Tonight, Little Dude asked for a snuggle before bed. It was well past his bedtime and I was tired, cranky and had a stack of laundry to fold, a memo to write and a blog post to finish. I told him I'd snuggle for two minutes.
He crawled under his blanket, squirmed until he was comfortable and pushed me to the edge of the mattress. He offered me his favorite blankie to keep me warm. I put my arm around him and he was sound asleep before I had finished cataloguing the list of things I had to do before I could crawl into my own bed. I considered making a stealthy escape but stopped when he threw his arm around my neck while mumbling unintelligibly. A sleeping 4-year old's arm has as much strength as a soggy piece of toast, but I didn't move. Despite my earlier desire to leave, I stayed and pulled him toward me.
I had one of those rare blissful parenting moments when everything else fades away and you appreciate the simple physical presence of your child. I marveled at the amount of heat a small boy produces when he sleeps and the ease with which he leaves the world behind. I smelled his hair. The laundry could wait.
It hit me in the darkness of his cluttered room that these days are numbered. Some night in the future, Little Dude will ask me to snuggle with him before he falls asleep, and I will have no idea that it will be the last time. I won't know to pay attention or to try to commit every minute to memory. Days or weeks or months later, I will try to recall when that last snuggle happened. I won't be able to. I know I will ache to slide next to him on his narrow bed, listen to him breathe and wait for the moment when he surrenders to his dreams. All of the irritations, the inconveniences and the wishing for time alone will seem insignificant in comparison to the warmth and peace of his nighttime routine. I will regret the times I hurried through bedtime and left his room even though he asked me to stay "Just one more minute, Mommy."
It will be too late.
I just now understand that in anticipating my son's "firsts," I've forgotten to appreciate what he's left behind. The firsts are monumental, celebrated and captured on film. I reveled in Little Dude's first steps, jotted down his first words and am prepared to save lost teeth. There isn't a first I haven't recorded in some way. I've paid less attention to his "lasts." I've ignored the finality that comes with moving from one stage to another.
I don't remember the last day that Little Dude's eyes were blue before they turned green. I can't recall the last time his hair was baby soft and curly, or the last time he crawled or took a real nap. I can't pinpoint the last time we shared the peaceful quiet of a 3 a.m. feeding, or he squealed with joy to be riding his wooden rocking horse. There will be a hundred last times to come. And I won't know they've passed until there is no hope of recapturing them. I know this because I don't remember the last day he used a pacifier or waited for us to get him from his bed rather than clomping into our bedroom at some ungodly pre-dawn hour exuberant and ready to face the day as we struggle to open our eyes. I've forgotten when he stopped liking sweet potatoes or saying "Pick mine up!"
Not that there aren't stages I'm happy are gone. I don't miss teething, two-hour feedings, biting or needing to be carried everywhere. I'm neither Pollyanna nor a masochist. Babies are darling; I'm also glad I don't have one anymore. Raising children isn't all warm snuggles and charming memories. Parenting can be a long, hard slog.
But for today I'm focusing on the last times still to come, even though I won't know that they're the last chapters until long after they've gone. The last snuggle. The last time Little Dude asks me to bring him chocolate milk. The last time we play fire trucks. The last time he falls down and comes crying to me with his entire body shaking, tears streaming down his face, believing with childish certainty that a kiss from me will make his skinned knee better. The last time he asks to marry me. The last time he believes in my omniscience. The last time we color together at the kitchen table. I'm not naïve enough to believe that this moment of reflection will stop me from becoming irritated, impatient, frustrated, bored or upset tomorrow when my son whines, spills spaghetti sauce on the rug or throws a fit because I won't let him stay up late. Maybe, though, I'll temper my response if I can remember how fleeting this all is. That for every moment I've prayed would end, there is something I miss.