You’re a big boy now, people say. You don’t need to crawl into bed with Mama in the middle of the night anymore.
They’re right: You are a big boy. I’ve watched you grow from a tiny, wrinkled preemie with an inborn tenacity into a strong, independent toddler with a penchant for mischief. I’ve seen you defy expectations, refuse limitations, and determine your own path.
I have also felt the inevitable sting of separation that comes with raising a strong-willed child.
I’ve watched you climb into your big boy bed without my assistance and pull the covers up before I have the chance to do it myself. I’ve seen you pull the frayed edges of your comforter close, allowing them to kiss the soft skin of your freshly bathed cheeks, where my lips used to rest as you drifted off to sleep.
I’ve heard you say “Night!” as I leave your bedroom, turning over on your side without looking back to watch me go, never noticing the sliver of light that seeps through the cracked door, or the shadow my figure casts from beyond it. You don’t meet my gaze—don’t see my eyes drinking you in as greedily as a cactus flower in a desert rainstorm.
I’ve memorized every fidget, every yawn, every poignant rise and fall of your delicate eyelids as they fight against the gravity of sleep. I’ve watched them finally lower, shutting out the world around you, a world that includes me.
I’ve heard your muffled snores and sleepy night babble. I’ve listened to you whisper the word “Mama” in your slumber, the smile in your voice apparent, even in the dark of night. I’ve wished that it was more than just the abstract mumblings of dreams, and that you were calling me to your side, the way you once did.
I’ve heard you wake in the middle of the night with a startled cry, followed by the telltale sucking sounds of your two favorite fingers in your mouth. I’ve felt the subsequent twinge of envy as the noise slowly dissipates, and I realize that your fingers are enough to comfort you now.
I have felt the paradox of painful pride as I lie in my own bed at night, restless, knowing you no longer need my constant presence to feel safe. I have felt the void in my arms—and my heart—the chilling absence of you.
No, maybe you don’t need to crawl into my bed anymore. Maybe you don’t need me all the time.
But I’ll let you in on a little secret: Sometimes, in the quiet stillness of the night, when the chaos of the day has passed, and I think about how fast you’re growing up, I need you.
Sometimes I need to be needed.
Sometimes I need to remember what it’s like to feel irreplaceable; to be revered; to be fiercely, purely, unquestioningly loved.
Sometimes I need to wake to your snotty little nose glued to my cheek, binding us together.
Sometimes I need to smell the sweat on your back, the baby lotion on your skin, and the slightly stale scent of your fishy cracker breath.
Sometimes I need to open my eyes to the sight of your closed ones, your dark lashes brushing against your skin, the way the black of night presses down gently on the hazy peach of dusk.
Sometimes I need to taste the soapy remnants of your shampoo on my lips as they rest against your head.
Sometimes I need to hear the soft rustling of the bed sheets as you burrow into them—into me—and the hushed sounds of your senseless murmuring as you dream.
Sometimes I need to feel the gentle rise and fall of your back, pressed against my chest, and lose myself in the familiar harmony between your breath and the beating of my heart.
So on those increasingly rare occasions when you do ask to crawl into bed with me in the middle of the night—frightened, sick, or simply in search of a familiar touch—I will not turn you away. I will not tell you that you are “too big.”
I will blink away my exhaustion and lift the covers for you.
I will tolerate your kicks, your tossing and turning, and the slight discomfort in my tingling arm as it falls asleep beneath the weight of your body.
I will keep my face close to yours when your drool moistens my pillow.
I will rejoice in the low buzz of your snores.
I will find comfort in your tiny toenails as they scrape against my bare legs.
I will savor these moments, because they are dwindling. I will study the touch, taste, sight, sound, and smell of you, weaving a blanket of memory and tucking you into my heart.
I will keep you close to me, even when you don’t need me close to you. And when you do need me, I will tell you that’s okay.
Because it is okay. It’s more than okay: It’s beautiful. “Need” is an inherent part of love, and love demands to be expressed. It needs to be expressed.
You are a big boy now. And I’m a big girl.
And sometimes big kids need one another.