There’s singing coming from the bathroom as my six-year-old boy “brushes” his teeth before bed. With outstretched legs, I am waiting, mostly impatiently, feeling itchy and tense, looking at the clock. How does he always get to bed a half hour later than I feel he should? And when is he supposed to go bed anyway? I have been following the same “rule” about bedtime that his doctor gave us five years ago. Is that normal? Don’t answer.
I barely notice the singing, now more of a joyful hum, until it’s been going on long enough to feel guilty for not noticing. Where am I in my life? And how often do you ask yourself that, too?
My husband Eric would have been paying attention. He would have. You might not know him, but he is super present with the boy, at least much of the time. He gets to be the present one. Offering Asher two bowls of cereal before breakfast. Driving A. to school while telling an adventure story. The present one. The fun one. The one with endless amounts of “presence” and time.
Daddy shows up like a movie star right before bedtime, to soak in every detail of our child’s beaming smile and freshly combed head. He’s the one who reads one extra chapter, sings the extra verse, hears the story from school to which I was not privy, before tucking Ash in.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not bitter….exactly. I mean, I recognize how completely blessed I am and how amazing it is that I struck such a goldmine in my kid’s dad. I often ask Eric if he can be my daddy, even. Don’t laugh.
I just wonder why I am not more like that. Why am I missing half of everything my son does or says? I mean, I think I am listening. I can even be saying kind words or showing an empathetic smile, but too often my brain is doing this instead – ‘Did I feed the cats? What time is it? It’s getting dark. I need to feed the cats. I need to make dinner. Do we even have any dinner? Can we get by with leftovers? What’s in the freezer?’ ETC, ETC, ETC.
By the time I look down, my boy’s face is changing. The gig is up.”Mom, are you even listening?” Wait, how could he have noticed? Isn’t he only six? “I am listening, sweetie. Go on,” I say, wanting to mean it this time. For all I know, I was privy to that story. I just didn’t hear it above the constant internal chatter.
As my son walks back to his bedroom, the humming grows louder. I can’t see his face yet, but I can picture the too-big glasses on the thin face, handsome and delicate, impossibly young and somehow strangely old. And there he is, appearing in the doorway with a grin wider than the trailer parks off of so many beach highways. I am watching every tiny move of those impossibly long legs, noticing how short his jammy pants have risen above his ankles, wondering if he will stand up and bounce a few times as he climbs into bed, noticing his small hands pull off the giant lenses.
You know what comes next, but I’ll keep going. I tuck him into bed, being sure to pull up the sheet and then straighten the blanket to be in just the right rectangular shape around his body. Making sure it covers all toes and elbows. He turns on his side to face me. And before I begin to read one or two extra chapters, I take in the moment I won’t get back tomorrow – and profess my everlasting love for this creature, who is both great and small.