It's 3 a.m. on a weeknight when you're jolted awake to the sound of your toddler crying. You wait a few minutes to see if he'll quiet down, but it doesn't look like that's happening. You glance over at your husband. He's asleep. Once again, the sound of screaming, amplified through a monitor, doesn't seem to faze him. (Isn't it always that way?) You're so tired. You have a big work meeting in the morning. But duty calls. You walk down the hall and into his room.
He's standing in his crib, crying for you, so you lift him into your arms. He lays his head down on your shoulder and stops crying immediately. You sway back and forth, back and forth, for a few minutes, and then start to wonder how long you're going to have to keep swaying. Because while you love him--so, so much...you are tired, man. You'll be thrilled to see him in four hours. But now? You just want him to go the eff to sleep, so that you can go the eff to sleep.
But then...you catch a whiff of his scent. That wonderful scent. There must be a Darwinian reason that babies and toddlers smell like this, right? Maybe we evolved this way so that our prehistoric mothers wouldn't toss us out of the cave when we wouldn't go back to sleep in the middle of the night. But whatever the reason, that scent is intoxicating. It's nearly impossible to describe, too. Sort of candy mixed with fresh-baked bread mixed with heaven? I don't know how to describe it, but parents know this smell.
So you breathe it in and sway, breathe and sway. After a while, his breath has slowed, so you gently, slowly lean over to place him back in the crib.
He is NOT having that. He starts to scream.
Nooo! You cannot be here doing this all night. You want your bed. You want your pillow. You want your duvet. You want sleep. Go to sleeeeeep!
But then...you catch a glimpse of the curve of his round little bottom in the soft blue glow of the sound machine light. You feel his hand grip tightly to your shirt. And you know in that moment, in your heart, that it won't always be like this.
It seems impossible at 3 a.m. when you are this exhausted, but you know that there will be a day when you will yearn for this. Maybe he'll be at sleep-away camp. Maybe he'll be at college. Maybe he'll be an ornery teenager who just wants you to get the hell out of his room, mother. Someday, one night will be the last night you'll ever rock him at 3 a.m. and you won't know it's the last night until it's gone.
You kiss his forehead then, his lips, his downy hair. You know the kisses are probably keeping him from going to sleep and prolonging this whole thing. But you can't help it. There will be a moment when he outgrows these kisses, too.
Eventually his breath slows again as he sucks rhythmically on this thumb. His body, curled against every curve of yours, feels heavier. Sleep is close. And then suddenly, he points his arm out toward your face, and says "Eyyyyyyyyyye!" And you think, "OMFG, yes, that's my eye. Good, you learned the word eye. But at 3 a.m.? Really??"