My 5-year-old boy stares up at me from his almost-too-small toddler bed, with a Spiderman blanket pulled up under his chin. I smoosh myself next to him and the dozen or so stuffed animals strategically placed around the bed’s perimeter, as I do every night.
Yes, I still lay with my 5-year-old son as he falls asleep.
Roll your eyes, scoff under your breath — say what you will about creating bad sleeping habits. The fact of the matter is this: My little boy won’t be little for much longer. I’ve always been acutely aware of this, of course, but it’s becoming more obvious as his limbs lengthen, his vocabulary deepens, and more candles get added to his birthday cake. Kindergarten starts in six months. The clock has officially started, ticking down until I’m asked to drop him off a block away from his friends, avoiding any kind of public affection. Until he closes his bedroom door, turns up the music, and escapes into his own world — a world that’s too cool for mom.
Until he needs his own space.
You see, I only have a short time to hold his still-tiny body. To be needed in this very nurturing, primal capacity.
That doesn’t mean I always appreciate it, of course. There are some nights where the idea of laying down in his cramped bed, in his dark room, sounds more like a torturous obligation than a fleeting moment to cherish. With a nighttime to-do list in the back of my mind — with a husband waiting for me in the living room, with a lunch that needs to be packed, laundry that needs to be done — the last thing I want to do is lay down in the dark, getting drained of all energy and motivation. Often I’ll fall asleep next to him, and then kick myself for the time lost.
Too many nights I’ll watch him toss and turn, uncomfortably maneuvering myself to the very edge of the bed, chanting fall asleep fall asleep fall asleep in my head.
But then he’ll turn over on his left side; he’ll start breathing deeper, longer. I can feel his body relax and then — instantly — I know he’s asleep. It’s not a noise he makes, but a feeling I get.
And right there, in that moment he falls asleep, I feel the same thing that I did when he was a newborn asleep on my chest, an infant asleep in the baby carrier, a toddler asleep in my arms. That radiating calmness that engulfs us both like a soothing forcefield has always been the same. It’s as if slipping into his subconscious triggers some kind of chemical release that only his mother can absorb. Like a shot of pure love — intoxicating and meaningful.
In that moment he falls asleep, I don’t want to be anywhere else. I just want to stroke his face and kiss his eyelids, and connect with who he is beyond the meltdowns and power struggles throughout the day. I just want to stare at him, to be there. To take it all in.
In that moment he falls asleep, I realize how fast he’s growing, but also how much is staying the same.
In that moment he falls asleep, I am just like every mother looking at her child — in wonderment, in gratefulness, in love.
And so I quietly creep out of the bed, kissing him one last time before tending to my to-do list, my husband, my life. But I keep that moment, that peaceful feeling, with me.
I hope I always do.