I didn’t think about it while we were cleaning out the bottom bunk bed. Sunny’s older brothers had long used it as a stuffed animal repository, and I had to dig through all of them, plus the little boy gunk that had filtered down in between: Legos, fake food, plastic army guys I threw out when everyone’s back was turned.
It took a awhile, but eventually I got it cleaned. I donated some stuffed animals, and put clean sheets on the bed. Since I didn’t have another twin comforter, I dug out an old quilt my grandmother made me, the one with the pink whales that’s practically falling apart. I brought over Sunny’s two pillows from my room, the ones with the Scooby Doo and Paw Patrol cases. I arranged all his stuffies, his multitudes of hedgehogs, his Daniel Tiger and O the Owl and Winnie the Pooh.
“Look Sunny!” I said. “I made your bed! You can sleep in it tonight!”
“Yay!” he said, and his brothers crowded around, crowing about how fun it would be to have him sleep on their bottom bunk.
“I got the baby excited about sleeping in his own bed in the boy’s room tonight,” I told my husband when he came home from work.
“You’re amazing,” he proclaimed.
And when the time came, I laid down next to Sunny. I shouted at his big brothers to hush up about seven times. Finally, they did. Sunny nursed some. Then he predictably dropped off. I rolled over and crept out of the lit room. I still didn’t think much about it.
“Oh my gosh, we can have sex in here,” my husband said to an empty master bedroom.
And as much as I gloried in the privacy, my heart dropped. My baby was in his own bed. Not just my baby — I’d sent babies to bed before, when I was pregnant. But Sunny is my last baby. There will never be another. I will never wake sleepily to the smell of a tiny child, to the curl of their small warm frame against me. He will never get up in the morning just because I have, only to fall asleep cuddled next to me on the couch. I will never bolt awake from the howl of his bad dream. We are finished with that chapter. He doesn’t need me at night.
“But the baby –” I managed.
“The baby will be in here in half an hour begging for you,” he scoffed.
“You’re right,” I agreed. So we locked the door and did some adult things while we could.
Except my husband was wrong. Sunny slept all the way through the night that first night, though he woke wondering why I wasn’t still in bed with him. He slept all the way through the second night. The third night, he didn’t want to sleep in his bed. I was forced, my heart breaking, to convince him that he could always just come get me in my bed. Just try it for a little while, baby. If you wake up and you’re scared you can come find me.
“Okay, mama,” he said, and promptly passed out.
I had been hoping Sunny would creep in, trailing a stuffed hedgehog, after we’d gone to bed. I’d been hoping he’d snuffle and curl up on me, and I’d cuddle around him, and he’d go to sleep. Our older boys still do this occasionally, and they’re six and eight. I thought I had more time — I thought we were making a transition, not a break.
Yes, I’m grateful for our privacy. I’m grateful my bedroom is mine once again, mine to talk loudly and play music and watch The X-Files at normal volume. And honestly, especially, mine to have sex. We’ve been co-sleeping for so long, have developed so many work-arounds no one wants me to talk about right now. But now we could do it in our own bed like normal people.
But the bed is so big. It’s not one bed, really, but two: a twin sidecarred to a queen, because we always had small people coming in and out of it. But, it seems, no more. Our 6-year-old has snuck in a few times recently. But he’s all angles and flailing limbs, not the soft baby-cuddle of a barely 4-year-old. My husband and I sleep on the queen together, squished over to one side on this expanse of empty, empty mattress. This is the rest of my life, I think, as I lie next to him. This is how it will be now, forever and ever, amen. To be always less needed. To be always in ebb, always waning, always left behind.
It’s how things should be, I know. This is what I signed up for. This is what children mean, after all, this is what children do: they grow. And we applaud their growing.
Parenthood is, indeed, the slow dance of learning to let go. So I steal one of my childhood teddy bears back from the boys. They will not notice. I hug my bear as I go to sleep. I will miss my baby. I look forward to my boy. But I find I can hold both in my heart at the same time.