I lay in bed with my newly eight year old, scratching his back and talking about our day. As exhaustion took over, he asked for my pinky, which he holds every night for just a few minutes while I sing Silent Night. It’s a silly little thing that brings him comfort and allows me a few moments to hold on to “my first baby”.
It’s a ritual we’ve been doing for many years. The song sometimes changes (although I’ve been singing Silent Night every night for the last two years, but the routine is the same. When we don’t do it, he becomes unraveled. I never realized how much he needs it until we attempted a sleepover at a neighbor’s house. He was home at 9:15. “I couldn’t sleep without you singing and Daddy saying Good Night.” I can’t say I minded one little bit.
For years, I’ve called our bedtime routine “ridiculous”. Because sometimes it is. Ever since my kids were beyond pacifiers and a quick lullaby, it’s been a long, drawn-out chain of events. Brush teeth. Read books. Both parents need to come in to each room to talk. It’s never quick. Whenever I try to rush it, it always results in tears and yelling. Not fun for anyone.
It’s only recently that I’ve realized what a gift our bedtime routine is. Sure, there are days when I’m all “JUST GO TO BED!”. There are days when I am craving that one hour on the couch, so I can zone out to whatever I’m currently binging on Netflix. But lately? Lately I’ve been thinking of the “last time”. It’s coming. My son is eight years old. We are fast approaching the years where he’ll yell down “Good Night!” and that will be it. He won’t want snuggles or hugs. He won’t want to talk.
So yes, our routine has become a gift. What started out as a stalling tactic has fast become something I take advantage of — tell me about your day, what was the best and worst part of it, how are your friends doing, did you learn anything new that you don’t understand or is confusing? When kids start elementary school, it’s their first venture out of your little familial bubble. They are going to learn things you don’t want them to learn, earlier than you want them to learn it. That’s why I’m grateful for these few moments where they’ll talk to us, share with us.
Parenting is hard. We all know that. Each stage has it’s rewards and challenges. But you blink and the stage is over. It’s a parenting milestone of sorts, that last time. And that’s what I’m currently worried about. I’m not going to know it happened. A day or two will go by and all of a sudden I’ll realize that it’s over. And I won’t have had the chance to prepare, to say goodbye. Then I’ll grieve.
So every night, I stay a little longer, I sing an extra song, I hold a little tighter. Because this could be it. This could be our last time.
I just hope it’s not today.