Lay with me, Mommy, his little four-year-old voice says. I can’t sweep well. I need a friend to lay with me.
I almost always say no. From the time he was born, I’ve never let him sleep in my bed, I’ve always been hesitant to lay down in his, even for a moment.
It’s because I want him to be able to soothe himself to sleep on his own, I tell myself. It’s because I’m teaching him independence, I tell myself. It’s because I don’t want to create bad habits, I tell myself.
But I know the truth. At the end of a long day, I’m just done. I’ve been touched, hanged off of, pulled on and snuggled against for too many hours in a row. My introverted skin needs distance.
So I almost always say no and I tell myself that it’s for his own good.
On this night, though, I say yes. I say yes because he’s battling a cold. I say yes because my mother is visiting and I know he’s sad that he’s had to say goodnight to her after a full day of fun. I say yes because for once, I haven’t gotten enough of him that day.
I lay down next to him, face-to-face, and he curls into me. I rest my arm across his body, my fingers tracing light circles around his back. I pause for a moment to cup the back of his head, his soft, baby-fine hair, in my hand. I breathe in the musky smell of his soap from that night’s bath.
I marvel at how big he’s become since the day he was born, when he felt as light as a feather as he was laid across my chest for the first time. I think of all the nights I should have been laying right here, memorizing the growing size of him, the rhythmic pattern of his tired breathing.
He raises one finger up to gently close my eyelids. He wraps his beloved worn yellow blanket around my neck, the same way he usually does to himself to soothe his own body to sleep.
He doesn’t fall asleep. He can’t. He’s not used to having another warm body next to him.
So on this night, I pull myself away as he reaches for me to cling harder, not because I’ve had enough, not because I want to but because I created this. I taught him how to fall asleep on his own. I taught him how to be independent. I created what will ultimately be a good habit.
But I wish I hadn’t.