Until he says “when”

IMG_1223It’s been pretty much the same since he was two years old—right when we moved him into a “big boy bed.”

He wiggles his toes in the water as I rinse his hair with the plastic measuring cup he’ll use to “make coffee” while he soaks.

I wrap him up in a hooded towel, and he plops down on his blue stool. He tries to chat with me around the toothbrush as I make sure his teeth get at least one good scrubbing in a day. I pull a comb through his hair and you’d think I was skinning him alive, what with the shrieking.

The drama is (thankfully) short-lived as he dances his way into his bedroom, giggling with each shake of his naked bottom. Putting on pajamas takes an absurdly long time because this is the moment when he conveniently needs to tell me ALL! THE! THINGS!

Once he’s dressed, we pile into his bed. He curls up next to me, his still-wet hair seeping water into my shirt, but I don’t care. We read a bedtime story or two, taking turns with the words more and more every night. Then it’s lights out. We chat about anything that’s on his mind, say our prayers together, and sing the same songs in the same order: “Down by the Bay” and “Amazing Grace.”

We whisper I love you’s as I “rub-and-pat” his back.* His arms and legs twitch slightly as he drifts off. I stay until his breathing slows to a light snore. I smell his hair and kiss his head before slipping out from underneath his sleep-heavy body. It’s one more I love you and one more kiss before I tiptoe out of the room.

*     *     *

Our son will be seven in November. Sometimes I wonder if he’s getting too old for our bedtime routine. From my conversations with other parents, I gather that many of his peers prefer reading by themselves in bed to cuddling with Mom until they fall asleep. I want to be sensitive to my boy’s growing need for alone time as he gets older, but when I suggest this scenario, he’s not interested.

“I can read at any time,” he explained when I first brought it up. “I can’t always snuggle you during the day. This is our special time.”

Hard to argue with that, folks.

So we stick to our bedtime rituals, using it as a time to reconnect…and sometimes repent to each other if we’ve had a particularly grouchy day. Even though he’s not interested in changing things right now, I realize my status as “essential personnel” in his bedtime routine are numbered. I’m going to soak up the snuggles as long as he’s doling them out.

Meanwhile, we keep the conversation open. I remind him from time-to-time that if he ever wants to read himself to sleep or just have some time alone as he falls asleep, he doesn’t need to worry about hurting my feelings.

“It’s up to you. Just tell me when,” I say.

“I will, Mama. It’s not when now though.”

Then I breathe him in, hold him tight, and hope that “when” takes its sweet time getting here.

*This is his name for it—all strung together. He often says during the day “Can you rub-and-pat me, Mama?” I hope he never stops calling it that.


  • Reading this as my son is now almost 2 and 9 months pregnant with baby boy #2, it’s hard to hold the tears in! Thank you for posting this. We are going to be trying to move him into a “big boy bed” very soon.

  • My son died 8 days before he turned 16. He Didn’t feel well and had a fever I told him to sleep with Momma tonight. Dad can have the couch. I rubbed his back fever, chills we laughed and sang those little boy songs and told stories it was silly for a teenager to have a slumber party with Mom. It was a marvelous gift as he was gone by early evening the next day. Instead of the flu he had a blood infection. It sounds like your son like mine will never be to grown to show his love for time with his Momma.

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