One of my evening chores is to put With-a-Why to bed. This means that I supervise while he brushes his teeth, and then I get in bed with him and read him a book. I've been reading him all the books from my own childhood. Of course, I find myself editing the text on occasion: "After the round-up, Paul felt like a real man. This was because in those days boys had the stupid idea that they had to do something macho in order to be a grown-up." With-a-Why can always tell when I've departed from the text. He'll look up and give me a quick smile.
When we are done with a chapter, I turn out the light. With-a-Why snuggles up to me, sometimes sleepily talking about his day. For some reason, he always chooses this late hour for confidences. Eventually, he puts his arms around me, leans his head against me, and falls asleep, his long black eyelashes curving but still.
Once I can tell he's sound asleep, I slip out of the bed into the harsh bright light of the hallway. Unfortunately, thirty minutes of snuggling a warm child underneath a down quilt on a night when I'm overtired, which is just about every night, leaves me in a hazy fog, half-asleep and unable to grade papers or do any kind of work that requires any sort of intellectual focus.
I've been a parent for almost nineteen years now, and I know there were times in the past when I resented the bedtime ritual, the way that it sapped me of any energy to accomplish anything past 8 pm in the evening. When I had several little kids, I can remember feeling just desperate for time to myself.
But With-a-Why is my last child, my youngest. I know how soon he will turn into a junior high student with shaggy hair who will want to stay up and send instant messages to girls in his class. I know how soon he will turn into a six-foot tall teenager who will want to stay up to practice his guitar. I know how quickly a baby of mine can turn into a poised, confident young person who will leave for college.
So I've found that my attitude has changed. I get no work done in the evening, and I don't care. I have only two or three years left, at the most, before With-a-Why will hit that growth spurt that will make him bigger than I am. So I am savoring the bedtime ritual. I know some day I will miss it.