Often, while we ponder distant stars, children take giant leaps, catching us unawares. Recently, I missed one of these milestones—the blink of a star in my son’s passing childhood.
Last Updated May 2, 2017
When my youngest son passed from toddler to little boy, the tone of our nighttime routine changed. Just like always, we began the evenings curled up on his bed with a dozen or so books scattered across the quilt. His bed was our ship, and we delighted in steering it to the people, places, animals, concepts and stories on the pages of his chosen selections. I was far too indulgent, and time would slip away until I couldn’t read another word. Then, after turning off the lights, I would lie beside him until he fell asleep—mother and child, giving in to night’s quiet.
Kisses in the night
But at some point, instead of giving in to night’s quiet, he began interjecting himself into the silence by saying I love you over and over, kissing my arm or cheek in repetition. “I love you so much, Mom.” Then, after a period of silence, he would say it again, often waking me from a dream. And the evenings continued along like this, well into the night—periods of quiet broken by kisses and “I love you” refrains.
I’ve always expressed affection toward my children, but this new development made me uncomfortable, especially the kissing. I don’t know why, exactly. Is it that repetitive affection is usually reserved for lovers? “One big hug and one big kiss,” I would say. Yet, this seldom sufficed.
But nothing in this world ever stays the same. And so it is with children.
As my son grew older, we started homeschooling, and he began spending Tuesday afternoons at a local ranch in the hills east of San Francisco, where he learned building skills and practiced archery. Since his classes started around midday and lasted several hours, I would spend the afternoons grocery shopping. Other moms, and dads, too, can appreciate the thrill that comes from unassisted errands. Yet, it was a whirlwind, barely enough time to shop and store the perishables before I had to head back out again.
As I drove to the ranch to pick up my son that September afternoon, my mind swayed with the curves of the road, which skirted along the edge of dry, gold hills. I wondered if fall would ever arrive. Hot air circulated through the dusty windows of my unairconditioned, old car, lulling me into a stupor. It will always be summer, I thought. But the shadows of late summer and early autumn tell a different tale.
Having arrived at the ranch the same time as my friend, I watched as her son ran down the tree-covered dirt path to greet her. But it was the look on the boy’s face that caught my attention. In his eyes — my friend, his mom — she held the moon and stars in her hands. She might as well have been a star. Then, he reached for her arm and began kissing it over and over. Something about this felt familiar. My son shifted his weight from one foot to the other with a look of uneasy curiosity.
And in that moment, I remembered. I stood amidst the shadows of giant fir trees, the sounds of boisterous children running between yurts and picnic tables to greet their parents and the screeching of Kevin the peacock—stunned. When was the last time my son kissed me like that or kissed me at all? Maybe it was a few weeks or even months ago. Granted, he had recently turned twelve.
However long, though, I realized this was a turning point — passing childhood, the blink of a star. But I hadn’t even noticed. All those nights of wishing he would go to sleep so I could get some rest, and yet, what I would give, now, for just one kiss.
That night as we lay in the dark together, he whispered the familiar, “I love you Mom.” And he said it again, and again and again.
Taking a deep breath, I replied, “I love you too,”— holding on, gripping tightly—one of the last relics of his passing childhood.