"What's wrong?" he asked. "Oh, nothing at all," I replied.
"Well, what are you doing, then? You just picked him up out of his crib?" he queried, dumbfounded but smiling.
"Yes, I just had to," I answered.
Every night I go into their rooms. I check their sheets, their pillows- do they look comfortable? are their blankets strangling them or simply keeping them warm? You never know with kids who, when they sleep, move as do traveling contortionists. We used to joke that Jack did miles in his crib at night and, as such, we continue to marvel at how he now stays in his bed most of the time. He sleeps with one or two pillows plus Polar Bear, a stuffed polar bear who was once named Princess before that loving moniker became uncool. Ol sleeps with Lamby, Ghostie, Wrenchie, blanket and tool sheet (a standard sham case bedecked with different tools; it's not on a bed because he refuses to leave his crib).
So I go in, straighten the sheets, softly kiss them, maybe get into bed with J or pluck O from his crib for some late-night snuggling. It is rare that they become aware of my presence, but I am always the better for these stolen moments. When I look at J with his mussed hair, full lips slightly parted, one arm thrown over the white bear who's even older than his loving owner, the other hanging over the side of the bed frame (which, by the way, is full of darling little-boy graffiti which sort of notates his passions as they phase in and out), I beam with pride over the fine little boy he is growing to be. So smart, so kind, so truly good. He will struggle at times as do we all, but if he maintains his inner compass which always points towards true north, he will, ultimately, be fine, and I am so proud to be his mother.
When I lug a sleepy Ol from his crib, dressed tonight in a striped shirt and bat pants, carry him gently over to his rocking chair and settle in for a bit, I am brought back to the months just after he was born. He still folds both arms under him, against me. He still rests his head on my shoulder, face out, in and then, finally, out again for the rest of our time. Always the same shoulder, always the same pattern. He's getting so tall now that we don't fit as well as we once did. I often end up with a crick in my neck and constantly blow his hair from my mouth, but I would take a lifetime of cricks and hair-in-the-mouth to feel that warm little body against mine, breathing slowly, steadily, peacefully. I wrap one arm around his shoulders, the other under his bum; if I stretch my hand, I can still -but just barely- cup the whole of his little bottom in it.
When they sleep, they are as they once were. Although he's closing in on 4, Oliver still sleeps with hands in half fists- fingers curling in towards his palms but in an utterly relaxed, reflexive way. As he did since he was three months old, Jack still slumbers as if he's in full-scale dormancy/hibernation mode. Alarms and lights can literally be screaming around him, and he is never the wiser, snoring away, his brain finally at rest.
They are so warm when they sleep; when I snuggle with them, I think they are tiny love heaters. And though there isn't much left, each still has just enough baby plump that I can squeeze them with a tight hug and feel the slightest give.
At times I feel so eager for whatever it is that's coming next. Yet each night, when I am able to simply be their mother, nothing more, nothing less, I am often reduced to teary gratefulness, aware that this is fleeting and at some point, they will sooner die than have me hold them in the night. This push-and-pull is what can make parenthood so difficult, so emotionally taxing yet so unbelievably rewarding too.
Tonight, with all the gratitude it's possible to muster, I am thankful.