Tonight we went for a long walk. My kids wore their cowboy boots and my 4-year-old toted his green Dollar Tree baseball bat as a “light saver” and he warded off all the bad guys in our path. Any bush that had the audacity to have even a single branch sticking out was whacked with such intensity that we eventually had to make him ride in the stroller so neighbors wouldn’t be upset their bushes were being beat like a pinata. Eli kept telling me, “Get behind me, Mom. I’ll save you from the bad guys.” And I couldn’t help but wonder when he became the one wanting to protect me.
Of course, he’s only 4, and he’s not really saving me from any bad guys. But wasn’t it just a moment ago, one single breath before, that he needed my hand to stand up? Wasn’t it just a blink of an eye in the past that he reached up for me to hold him as I made dinner? Weren’t David and I just recently playing on the floor, jingling toys above him, soaking in his baby smells and coos? Was it not just yesterday that he would sob for me when I dropped him off in the church nursery and I feared he would think I left forever? Today he walked right into his class and almost forgot to kiss me.
Tonight when it was time for bed I sat in the old green chair in his room, the same green chair that’s always sat in the corner of his room no matter how many times we’ve moved. He was surprised. Usually it’s prayer together, then a story, and then lights out and a I breathe deep sigh of relief on the other side of his door because I made it to another bedtime. “You want to rock me, Mom?” he said. “Yes. I do.” I smiled.
So he climbed up in my lap and he snuggled in. All 4 years of him snuggled right in as if he had been waiting for me to hold him like that for ages. And I rocked him. I mean I ROCKED him. I held him in my arms and he laid his head on my chest and I sang him all the songs I used to sing when it was just us and I had all the time in the world to stare at my little baby. I sang him songs I believe in my heart about Jesus. I sang him silly songs about Hermie the Worm. I sang him songs that brought back memories that made me stare at his face and remember all the nights I rocked him in that old green chair while he slept and I would vow to memorize the exact way his face looked in the dim lights of late-night early-motherhood.
And when he closed his eyes with his hand on my cheek, I cried. I cried because tonight I remembered what I forgot. I forgot that these moments are precious. I forgot that putting my children to bed is a gift. I forgot that little hand on my cheek belongs to a little boy who I so often ask to be bigger than he is. Be a big helper, I tell him. Be a big brother, a big eater. Tonight I remembered that he’s still small. A different kind of small than those nights I stared at his new life for hours and hours, marveling at each breath God breathed into his lungs, but still small nonetheless.
I remembered that he doesn’t need to be big quite yet. That will come and we need to prepare him for it, but tonight I sat in his dark room with no where else to be and I was thankful for his smallness. I didn’t think about the dishes, or the state of this crazy world, or our list of things to do tomorrow. I just thought about him and how 4 years has flown by just like the “old moms” always told me it would.
He’s a boy and not a baby now. He wants to fight bad guys and asks me if dinosaurs like to eat corn dogs more than they like to eat people. He runs and jumps and climbs things that make me uneasy. Instead of fitting in my arms like a perfectly placed package, his legs fall across my lap and reach past my knees. I rocked him anyways, though. Through song after off-key song, I memorized the exact way his face looked in his dimly lit room and I vowed to rock him more often while I have him, expect less of him while he’s still learning, and to let him whack the bushes on the side of the house tomorrow with is light saver.