I whisper softly in my half-hearted attempt to wake him. “Niiiikolaaaaas,” I draw it out into sing-song call. He snuffles and presses his face deeper into the mattress of the crib. I know I shouldn’t really do it because it’s not great for my back —or my wrist, which is in the midst of a carpal tunnel flare up— but I scoop him up and cradle him in my arms. “Shhh,” I whisper in his ear as he begins to fuss at the indignation of being torn from his cozy lair. Tossing his head from side to side, he tries to get comfortable. I begin to hum the lullaby from Mary Poppins —“Stay awake, don’t rest your head. Don’t lie down upon your bed…” He sighs dreamily and snuggles his head in the crook of my neck.
Continuing to hum, I make my way down the stairs with my not-so-little boy nestled in my arms like the treasure he is. Midway down the stairs, my eyes blur with unshed tears as I breathe in the childish scent of his soft skin and hair. I gently rub his back through his flannel jammies and think to myself that it won’t be long before I cannot carry him like this anymore. The thought makes me sad.
The tenderness of the moment reminds me that all the things we’ve been through lately aren’t really important. The bumpy patches of behavior, the loose bowels from his latest round of antibiotics, the massive amounts of laundry he has generated every single day for a week as a result of those same antibiotics, the wakefulness in the middle of the night —they don’t matter.
What matters most are the moments of joyful connection we share with increasing frequency. The squeals of laughter as I blow raspberries on his neck and he pulls my head down for more and still more again. The gleam in his eyes as he holds out his arm to request a tickle with his Percy train going up and around his neck and over his shoulders. The tenderness with which he offers me his soft little lips for a kiss; the kisses he blows to me from across the playroom gate.
Lately, I find myself being swept off my feet by this pint-sized charmer. He bangs his hand against the side of his chair and, unbidden, offers up his finger to me to kiss away the hurt. Where did he learn this? When? When did he make this tremendous cognitive leap and decide that he not only loves his mommy but he must show it at regular intervals? When did he decide that it was imperative that we take turns putting the shapes in his multitude of sorters? His little hand thrusting a block into mine then guiding it to the space it belongs; I pretend I don’t know how to do it and he growls in —what? disgust? —and takes the shape from me as if to say “I’ll show you, Mama.” Then he hands me another shape and wordlessly urges me to try again.
I am grateful that he is always eager to give me another try. On the days when my patience is short and my voice is raised or I have, I am ashamed to admit, slapped his hand to keep him from pulling at the tube during feeding time (he is able to use that to pull the pump to him and turn it off or, worse, tip it over) —in spite of all that, he readily forgives and forgets.
Like the days in which I can still carry him down the stairs, I know these days of easy forgiveness and unconditional love are also numbered. As he gets older and develops still greater awareness and understanding of the world around him, will he begin to remember all those moments and tote them up in a damning tally against me? Perhaps.
But today, I bask in the glow from his laughing eyes and dimpled face as we dance and sing, tickle and sort, and find our way together.