“Five more minutes.”
This is my older son’s habitual plea as my husband and I deposit him in bed each night, entreating us to stay with him as he falls asleep. New to the world of “big boy” novelties—a toddler bed and Lightning McQueen underwear chief among them—this request is one of the few remaining traces of his fast-disappearing babyhood. To be honest, I sometimes resent the request. As a stay-at-home mom, I am seldom without my children. The rare moments when they’re both asleep are sacred; I observe them with devout reverence, steadfastly avoiding any commitments that will eat into my precious alone time.
While sitting on the floor of my son’s room running out the clock on our five-minute agreement, I am more often plotting my next move than soaking up those last moments of the day with my child. I envision myself 10 minutes from now, curled up on the couch with a remote in one hand and a glass of cab in the other, zoning out to something mindless while no one demands my attention.
Most times, my daydreams are less indulgent and slightly more practical: I picture myself folding the pile of laundry waiting for me in the bathroom or scraping the remains of tonight’s taco dinner off the skillet in the sink. I have so many things I could be doing rather than sitting beside my son’s bed while he wriggles and squirms, the thought of my imminent departure rendering him unable to sleep. Still, I know the days of him requesting these last five minutes with us are quickly coming to an end and soon they will stop entirely, to be replaced by much different pleas.
At age 6, he will beg me for five more minutes to stay outside with his friend from next door. They don’t always get along, but tonight they’re playing nicely together—yesterday’s hurt feelings at the bus stop all but forgotten. Now in elementary school, he is cooped up indoors for most of the day, with a short break for recess his only time logged outside. Though he’ll have spelling words still to review and reading time to log, I’ll let it slide, knowing how quickly his childhood is passing both of us by.
At age 11, he and I will do battle every morning over his sullen requests to sleep five more minutes. I will remind him that the last time he slept five more minutes, he missed the bus and that missing the bus today is not an option unless he wants to hitchhike to school. Part of me will look forward to the day when he can drive himself instead of using me as a taxi service; the other part will be devastated that this one last vestige of dependence on me will soon be a thing of the past.
Out with his girlfriend at age 17, he will text to beg for five more minutes at her house despite the fact that he’s already late for curfew. He’ll tell me that the movie is just ending and he can’t leave now, but promises he’ll be home as soon as it’s over. I won’t buy a word of it since it’s rare they actually watch the movies at our house, always jumping apart when I enter the room like I don’t know they were interlocked like Legos seconds before. Still, I like her a lot, and I remember my husband and I as lovesick teenagers fighting for just five more minutes together. “Finish the movie,” I’ll text back. “But your ass better be in this house by 11.”
And then not so long after, he will go off to college and no longer have to ask me for anything, except to keep the washing machine empty when he comes home the following weekend. I’ll fill my days with other things—work and errands and the other kids’ packed schedules—but my phone will never be far on the off-chance he calls to talk during the five-minute walk back to his dorm.
Many years later, my son and his family will visit for the weekend, filling our house with the indulgent sounds and smells of children that I so often long for again. Their presence in our house will fill up the rooms and flood the common spaces until we’re drowning in the opulence of their youth. I will delight in the way my granddaughter’s head tilts to the side when she’s concentrating, exactly like her father’s used to; I’ll see my own long eyelashes framing my grandson’s brown eyes and remember how I used to stare at the curve of his father’s lashes for whole minutes, relishing the phenomenon of shared genetics.
“I think we’ve gotta hit the road,” my son will say, looking at his wife for confirmation. “If Jack falls asleep in the car, he’ll be impossible to put to bed later. And Sophie has a school project she left until the last minute.”
I’ll know it’s time for them to leave and get back to their lives, but it will still feel impossibly hard to say goodbye. As he’s rounding up the kids’ things from where they’ve been tossed and strewn all over the house, I’ll get the overwhelming feeling of needing them not to go just yet.
“Stay just a little bit longer?” I’ll ask my son, a plea I can’t help but make.
“OK, Mom,” he’ll tell me indulgently. “Five more minutes.”
And even if he’s just humoring me while counting down the seconds until he can get back to the rest of his life, those five minutes will give me more comfort than he could possibly know.