“Mom, what I do without you?” He asks as he wraps his arms around my waist and lays his head on my stomach. I wrap my arms around his shoulders, rub his back and say it back to him, “what would I do without you, buddy?”
I really don’t know.
Most nights bedtime cannot come soon enough. By the end of dinner, I have reached my limit of yelling, screeching, and touching. The hour it takes for my daughter to fall asleep nearly does me in every night. When I go to kiss my son goodnight, he’s usually already asleep.
But not tonight. Tonight I hear him telling his daddy that he heard a noise.
He always hears a noise. He gets scared and needs to sleep in our room. Once his sister is asleep, I wander into his room where he is waiting for me. He fills me in about the loud noises, about how scared he is. He’s certain bad guys are coming.
“Mom, I a big boy. I not need to hold your hand anymore,” he tells me every time we walk in a parking lot. Much to my dismay. He’s not a baby, he tells me. Yes, you are. You will always be my baby. I need to feel his hand in mine, it makes me feel safe. He is still my baby. “I need you to hold my hand, you need to keep me safe”, I tell him. He’ll hold my hand if he thinks I’m the one who needs protection.
His hand is beginning to feel so large in mine. It’s slipping, slowly, out of mine and I don’t know when he will let me grasp onto him again. He’s growing up faster than my heart can handle. I want time to slow down, to not be so cruel as it rips my baby boy away from me and puts a school-aged boy in his place. The growth I see in him is staggering; it’s in double time and it’s making me dizzy and anxious and so sad.
There are nights I just want to cuddle next to him, turn back the hands of time to four years ago when he fit perfectly in my arms.
Every time he climbs into my lap, I quickly contract my body to fit his into my already too-small lap. He’s more than half my size, so much taller than he should be for his age. He barely fits. That doesn’t stop him from trying or me from letting him. I linger and pray that he’ll still sit in my lap even when he towers over me.
Tonight, we sit on his chair in his room and talk about all the ways he is safe, all of the people and the dog he has in this house that are here to keep the bad guys out. I lose track of time, forget about the book sitting on my desk waiting to be devoured. Instead, I hold him close to me, thankful for the fact that, even though he claims to be a big boy, he’s still my baby, and he still needs me.
He climbs into bed and I gently cover him with his Transformers comforter and blanket. I tell him he’s brave like Optimus Prime and he has no reason to be afraid. Within seconds of our “good night”, he’s asleep.
I hold back the tears as I walk towards my bedroom. How much longer will he be afraid of loud noises? How much longer will he let me rock him to sleep as I tell him how brave I think he is?
I didn’t realize that my heart would be pulled into two directions the older my children get. On one hand, I’m thankful that we are out of the baby stage (for now), that my children are more self-sufficient and can do a lot themselves. But on the other, the less they need me the more I want to grab them and hold them and never let them go. We work so hard to raise strong, independent children and then when we get those kids, we feel lost without those tiny babies we once held tightly. The older my son gets the more I wonder what my role as “momma” looks like to him, how is his need for me going to change as we both grow older. I am navigating a whole new territory where I can’t treat him like a baby anymore, despite how desperately I want to.
I am not ready to admit to him, or myself, that he’s right– he’s not a baby anymore.