There were certain days when I didn’t want to wake you. I just wanted coffee for a few minutes longer. You were hard to put to sleep in the first place and would begrudgingly greet the sandman only if I patted your diapered bottom in groups of seven with a pause in between and backed out of the nursery with steadfast caution to avoid the squeaky spots in the floorboards.
You always were particular — no tags in your clothing, the need for resting your stuffed bat upside down in your shoe at nap time because “that is how they sleep,” nothing mushy on your plate, and always with a makeshift hat on, whether it be your sister’s leggings, a butterfly net, my breast pads for nursing, or a baseball cap “inside-outed.”
Your energy was never hard to spot. There was plenty of it, both good and bad, which made the decision to wake you all the more difficult. In anger, those ears would scream crimson like a warning beacon. Fists clenched. Jaw to chest with an upward glance rivaling Jack Nicholson’s best. In joy, you had a squeal that could stop traffic six blocks to the west. You never stopped moving, from your first steps at 9 months old to the fidgeting that you still do today with your cell phone that drives your sister crazy.
I loved our nighttime rituals of dog ears with the Johnson’s shampoo and reading Guess How Much I Love You in the glider. And of course, the footie pajamas nestled in your fire engine sheets. Just last week when we created a bedroom space in the basement for when you come home again, it brought tears to my eyes that you placed the poem from your nursery that I always used to say when I tucked you in on top of your dresser for safe keeping. I thought you had outgrown it. But then, what do I know? You’re my first child and my only son. I’m still learning.
You can call me a stalker if you like. I watched you sleep as an infant, making sure your chest would rise and fall. I watched you sleep as a toddler, twitching as if you were Mowgli chasing Baloo down a vine. I watched you sleep in elementary school after removing the book and flashlight from your hands and brushing that coarse unwieldy hairdo from your eyes. I watched you sleep in middle school, though only for a second because you deserved that privacy. And ever since then, I pause outside your door with my hand resting gently there before I go to sleep every night and I picture you at peace. I never want to disturb your dreams but I do so wish I could watch them with you.
I always had to rest hard before greeting each day with you. You don’t see the world the same way as other people. You never have. In kindergarten, you earned lunch detention by being overly committed to the part of a T-Rex on the playground. At 6, you were hell bent on being a “scorpion artist,” and you insisted that Mr. Potato Head should have a hole in his butt for his nose. To this day, I have no idea why. You learned with your hands and through art. You learned differently. I had to teach the teachers how to teach you. You were challenging and absolutely lovely to me. But, I had to be mentally rested each day to think like you did and to see your world. And the truth is that I was ready for the wind down at the end of each day with our ritual tango followed by “Hush, Little Baby” at 7 p.m.
This morning, I don’t imagine you really need anything. I have taught you what I know. I have loved you more than I thought was possible. The car is packed for college and you have everything prepared. In the wee hours of this morning, when I used to long for precious sleep between nursings, I am wide awake. On the one hand, I want to run downstairs to jiggle you gently so that I can selfishly say that poem one more time, read another Golden Book, or watch your dreams with you. And, on the other hand, I know that once I do, it will soon be time to go. So, for very different reasons today and for just a little while longer before you start the life I have always dreamt about for you, I will say only this…
Please, don’t wake the baby.