PJs are on. Teeth are brushed. Favourite toys are in their ritual sleeping spots. Bedtime stories have been read (and re-read). Lights turned out. And so the nightly battle for sleep begins in earnest. The accidental kicks and punches. The not so accidental ones. The kissing of Ows. The straightening of bedclothes. The discussions about why it’s not time to get up already. Closely followed by all the questions on life that he was too busy to ask during the day. On an average night it takes at least a full hour for the twisting and turning, the shuffling up and down, the flailing limbs to quieten down. Eventually… if you don’t try and escape too soon… a soft snore will signal that it’s time to slowly, quietly ease your way out of cramped confines, and flee to the space and light that beckons downstairs. But one false move, one loud creaking floorboard, will set you back another ten minutes of (im)patiently soothing and encouraging the recalcitrant sleep back into the room.
We’re about halfway through the process. Just as energy has finally started to fade away. He reluctantly prepares to succumb to the inevitable oblivion. He lies there beside me, still for a moment. Breathing slows down, he stares intently through the darkness. Peace descends. Slowly, an arm snakes out. A small warm hand pats my head, almost gently. Strokes my hair up and down. Rubs my cheek. Brushes my chin. Clumsily traces my eyes and brow, pausing at the lines that have started to deepen there. I lie still, submit to his silent examination. His fingers continue to explore and I find myself wondering what thoughts are in his head right now. What need does this satisfy? What does he wonder as he slowly traces the features of my face over again? It’s almost as though he fears this is his last chance to memorise the map. It’s hard to imagine that in a few short years this overwhelmingly close familiarity with each other will dissipate as he grows and moves on. Perhaps he knows he will leave this period of dependence behind some day.
Finally the questing touch ends. Whatever he seeks, has been found. A pause. His face looms over mine. A gentle kiss placed, oh so tenderly, on my cheek. Satisfied, he rolls away again. A minute later the tossing and turning resumes. The moment is past. He continues the glacial struggle into slumber. I peer through the darkness, trying to see if his eyes are closed yet. If he’s finally asleep.
Tonight, I may sneak a few more sleepy cuddles in before I leave him to the night.