Sometimes it’s the smallest gestures that break my heart open. Like tonight, when I was helping him fall asleep, he casually laid his little hand across my forearm. It was so subtle, but something in his vulnerable touch brought tears to my eyes. He’s so small, I thought, and immediately flashed on a grown-up version of my son, one whom I will hug at hellos and goodbyes but will no longer have the privilege of being so close to physically. I marveled at his tiny fingers, as I have done since he was a baby. I cherished the scent of his sweet breath sending warm drifts of air down my cheek. I whispered in his ear, “You are my angel. I’m so lucky to be your mommy. Thank you for being my son.” I have whispered these words to him nearly every night for four years, words that would have gone unsaid had I “taught” him early on to cry himself to sleep so that he would supposedly learn the skill of falling asleep alone.
I fully trust that, when it’s important enough to either me or him, he will learn to fall asleep without me lying next to him. In the meantime, I’ve chosen to view that precious hour as a privilege instead of a prison. Sure, there are times when I wish I could say, “Goodnight. I love you,” and walk out the door so I could write, spend much-needed time with my husband, talk to a friend, or curl up with a good book. But whereas all of those people and activities will be around for a long time, this phase of my son’s life is fleeting. He will never be this age exact age again. He will only be this small and dependent and needing me to be so close for a finite period of time. I already grieve the day when he will push me away, yet I know it will inevitably and necessarily happen. So for now, I revel in our nighttime closeness.
Tonight, after he laid his hand on my arm, he reached for my hand, then snuggled his whole body into me and pressed his warm forehead into the space above my ear. He fit into me like a puzzle piece, rightfully assuming his place next to his mommy, safe as can be. And then he took a deep, endearing sigh and took that courageous and trusting leap into sleep. One of my favorite moments of the day is watching his face after he’s fallen asleep. The pleasure and challenges, the joys and frustrations of the day are erased and he’s a vision of serenity. It’s in that moment, as I gaze at the face of my angel, that the same prayer spontaneously emerges from lips: “Dear God, thank you. Thank you for bringing me this child. Please keep him healthy and safe. Please help me be the best mother I can be. Thank you.”