It's not something I admit easily, but there it is.
It was bedtime, and I'd read from a chapter book cuddled up with all four of my kids, and then had carried my five-year-old to her room for a song, because Mama felt too sick and tired for any more reading. Next I went into my seven-year-old twins' room and sang first to one and then the other. And then since my daughter begged me sweetly, I sang one more song, accompanied with much sniffling and coughing on my part.
Then I headed to my eight-year-old son's bedroom for a little extra clandestine reading, because we just started Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the first really grown-up Harry Potter book, together, and reading even a couple pages with him is a treat I give myself. And sure, he wrestles me to the bed when I try to leave most nights because he's into wrestling, but it's a small price to pay for cuddling to Harry Potter.
Except I got to his room, and it was empty. He had headed back downstairs to watch football with my husband.
I feel this happening more and more often lately. My husband will say, "Who wants to go on an errand with me?" And my oldest son is invariably the first to insist, "Take me!" And I know it's because I'm more likely to ask them to practice for their recital or straighten up their rooms, and my husband is more likely to get them a treat or to take a trip to the Meat House where they have free samples. But still.
So, upon finding his empty bed I decided to sit in my bedroom, read, check my email, relax. And when my son realized he was missing his chance for Harry Potter, he'd come running. And then I'd play it coy, say that maybe it was too late, but then at the last second I'd capitulate.
But he never did. He never came begging for reading time with Mama. I just sat there by myself, coughing and pouting, pouting and coughing.
Eventually he came walking in with a cup of tea sent to me by my husband, you know, to show he's a good winner.
"Are you okay?" my son asked. "Dad and I think you sound terrible." And before I even had a chance to answer, he walked right back down the stairs to sit on my husband's lap. (I know this because I peeked.)
I was crushed. I mean, sure, he got football gloves and football cards for Christmas. Because football is the new cool thing. And I’m certainly no football player.
But he was my baby first.
He was the four-year-old who'd wait while I put his younger siblings down for naps, and then we'd sneak into the backyard to sled down the hill together, screaming with fear and joy. He is the one who'd hop on his bike for a four mile ride through the parkland across the street while the twins were in pre-school and the infant slept in the jog stroller. And as we raced down hills and along bumpy paths he'd keep up a constant chatter about-
I don't even remember what we talked about. Friends? Nature? Why can't I remember? I can't even hear that little boy voice in my head anymore. It's gone. It's all gone. And I feel foolish for not having listened more closely.
I wondered in that moment, is this the beginning of the end? Will the twins finish with me next, and then my baby? One by one will they all become too busy, too interested in their own books, too grown up to curl up on my chest, or by my elbow, or under my bent knee?
And the answer of course is yes. If we’ve done our job well, then yes. And it’s likely I won’t even remember exactly what it felt like, no matter how hard I try.
Time continued to tick by as I sat on the bed with my cup of tea. Finally he wandered in to say good night.
"Oh, bud. I was wondering why you didn't come for Harry Potter."
For a moment he looked crushed. "I forgot," he said in a chokey voice. "I missed my chance," he whispered with longing. His eyes darted around, watering, as if he really did just suddenly remember that he had missed his one opportunity for the best thing ever.
"Do you think we could still do a couple pages?" I asked.
And he smiled, relieved. He nodded his tired eight-year-old head and we headed into his room for just a few pages more.
I'm still jealous. I long for those days of mommy and me time, of being chosen first, of his little boy voice, of wonder. I long for these things so badly it catches me by surprise, an ache in my chest, this sudden sense of loss. But I will take these few pages of quiet time for now, and I will savor every magical minute.
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