I don’t usually put my oldest son to bed. My wife does his bedtime while I do my younger son’s. But, since my oldest son has been having difficulty getting to sleep lately, and my wife has been stuck in his room at night sometimes for hours, we decided to switch it up for a night or two.
I lie on the floor beside his bed and he talks and tosses and turns and laments his inability to go to sleep. After a half-hour or so he asks me to climb into bed with him.
I lie in the red Jeep bed beside him in the dark, still room and I can see his face by the light of the night light projected on the ceiling. It used to be a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle projection, but it’s served us so long that the picture has worn off and it’s just a circle of light now hanging there on the ceiling.
The hair dipping down across his forehead is damp from sweat. It’s Florida, so no matter how hard the air conditioner blasts, there are places in the house that tend to remain obstinately warm and humid. Plus, he piles his bed with blankets and stuffed animals and tunnels into them like a small woodland animal building a burrow.
I don’t consciously remember what his face looked like as a baby, but somehow, subconsciously maybe, the curve of his nose and the long eyelashes conjure an image of him sleeping cozily in his crib dressed in a fuzzy onesie.
He’s eight years old now.
Closer to adolescence than babyhood, but it’s still hard to imagine him ever being anything other than a little boy.
He’s smart and curious and is quick to regale anyone with facts about snakes and plants he learned at Eco Camp, but he’s also very innocent.
He believes in things like the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus wholeheartedly while also spending large swathes of time watching young adults do silly things on YouTube.
And though he doesn’t particularly like schoolwork, he’s taken to the sudden switch to distance learning surprisingly well. He’s quickly learned that if he gets his daily assignments done in the morning, he has the rest of the day free to do as he pleases.
I’m proud of how much maturity and adaptability he’s shown. And when I take the time to really notice, I’m overwhelmed by his kind-heartedness and budding independence.
I feel like we’re in that sweet spot. Like those few minutes between when the sun disappears below the horizon and nightfall. When the light is soft, and the world feels calm and peaceful and not at all scary.
It’s so weird to be in this strange state of pause while your children continue their relentless growing up.
Time is dwindling. I feel it more every day. Even when the minutes and hours seem endless and every day feels exactly the same and the pace feels excruciatingly slow and confusing, I can feel the hourglass emptying just a little more.
I think he’s asleep finally. His breathing gets heavier and he’s stopped rubbing his neck with his hand. I shift my weight, preparing to get up. He turns his head toward me and his eyes well up a little as he says, “I’m sorry I can’t go to sleep and you have to stay in here so long.”
My heart breaks and I place my hand on his face and tell him not to worry, that it will be OK, and he’ll get to sleep.
I don’t say that there’s no place I’d rather be because I don’t realize it till that moment. Because, honestly, lying here waiting impatiently for the first opportunity to escape to claim a few moments of alone time does seem like a chore after a long day of parenting under quarantine. That’s how I normally frame it without even realizing it.
But sometimes small actions and words can change your perspective. I settle in.
More content to be where I am than I have been in months.
At some point I fall asleep. I wake up in the middle of the night and look over at his sleeping face. His lips are moving slightly while he breathes. Just like they did when he was a baby. I do remember that somehow. I would stay, but I still have my contacts in, and my eyes are already scratchy. And anyway, my 6-year-old will likely be coming to find me any minute.
I get up and creep out of the room. Holding the doorknob and letting it turn softly when I close the door, so it doesn’t make any noise. Another day will break soon, and we’ll probably be doing the same things we do every day now. It seems endless, but I know it’s not.
And it’s good to be reminded of that.
There won’t always be a Jeep bed for me to sleep in.
So it’s probably a good idea to appreciate it before those last glimmers of sunlight fade away and darkness descends.