Even now, he stills chooses the rocking chair some nights. I try not to take it for granted. He’s almost five and he seems to get a little bigger every day. He’ll be heading to kindergarten soon. When we lie in bed together, it’s not immediately quiet anymore. He tells me seemingly random facts that I finally realized he had learned at school that day. Like what a carnivore is and what happened to the dinosaurs after the big asteroid and fun tidbits about oysters and how to count by twos.
He sounds so grown up, but when I carry him up the stairs and we say our good nights to mom and brother, sometimes he chooses to rock in the chair instead of going straight into bed. So, there we sit. Just like we’ve done thousands of times, but each time somehow different. His suddenly long legs dangling off the arm of the chair, his body curled against mine. Just for a minute or two, we rock. It doesn’t serve any real purpose anymore. It’s just a sentimental vestige of a previous life. But it’s enough.
We’ve maintained our nightly ritual for years. Since he was a baby. It’s evolved and shifted as he’s grown, but the chair has remained constant. Strong and steady. Our nightly safe harbor after a long day adrift. It was once a crisp, clean off-white, but now it’s faded and stained. Like a favorite pair of pants. It’s well worn by years of bedtimes and middle-of-the-night meet-ups when sleep became elusive.
It used to be a given, but now it’s a choice. He has a lot more choice now, of course. He’s always been strong-willed. He knows what he likes. What he wants to eat. What he wants to watch on TV. What books he wants to read. What I should be doing or where I should be sitting or standing or lying while he’s doing all those things. But his genuine sweetness ultimately outweighs the stubbornness. He still chooses the chair because he wants to stay close. Perhaps he’s as reluctant to move on as I am.
Before it was always my call how bedtime proceeded, but now he’s part of the decision-making process. Well, to be completely accurate, he has total control of the decision-making process. I just provide the muscle. I carry him into the room and I ask him bed or chair, because that’s what he’s told me to ask. Other times, we set a pattern. One night, chair. The next night, bed. I let him set the rules because I’m ready for him to go to sleep and I have no choice. But I’m fine with the permutations and protocols and occasional reprimands for not following proper procedure. Because some nights I still get the rocking chair. And I know at this point, I’m just stealing nights. Stealing minutes. Clinging to my baby boy until he’s ready to let go. Maybe until we’re both ready to let go.
But until then, we still have the old, trusty rocking chair. And that’s where you’ll find us. Some nights.