I think I want to try to put myself to bed tonight, she told me on the way to school this morning.
What do you mean? I asked her. Since she was born, we have basically had the same routine each evening at bedtime.
Change into pajamas. Tuck into bed. Sing special song. Turn on sound machine. Turn off lights. Close door.
Things have changed, of course. Diapers turned into pull-ups which turned unto undies and going to the bathroom on her own.
She doesn’t need our help picking out or getting into her pajamas anymore.
Her gummy smile changed when she grew teeth that needed to be brushed – first by us and then by herself.
But some of it has remained the same. Pajamas. Special song. Sound machine. Lights off. Close door.
I think I want to do it by myself, she repeated. I don’t think I need Daddy to Ah-Nay-Nu-Nu anymore.
I felt the lump immediately form in my throat.
She was talking about the special song that Scott sings to her every night before bed. We each had one – different, but equally special to her. Scott’s was the same song his mother sang to him as a child – sacred in its tradition and the love that was passed down along with it. Mine was one that I had made up as a desperate newly-minted mommy, trying to soothe my crying baby girl as I cradled her in my arms on the day she was born. It worked that night…and has ever since.
I am six now. She continued on, I’m a big kid, so I can do it myself now.
The lump travelled down to the pit of my stomach where it sat like a boulder, yet also offered me the ability to respond to her without choking.
Okay, honey. I managed to eek out.
How is this possible? How can she be ready to put herself to sleep when she is still referring to her special song as a verb? I feel the tears spring to my eyes and I want to scream to her, to plead with her, Just one more time. Give us each just one more time to sing to you.
This feels just like those moments when you had broken up with a boyfriend, or someone has died, and you wish you had know that those last kisses and embraces and utterances were the last – so you could have savored them. So you could have tucked them into those special pockets in your mind and corners of your heart. I wish I had known that last time was the last time.
But I would be putting what I need in front of what she needs. I would be cutting her off at the knees right when she is a foal ready to walk on her own. Unsteady. Unsure. But ready.
I think I want to try, she had said.
And I think I have been waiting for this. I even thought I wanted it — the growing up and the changing and the independence. I said it. I hoped it would come soon. I thought it would be easier. And maybe it will be. One less thing to do at night. One thing that makes those chaotic, messy last gasps of the day run a bit more smoothly.
But now this feels too soon. I am most definitely not ready. It may be easier on my mind, but it is harder on my heart. Something is changing. Too quickly and all at once and I fear that I can’t keep up.
Her top tooth is wiggly and that bright dimpled smile that I have known for what feels like my whole life will change forever. She had her six-year-old heart hurt by a friend’s innocent comment this week — something that made her cry right there in front of him, and then lash out because she was embarrassed that she had let her guard down, that she had accidentally shown someone what is behind the wall her little heart had built up to protect itself. I wasn’t ready for that, I wasn’t expecting just how much it would hurt watching her hurt. Growing pains, indeed.
And now this. Wiggly teeth and a bruised heart make me want to hold her tighter — exactly when she is ready to have us loosen our grip.
Something is ending. I can feel it in my bones. She is telling me so herself.
Maybe she will need our special songs again one day.
Perhaps she will hum them as she tucks herself in, as she falls asleep.
Lights off. Close the door.