas to keep them covered and clean. They had nothing in the emergency shelters. My first thought was for their comfort and health through the night, which for them was surely long and lonely. I couldn't imagine them shivering and sniffling in the dark and I wanted to make at least a small difference in their day to day existence. I thought they should have the same bedtime I had as a child with my mom. They rightly deserved tender expressions of bedtime affection and devotion. But in the absence of those considerations, they should at least have warm pajamas.
As I gave out pajamas every day, I was continually enlightened by the reaction from moms and dads who were donating to Pajama Program and from the women and men who were caring for children receiving our pajamas.
If I had a nickel for every time a mother told me what bedtime means for her child I could personally give pajamas and books to the thousands of children on our wait list. Parents tell me charming stories of faithful bedtime rituals with their children and it never ceases to amaze me how their voices change in the telling of their stories. Quietly and softly, they repeat their children's words just before the lights go out. The sweet whispers from the mouths of their drowsy little ones are precious...
"Mommy, can you sit with me until I fall sleep?"
"Can we get a puppy?"
"Can you read me the story again?"
"Can I tell you something? I'm hungry."
Bedtime is often the time a child's dreams and fears come alive. Those end of day moments can be magical for both the adult and the child. It's incredibly sweet to hear parents tell me how excited their child gets at bedtime the night before a big game they're playing in, or about a birthday party they're going to the next day. It's disturbing to hear a staff member stand in front of me and tell me a child arrived the night before with blood on the clothes he was brought in wearing. What was his first bedtime in a shelter like? What have all his bedtimes been like?
The pajamas and books we give represent so much more than I ever imagined. They are universally acknowledged symbols of an affectionate bedtime experience between parent and child. Each day ends the same way -- safely and peacefully. Tomorrows reliably bring bright new days -- anything is possible because love exists at the very start, every day. Pajamas are not about the cloth, they are about loyalty, deep affection and caring.
Pajamas, together with a story book, provide reassurance for a little one unsure of so many things, but certain that tomorrow when he wakes up he will not be alone.
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