"Go to saweeeeeep?" he asks-demands of me as he pats the narrow edge of mattress next to his tiny body. I oblige because, well, that's what I'm here for, and he pulls the tattered comforter up over both of us, up to his chin and my armpit as I teeter on the edge of his bed, engaging muscles in odd formations just to keep from falling.
He goes through a cycle of phrases -- good morning, good night, see you in the morning, go to sleep, quotes from his favorite movies and shows of the moment -- and faux snoring and exuberant hugs and kisses. I repeat after him, the things I can catch, and I tell him "I love you" a million times, hoping those three little words might catch.
Then, like clockwork, he lilts "Heeeeeelp queeze?" and the comforter is over our heads, forming a makeshift tent over the two of us. He sits up and laughs and flails around, waving and flapping his hands, curling over his own lap and expanding brusquely out again, rolling into a sloppy ball of gangly boy as he snuggles up against me, little spoon to my big.
In moments like this, the cocoon of the sage green blanket, filtering the setting sun where the stuffing has gone thin or migrated away and his little presence beside me, it is the closest I get to the good memories of my pregnancy with him. The jerks and rolls and heels and elbows feel startlingly the same, just lengthier (and harder, though less so than you'd imagine) and I wonder if this bubble of soft safety is what it felt like for him to be inside of me all that time.
I always stay with him like this too long -- never until he falls asleep because the child never simply and quickly falls asleep -- but a beat or two beyond when I'm suddenly aware I need to go, because I can hear Tova crying across the hall, or the laundry buzzer's muffled tone made it up the chimney that lines one of his walls, or our dinner is ready on the nights we wait until after they're settled so we may enjoy a bite or two. I don't want to leave him in these idyllic, bittersweet moments, because sometimes it's the most he's let me touch him all day, and others it's familiar of a time when he slept between us, or next to just me, even though we were never going to be co-sleepers.
It's the only time I'm keenly aware that he wants specifically me around, and where he expresses his affection and comfort in my presence. A brief and always fleeting moment of reprieve from the neverending demands of his little body and huge personality and monumental challenges that weigh me down like cement shoes in the ocean, skirting on the edge of a place where light no longer can penetrate the darkness.
When you've been waiting three and a half years for an unprompted, un-signed "I love you" from your child, you take what you can get where you can get it.
I know in the morning he will be wild again, and can usually guarantee at least one more late-night visit with him, my Mom voice coming out because he's jumping on his bed, or running in circles, or tearing up bits of his floor and he doesn't yet realize that this old house amplifies every little sound and so I will hear him and come correct him because, well, that's what I'm here for.
But in the still of early evening, with the fresh smell of baby shampoo still in his short, wet hair, these are the moments I cling desperately to. Here is where I know he not only needs me but benefits from my presence; here is where I can show him I'm not always full of time outs and nos and say you're sorries and use your wordses Kiedis Spade be nices. Here it is just us two, as it was for so very long before we actually met and quite some time afterwards.
Here is the sweetness I know we are both capable of, if we're only given the opportunity and security to let it show.
We are two fish from the same barrel, tied together by more than just familial bonds and genetic code. We are two parts of the same soul, two pieces of the same disjointed puzzle, reflections of each other so close it is agonizing to tell us apart as much as it is to accept our similarities. The road has already been so hard and long for us, and it shows nothing but rugged, unforgiving terrain ahead.
But he ... well, he's what I'm here for.