As the parent who is here most of the time, I spend a lot of time with the kids when I am physically but not mentally present. Too often, when they ask for my attention, the answer has to be, "I'm working on something," or "I would love to, but I have to get dinner started."
Even when one of those things is not true (and one of them usually is), I have a hard time shutting down the ever-present litany of I should I should I should ...
Tonight, like every night, Sprout wandered into my bedroom long past the time he should be sleeping.
"I can't sleep!"
"I know, buddy, but ... but you just have to. It's time."
I could tell he was tuning me out. He'd heard what he had to do one too many times today, and he had gotten too little in return. Without some payback in time and attention, this was going to get ugly.
"Do you want a hug and a kiss?"
"A song!" he demanded.
For years, I sang him to sleep every night. The kids each had their special song; ours was "Mockingbird." Lately, it's less often. Some nights he's not interested. He wants a different song, or he wants to sing one to me. Some nights, I think I am too tired. "It's Daddy's night for bedtime," I say. "I'll sing you one tomorrow."
Tonight was "Daddy's night." But tonight I said, "OK. Get into bed. I'll be right there."
Instead of letting him climb into my lap, where he rocks and baby talks and gets crazy-silly, because he is a big boy, after all, and is starting to feel he "should be" too big for this, I had him stay under his covers. I rested my hand on his cheek and looked right into his eyes while I sang.
He can look away if he wants to, I decided. I won't.
It was a little awkward at first. He looked at me, cracked a grin, looked away. I felt a bit silly, too, and thought about how rarely I look deeply into anyone's eyes anymore. But eventually we both relaxed into it.
It was a rare moment of real intimacy: touch, eye contact, and our special song about a mother's promise to give her son everything he wants.
In the end, I changed the words a little. I often do this, and it makes him giggle. Tonight's version didn't even make sense:
And if that horse and cart fall down,You'll always be my baby boy in town.
But he didn't giggle, or roll his eyes, or remind he's not a "baby." He just took it in, gave me a quiet hug and kiss, rolled to his side, and went to sleep.
For tonight, at least, this mom kept her promise. For tonight, he got everything he wanted.