When you were new, falling asleep was your specialty and you’d do it anywhere, anytime. Bedtime was irrelevant because nobody really knew if it was 4 am or 11 pm, and nobody cared. You ate, you grunted, you slept, and I synched myself around your sleep.
It wasn’t long before you began to need something else. I would stand with you in my arms, rocking and singing, and with an arch of your back you’d signal ‘I’m ready mum’ and I’d lay you in your cradle. You’d turn your head to the side, make a happy sound, and sleep. Sometimes you’d smack your lips or blow spit bubbles or rub your face, but you were happy in that little cradle.
But not tonight. No signals from you that you are ready for your own little space in your own little bed. Just your face snuggling into my chest. My mind reels, panics almost, and, worried that I will ‘break’ your recently found sleep independence, I place you in your cradle anyways. You don’t cry (you rarely do) but you don’t settle either. No happy sound, no head to the side, you lie on your back and you kick and you grunt and your little fists, balled up, hit your face again and again. I’m watching you, and I know that if I choose to, I can leave you there and you’ll quietly fuss and kick until you tire out your little body and sleep. Or I can lift you and hold you and rock you again.
And I know, because I’ve done this before, that no matter how you fall asleep tonight, soon you’ll be walking and talking and eating big boy foods. You’ll start tying your own shoes and choosing your own clothing and pushing my hands away so you can do it ‘on own.’
Then you’ll start preschool and make friends and fall in love with your teacher so much that you’ll call her ‘My Rosita’ and sob when she’s away.
Shortly after comes primary school, where you’ll meet more friends and join sports teams and start having sleepovers. You’ll come home telling me what other moms do, what other moms say, and how other kids have different rules.
Not much later comes highschool, where you reject my advice (because you are certain I’m the most stupid human being on the planet) and two weeks later you’ll tell me of a stranger you met on the bus who gave you some great advice and you’ll follow it, and I’ll recognize that it was the same advice I’d given you before. I’ll know this is normal and expected, as your circle of dependence on me gets smaller and smaller and your circle of influence of others continues to grow.
Then one day you’ll find your own home and you’ll set your own rules. Maybe it’ll be in a dorm room, or maybe a room in a house with 5 other young men who eat instant noodles and drink cheap beer and buy paper plates so they don’t have to wash them. Or maybe you’ll pack everything you treasure into a backpack and leave to explore the world, and I’ll wait by the computer for the weekly glimpse at you and a brief hello. And there will be girlfriends (or boyfriends, I really don’t care) and heartbreak and maybe marriage and I hope one day children. And I’ll see you on birthdays and Christmas not because we aren’t close (we will be) but because your life will be so full you’ll have little time to spare.
And so tonight, I will hold you. I’ll lift you up from your cradle and rock you and sing. And when my arms tire, I’ll lay you on this soft blanket I’ve prepared beside me, and we’ll sleep chest to chest. Because you’re mine, and I’m yours, and these moments won’t last forever. And your small fist will reach out and clumsily stroke my chest, and your mouth will open to form the softest sound … ‘ah’ … and in that sound you’ll pack all the contentment and happiness of the world as you drift off to sleep.
And when you’ve settled into your sleep and I’m drifting to mine, I’ll stroke your fuzzy head, watch the way the light plays across your cheek and I’ll tell myself: remember.