When they're little, it's easy for me to understand that my babies need me at bedtime. Sometimes they need help falling asleep, and so I rock and sing and whisper assurances and prayers. Sometimes they wake up and need some reassurance before they close their eyes again. Their cries tell me, in the only way they are able, that they need something from me. And so I go to them.
My first baby needed a lot when it came to sleep. Those were long hours of nursing, rocking, swaying, and patting. My second needed less, just a comforting hand on his back as he drifted off. My third, she scarcely even needs that much, but when she needs me, I'm there.
She woke up crying last night before I'd gone to bed myself. I went to her and sat with her, rocking slowly until she was ready to lie down again. She needs me and I go; such is life with a baby.
That first baby, though, he doesn't cry when he needs me anymore. He's coming up seven years old next month. He's long and lanky and his face looks older every morning, honestly. In many ways, his growing independence requires less of me now; I have recently seen it referred to as "the breathing years" and that describes it perfectly. No, he doesn't cry to have his needs met. He just asks. He lets his needs be known in the clearest way...and somehow, to my discredit, that makes them seem less urgent to me.
Never is this more apparent than after bedtime. Just as he did when his younger brother was a baby, he now waits for me to finish putting his baby sister to bed. He sees me coming down the hallway or hears me talking in the living and he calls out quietly: "Will you come have a snuggle with me?"
Unfortunately, it's easy for me at the end of these long days to fall into the habit of putting him off. The baby is asleep and I'm ready for my exhale; must I put forth this one last effort? Sometimes I tell him I'll be a few minutes - and by the time I finally go, he's fallen asleep. Or I beg off, telling him I'm just too tired or I'm busy with something else. After all, I've already hugged him good night. He doesn't really need me to go sit with him.
Oh, but he does. And those nights when I go are the nights I get to see more of what's on his mind and in his heart. We still talk about the best and worst parts of our days. He still loves for me to tell him a bad day story. He asks questions that I don't hear during the day. He shares his thoughts and his hopes and his ideas. These are the moments when I feel like I'm seeing more of who he is - not the boy who, during the day, sometimes antagonizes his brother or occasionally balks at doing what I've asked of him or frequently tells me he's hungry every five minutes, but rather the clever dreamer whose plans are filled with the most delightful optimism and joy.
I remember being a child. I remember the way the stillness of the night, when my siblings were asleep, somehow opened something inside me and made those deeper words flow more freely. I remember times when I was able to have those late-night conversations, and other times when I had to swallow the words back down or whisper them to myself in the dark.
I don't want to miss those opportunities to hear my growing baby reveal his inner thoughts.
I've been making it a priority these past weeks, even on those nights when he doesn't come out to ask. I slip in, return his inevitable grin, and scootch his legs over to make room for me. And we talk.
And it's every bit as important and necessary as the time I spend putting his baby sister to sleep.