Tonight as I tucked Avery into bed, I had one of those moments that I want to remember forever.
There are so many forgettable moments of parenthood, the things that you actually hope you’ll forget- the resignation you feel when you’ve cleaned spit-up off your clothes for the fourth time that day, the desperation when you look around your house and realize that it’s a disaster even though you’ve been cleaning it all day long, the fear the seeps into your bones when you finally,finally(!) sink into bed to end a long, hard day and at that very moment you hear one of your children crying and you suddenly realize that the day is far from over.
I’m okay with forgetting those things. It would be fine with me if I never relived them. But then, there are those moments that you wish you could capture, put it in a bottle and hide it under your pillow. The smell, the light, that face, that smile.
As I put my girl into bed, I lay down next to her and snuggled her close. Well, first I had to request that she remove about a thousand toys that are strategically stashed in her bed. She has stuffed animals of all sorts and shapes; she has Magna-tiles so she can build while she lay in bed. She has stickers stuck to her pillow, which I’d imagine would bother a person while they slept, but she assures me they do not. She has several bracelets and a few books, three pillows and at least five blankets. I almost imagine things crawling on me as I lay down. But just as cleanliness and open space make me feel at home, somehow she is comforted by all of these things.
I nestled my face close to her unruly mop of hair, which she refuses to brush. Most days, I am okay with that until it’s obvious that there is some type of food or otherwise unyielding substance lodged in it. I stroked her face and wondered if it were possible to remember forever what this angelic face looks like. She told me about all the things she did today. I listened.
I asked her if she knew how much I loved her. She said, “to the moon and back,” with a smile. There’s something so sweet about her smile. Those tiny baby teeth and that hearty little laugh. Her face looks like pure porcelain. I was focused on these things as we talked, so I’m not exactly sure how we came to this point in the conversation.
But, seemingly out of the blue, she says to me with the saddest little whine, “Mom, I just don’t want to grow up. I just feel like I don’t have enough time to be little.”
I laughed and tried to lighten the mood.
“Well, maybe you can be like Peter Pan. Let’s fly to Neverland and then you’ll never have to grow up.”
As if I were the kid and she were the grown up, she kindly scolds, “Mom, Neverland isn’t a real place. Everybody has to grow up everywhere. All the time.”
And, it is sadly true. She will someday have to grow up. She wanted assurance, though, that she can play with her toys for as long as she wants. I even let her know that there are some adults who still sleep with stuffed animals in their beds. (Now, they may not tell anyone about it, but I’m confident that they exist.) She felt comforted by that revelation. I also told her that there are some grown-ups in the world that get to do art projects all day long for their work.
“They do?” she asked with excitement.
“Yep, you can be one of those people if you want to.”
“Okay, I will do that,” she said.
So somehow in her little 4-year-old mind, she made peace with the necessity of growing up. The existential crisis was over, for now. I kissed her goodnight. She resumed her nightly ritual of chatting with her stuffed animals as I left the room, and I wondered how on earth it was possible to love that little person so much.