He likes daddy’s house better. “I get to be in the same room,” he says.
I like sleep better. So here, he has his own room. He is almost nine, and still, he begs for me to stay. He pulls me in after books and cuddles, “Just one more hug,” he pleads. “Just one more minute.”
On weekends, he tries all over again. “We can go to sleep in your room tonight, right?”
No. I tell him again, no. Not this night. No every night, two years of no in this house, eight years of no in this life. No, mama needs to sleep alone. No, Mama has trouble resting when she shares the bed. Mama is a monster who trips into a churning, troubled cauldron of demons night after night after night after night. Any chance this mama has of sleeping soundly, she’ll protect with all her might. Even if this means earplugs, eye masks, a bolted door, a lonely son.
Then suddenly, my boy wakes with the dawn and pads into my room. Hair wild and eyes gummed with dreams, he crawls into my bed and folds himself into the warm pocket of comfort around me.
Gangly, humongous, heavy as stones.
A boy? My boy?
I feel the height and weight of him, the crackling and waking up of every surging cell in him.
My boy is finished being small.
From here, he only grows up. Out, older, taller, away. He grows into himself.
How much longer will he want to be so close?
How many chances do I have to be his home?
His longing for nighttime company is more than a craving, more than a passing interest. Beyond the clutchy acquisitiveness children have for Pokemon cards and pizza nights and winning at Stratego, this hunger is something deeper. Primal even.
Every time he begs and cries for me, every time in all of his eight years, he is asking to feel bound up in something, to feel tethered to place and kin.
In the purest form of humanness — mammal and existential alike — he needs to be held.
Now, in this quickly closing chapter of his life, I can be the one who holds him. This web I weave around him — alternately flimsy and rugged — tightens into the vault from which he launches the man he will become.
This web I weave around him — alternately capacious and secure — sinters into the vault in which he stores the stars and wounds and whispers that he gathers along the way.
Tonight I decide: We will find a way to climb in close together. Close, so he can worm his way deep into the heart of the comfort he needs. Close, so I can protect my precious sleep and still love my boy the way he wants to be loved.
Tonight, I ask: “Do you want to make a nook in my room?”
He stares, checking my face for tricks. Then his spreads into a grin and he actually shivers with delight.
In record time, he finishes dinner, stacks dishes, helps walk the dog, and lops nearly 20 minutes off bath time. Then we plop ourselves on the floor of my room. The rack of toy bins in the corner needs to go.
“Okay,” he says picking up a matchbox car. “Donate.” He tosses it in a bucket.
“Easter bunny ears?” I ask.
“Trash,” he says.
We go like this. Legos, mardi gras beads, pirate eye patches. Toss, donate, keep. The box of trinkets he wants to hold onto is far emptier than I imagined. The toys are meaningless. What he wants is the absence of them. What he wants is the treasure their departure promises.
By bedtime, we’ve done it all. Vacuumed, dragged in extra mattress, unfurled sheets. He carries in a stack of books to line the windowsill, fetches the lamp with its denim shade. He keeps smiling at me. Smiling and smiling. “It’s so comfortable,” he beams, settling himself into a heap of red and turquoise linens. “Want to come try it?”
I bring my pillow and cuddle up in his nest. We are tucked into an alcove under the window across from where my big-girl bed lives. Bug can look right into Noodle’s crate. A few moments later, she tip-taps in and sniffs around the new setup, talks at us, then heads over and curls into a ball on her blanket.
Bug thrums with sleepy rightness, with a satisfaction rare in his bull-headed, only-child world.
He sighs and rests a damp head on my hip. “Put your arm around me,” he says. “All the way across.” He draws my hand over his chest, slips it into the fold between his torso and the blanket. In my other hand, I hold Cornelia Funke’s Thief Lord and pick up where we left off last night. The conniving Barbarossa has spun backwards on a carousel and toppled out as a toddler, while Scipio — wounded and obstinate — has chosen to careen past adolescence and emerge as a man.
We stumble towards infancy and whatever comes before. We surge towards dying and the end we refuse to imagine. On either side of us, these memories, these wishes, they stretch like corridors lined with swords and feather beds, disappearing into dark. When fortune spits us out against unforgiving walls, when moments choose us before we have a say, we carry our soft landings with us. We bear our own rending.
For our children, we dull what blades we can.
Even when they are certain they are done needing us, we tuck beneath them a pallet of silken rope and down.
We hold them anyway.
Image from “The Nursery,” March 1881.