Tonight just before bedtime, The Imp came to me and demanded my attention. He put a dimpled little hand on either side of my face and very seriously said, "Mommy, I want to cuddle with you."
Who can say no to that? For one thing, he called me "Mommy".
But I am not a fool. This is a classic Imp bedtime-aversion tactic. Cuddling with me would temporarily delay the need for Picking up of Toys, and forestall the dreaded Brushing of Teeth and Putting on of Jammies.
So we made a deal. After all the toys were put away, and after he brushed his teeth, and once he was in his pajamas, then I would absolutely cuddle with him as he went to sleep - and curl up in bed with him I did.
We sang the "Night Night Song" - a little tune I made up way back in the breastfeeding days and have sung to him nightly since, and his other bedtime favourite, "Bye Bye Blackbird." Trust me when I tell you that you have not really lived until you've heard The Imp sleepily but earnestly trill out "No one here can love or understand me, Oh what hard luck stories they all hand me."
Bedtime hugs and kisses taken care of, lights turned out, blankets pulled up to his chin, he settled himself into the curves of my body as I lay next to him. "Hold hands, Mommy," he said as he reached for my fingers.
As I lay there with him tonight, in the dark, I was reminded of those terrified-new-parent newborn days with him. As he'd fall asleep in my arms or beside me in his co-sleeper, I'd listen so carefully for every breath, and jerk awake at every change in tempo or tenor, as if I could will him to keep living if I just paid enough attention.* Three and a half years later, I know and am comforted by the changes in his breathing; the way each breath slows and grows shallower as he drifts off to sleep. Instead of being alarmed by sudden spasms of a baby's startles, I smile to myself as I feel my big boy's limbs twitch in the first moments of slumber, and know that I can leave him to his dreams as I feel his grip on my fingers loosen.
He's getting so big.
I know it happens. Of course it happens. The only alternative is tragedy. We all know, intellectually, that our job as parents is to prepare our children to leave us. It takes a long time, but that's the end goal. I just don't think I ever really got that the leaving doesn't happen all at once, when they become teenagers, or when they go to university, or when they get married. The leaving happens daily, every minute. As a little mouth is nourished with solid food instead of milk from my own body, as little hands pull away from my grip while we cross the street, and as little legs learn to pump higher and higher without me pushing the playground swing. I love it, I do. I'm thrilled every day with his growing independence, with his confidence in his own body, with his relentless curiosity and enthusiasm for trying new things. But in the midst of celebrating this amazing person my son is becoming, there is also an endless series of tiny goodbyes. I mourn the newborn, and the learning to walk, and the first words.
Nobody tells you that part.
So as much as I'm a stern bedtime taskmaster, make no mistake: there is nothing that will get in my way when my big boy says "Cuddle with me, Mommy." I'll be mourning that too, soon enough.
*For the record, he was always a sturdy little lad and there was never
any danger that he would suddenly stop breathing. I was just, like every brand new mom, totally and irrationally paranoid.