Often, while we ponder distant stars, children make huge developmental leaps, catching us unawares. I recently missed one of these milestones — the blink of a star in my son’s passing childhood.
Last Updated February 7, 2017
When my youngest son passed the milestone from toddler to little boy, somewhere along the way our nighttime routine took on a different tone. After reading a book or two together, I would curl up next to him until he fell asleep, just as I had always done.
Kisses in the night
But it was during this developmental stage that he began the awkward habit of telling me over and over again how much he loved me, kissing my arm or cheek in repetition. “I love you so much, Mom,” he would say. Then, after a short period of quiet during which I would become lost in my thoughts, perhaps even drifting off a bit, he would say it again. And the evening carried on like this for sometimes up to an hour or more — periods of quiet broken by kisses and “I love you” refrains.
I’ve always been affectionate with my children, but the repetitive nature of these expressions made me uncomfortable, especially the kissing. I don’t know exactly why I had this response. Is it that this type of repetitive affection usually takes place between lovers or partners? “One big hug and one big kiss,” I would say. Yet, this seldom sufficed.
But nothing in this world ever truly stays the same. And so it is with children.
As my son grew older, we started homeschooling, and he had the opportunity to spend Tuesday afternoons at a local ranch in the hills just east of San Francisco, where he participated in building activities and archery. I would drop him off midday, returning to pick him up late in the afternoon. It was just enough time for a grocery run. And I barely managed to shop and put away the cold items before it was time to head back out to the ranch again — about a twenty minute drive from my home.
Driving there that October afternoon, I swayed with the curves of the road that skirted pale gold hills, wondering if fall would ever arrive. The hot, still air wafting in through the dusty windows of my unairconditioned, old car provided little relief. I was lulled into a stupor. It will always be summer, I thought. But the shadows that time of year tell a different story.
Having arrived at the ranch about the same time as my friend, I watched as her son ran down the path between the yurt houses and picnic tables to greet her. But it was the look on the boy’s face that caught my attention. In his eyes — my friend, his mom — held the moon and stars in her hands. She might as well have been some rare, precious gem or Arthur’s gleaming sword. Then, I watched as he kissed her arm repeatedly. Something about this scene felt strangely 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 and the sounds of boisterous children running 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 just 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 darkness 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,” while holding on, gripping tightly — one of the last relics of his passing childhood.