We know who it is before he arrives.
The shuffling of his little feet and the swish of his blanket dragging behind him give him away. He doesn’t need anything – not a drink, or a visit to the bathroom. He only needs to be close. And so we throw the covers back and he slips in between us, snuggling into the narrow valley of space between our pillows. He pops his thumb in his mouth and is back asleep in a handful of seconds and I wonder if this will be the last time Henry will wake up and need us in the night.
Those last times slip away from us so easily. They happen and life keepshappening and then all of a sudden we realize we can’t quite remember when things changed. They just did. They always do.
Just like the others, somewhere in the hustle and bustle of getting older and being almost four or almost five or whenever it may happen, Henry will grow up just enough to no longer need an extra dose of close. And just like that, his nighttime visits will be over. But I’ll never know it. Not until he’s far too old or far too big to even consider the possibility. He’ll be like Jordan, my almost ten year old who scoffs at the thought of needing anything in the middle of the night that he can’t take care of on his own. But Jordan was Henry once… sneaking in, snuggling in. There was a last time for him… I wonder if I even woke to acknowledge the occasion.
Will I know the last time that Ivy nurses? (This one is particularly tough for me as I embrace the very likely possibility that this last time with Ivy will be the last time in general. It hurts my heart a little bit. Not as much as it would hurt my sanity to do it again, but you know. It’s still sad.) Will I know the last time that Sam cries over a skinned knee, or gets scared in the middle of the night? Will I know the last time that I tie Lucy’s shoes or braid her hair before she shoos away my mothering hands so that she can do it for herself?
We celebrate the firsts. First steps. First words. First food. But those lasts sneak up on us. They come like a thief in the night, stealing away little pieces of babyhood, then toddlerhood, then full on childhood. I imagine I’ll blink and then suddenly have a house full of grown ups, no? Maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll be able to pinpoint a few of the lasts. But with five kids, I’m not getting my hopes up. What I will do is try and enjoy this growing of children and relish the moments, even those that seem small or simply ordinary. And I won’t try and rush it. I won’t rush my children’s lives and I won’t rush them out of my life. I will revel in their sweetness and live it up good.
But I can’t promise I won’t cry a little when I realize all my babies are big kids and then that all my big kids are teenagers and then that all my teenagers are grown up and gone from the house.
(Except that last time, I’m thinking my tears will probably be tears of joy. And then I’ll take a big deep breath and throw myself one hell of party.)