Eleven and a half hours. That is how long he sleeps without stirring once. I wake at dawn and head out into the damp dark to run with only the glow of the waning moon to show the way. I return, stretch in the dew, walk the dog, pack lunch, shower, and bring the water to boil for oatmeal. He sleeps on and on.
This is what happens the night after the day the kid rides his bike to the school and back all by himself. Not all by himself, actually — training wheels notwithstanding, he is still skittish about hills. When we come to the top of a slope, he slows to a crawl and asks, “Mommy, can you hold on, please?” I touch the handlebars the way I remember learning to hold the barre in ballet. This lightest of grips is poised and at the ready. When he hears a car, he tenses and turns back three or four times to look. He veers in a wide arc away from the curb. I tell him the story about hitting the telephone pole when I was learning to ride a bike even though I was staring right at it. “You tend to go wherever you are looking, so keep looking at the place you want to go, not the thing you are trying to avoid.”
“I am going to run over that black spot,” he says. He peers with great intensity at a tar patch on the street ahead and steers his front tire over it. “Now, I am going to go over that one.” The cars pass on by.
At the playground behind the school, we run and run and run and run. It is dusk and the storm clouds are rolling in. I chase him up the slide and down the ladder, up the fire pole and down the parallel bars. We do not speak. This game demands no negotiation of rules. He bends and peers at me from between poles across the yard, eyes flashing and skin on fire. He breathes hard and braces himself. I charge and he shrieks, mulch flying. He tears off over the jungle gym and under the bridge, ducking, faking left then right. His wild laughter echoes off the school’s brick walls. We run until he notices the sky.
“Those clouds are very low,” he says.
“Yes. They are.”
“We should go home.”
He is back on the bike and I drop my fingers onto the handlebar. He nudges my hand away. “No, Mommy, you don’t need to hold me.” He weaves in and out and around the pillars at the front of the school building, tires churning up the chalk murals of peace signs and rainbows. On the way home, we meet the slope going the other way. He lifts his hands from the bars and gazes at the red, puffy spots on his palm.
“We can put ice on your hands when we get home,” I tell him.
He makes a fist, releases it, then pushes on.
“They make special gloves for biking,” I say. “They have padding and no fingers. We can get you some.”
“I’ve seen them,” he says.
And now he is climbing. Up in the seat, he stands as he pedals up the hill, grinding against gravity. I grin and tell him he’s got it. He climbs all the way to the top hill and then drops into the seat, pauses, and looks at his hands again. The red spots are angry now.
“We’ll use that soft ice pack,” I say.
He turns right at the stop sign and continues all the way home. He never asks for my help, never complains. He makes it to the driveway and then lets me maneuver the bike into the garage. Inside, we root around in the fridge for the ice pack. He presses his hands to the blue pockets of relief.
When I put him to bed an hour earlier than usual, he does not protest. We read our three books and sing our three songs, cuddle and nuzzle and have butterfly kisses.
It is no surprise he sleeps on and on this October morning. When he wakes and comes padding into my room, he tucks himself under the already made folds of my comforter, grinning with sleepy bliss.
“Can you come cuddle me, Mommy?”
“I can cuddle you for exactly one minute. We have to get ready for school.”
I lay down next to him and put my face against his. He turns and presses his nose into my cheek.
“How about exactly two minutes?” He puts his hand on my arm. The red blister has faded to a pink whisper.
“Okay,” I say. “Exactly two minutes.”
He hums into my neck, closes his eyes, and pulls my arm across his belly.