Friday, April 25, 2014

The Value of Ten Minutes
"Mommy, can you snuggle with me?" my oldest son asks. 

I instinctively glance towards the clock, its rigid hands like angry eyebrows ever chastising me for my tardiness.  No matter how diligently I try, most nights find us finishing bedtime routine a few minutes behind schedule.  This night is much the same, the great marker of time reminding me I'm already four minutes late in getting everyone in bed because prayer time and thankful journals ran long .

Time, though, is meaningless to the young.  Wyatt hops from one bare foot to the other, his expectant eyes searching my face as he waits impatiently for an answer.

I know those sparkling eyes, that smile I can chase away with a solitary cross word.

"Wyatt......." I begin.

What he doesn't realize is that while my body may still be sitting in repose on the sofa, my mind has already somersaulted far ahead to evening chores--to the day's dishes stacked and waiting to be put away in the kitchen; to the great scattering of books needing to be cleared from the living room floor; to the three classes of papers waiting to be downloaded and graded; to the private time with husband after listening ears are deafened by sleep's call; to the warm, uninterrupted soak to draw out the day's tensions...

So much going and doing almost swallows up this opportunity.  But then I glimpse those legs stretching tall and remember.  He's seven and a half.  There will be a day soon when he will no longer ask me this question.    There will all too soon come a time when I won't have a chance to say no or yes.

And so, I bite back the words already on my tongue and simply nod, agree to a few minutes.  I slowly pull myself to my feet, stretching spring's labor-stiffened muscles after him.  Wyatt skips ahead, light on joyful feet that eagerly join with mine beneath a blanket of brightly colored planets and a zillion points of light.

There with swirling galaxies drawn up to our chests, we curl together.  He talks.  I listen, only commenting every now and then or making small sounds to show I'm still listening even if my eyes are closed.  Mostly, though, I just listen.  Ten minutes go by, then fifteen as he leapfrogs from one subject to the next.

I stroke his forehead, run my hand through his hair, memorize the silhouette of his small nose and chin.  The whites of his eyes glow in the blue aura cast by the nightlight as he tells me imaginary stories or real events from his other life at school.  He asks questions about God, about people, about his future.  All the while, I drink in the smoothness of his still-little-boy skin, the sweet smell of freshly washed hair.

When the pauses between topics begin to grow, I kiss his forehead, whisper my love, and bid him sweet dreams.  Even in the darkness,  I can see his lips curve into a pleased smile as he whispers the same to me, tugs the universe up to his chin, and burrows down deeper into the heaviness of sleep.

The next night and the next night are much the same.  By night three of Wyatt's asking, the twins begin parroting his request for the same affection.

Snuggling with my youngest son is like trying to hug a small kitten, both of them too full of life to be still for long.  Emerson chatters just like Wyatt, only with more urgency, an endless stream of words needing to be heard.  They pour out in a lazy stream of consciousness style but with the force of an active five year old who lacks volume control.  His only pauses come when I brush his cheek, a genuine smile short-circuiting his thought processes, impeding his ability to speak for a few seconds.

My daughter, though, is silent.  When I leave behind the dark blue galaxies to wrap myself all in pink butterflies...when I bend my head to smell her hair, she draws closer than the boys, buries her head into my neck and sighs soft, simply needing a mother's close touch and not a mother's listening ear.  The only time she speaks is when the cat sneaks in the cracked door and meows to question why I'm here instead of downstairs.  Amelia giggles and runs her fingers through the short, gray fur walking across her tummy.

I kiss her sweaty forehead and slip away from the sparkles and pastels.  "Good night, mommy," she says, smiling that same contented smile that was on the boys' faces minutes before.

This night, the visits are shorter, but their length doesn't seem to matter.  It's just my presence that is needed, a few minutes of individual attention when I'm all theirs--for listening, for answering, for just a small bit of affection.

I don't know how long this phase will last when they ask for a few minutes extra with their mother at the end of the day.  What I do know is what my response will be.

"Yes.  I have a few minutes for you."

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