There are many names for it: tuck-in time, reading time, cuddle time. There’s something special about ending the day together with your child, about being close with their little bodies, hearing about the antics of their days.
Until they are full-sized, pimply, pubescent teenagers.
I know I should be happy that my fourteen-year-old is asking for me for a “lie down” prior to his departure to Dream Land. After all, it is in these moments, garbed in juvenile, cotton pjs, that magic happens; he feels all vulnerable to share his crushes, his insecurities, his deepest, darkest secrets.
It’s just that at this point in my own childhood, I was putting my own dang self to sleep.
Here’s something else…
The other night our family made the painful commitment to launch the binge-watching of a television show series together. We all contributed our particular suggestions, and the parents won; we were watching “Lost.”
It is important to insert, at this junction, that our family of six, whose four kids range from age six to age fourteen, had also recently invested in the J.K Rawling holiday book, The Christmas Pig. I will share that the target audience for this book is eight-year-olds to probably 11-year-olds. We’d developed the habit of all plopping on our master-bedroom bed and reading a chapter or two per night. It sounds all fairytale, but – let me assure you – arguments about who tooted and whose toes were incidentally tickling whose backs prevailed. Alas, it has been deemed a family tradition this holiday season.
Back to “Lost,” we as parents were expecting Episode One to end in extreme delight from the the youngers and extreme delight from the olders. After all, there was mystery, gore, an ominous presence… perfect material for the teen audience. Once the closing music played, my husband and I glanced at one another, then to the kids in front of us and asked, “Well, what did you think?” At once, our eldest, the 14-year-old, jumped out of his nook in the couch, an unpleasant grimace on his face, and announced, “Nah, too scary.” Then, immediately, his mouth curled into a smile, and he said, “Can we all cuddle in bed and read a few chapters of The Christmas Pig?”
This is what I’m talking about. We have a teenager who doesn’t seem to have any interest in growing up. He is on the one hand a responsible, diligent dude and, on the other, approximately four years old. I don’t have to make social plans for him anymore or check his grades like I used to, but he still holds my hand in public, wants tickles on his back, and thinks that scenes in the animated film Zootopia are frightening.
I feel sheepish saying that his juvenile tenderness and affection provoke some concern in me. I mean, I’ve searched high and low, but nowhere, anywhere, have I heard of mothers who actually desire for their well-behaved, sweet kids to hurry on up and grow up.
Does this make me a bad mother?
The old ladies at the grocery store assured me, all through the grueling toddler days, when my plastic car cart was overflowing with saliva and screeching and bribery, that “it would all go too fast.” I know I need to take that advice to heart. How come, then, I’m counting the days until my teenager stops asking me to have pillow talk at bedtime and to provide the reading of an elementary-aged book as a family?
I’d like to think my teenager’s slow stagger toward maturity isn’t indicative of an aversion to independence. (Insert clips from “Failure to Launch” with Matthew Maconaughey refusing to leave his parents’ house). I wouldn’t be doing my job if I thought I was making his childhood home more desirable than the adventures Out There in the world. I am all about pushing my little birdies out of the nest.
The truth is, my teen is more beyond-his-years-wise than clingy-clueless-dependent, more sentimental than spoiled, more emotionally in-touch than out of touch with reality.
But that doesn’t stop him from wanting his mother to be the last thing he sees each evening.
I know, as my grocery store elders did, that there will come a day when my teenager is not only putting himself to bed alone, but perhaps doing so with a nudey magazine. Until then, I suppose I will snag a spot on his bed in the wee lighting of his bedside lamp, obligatorily if nothing else. I will stop what I’m thinking about and mindfully turn a listening ear to the minutia of his ponderings, the juicy and the aggravatingly dull.
One thing I know: I will never regret forcing myself to do it.
Because his nighttime ramblings do this: they slow down the clock. Even when I think he ought to be further along in his separation from me, even when I don’t crave the time, even when waiting for my teenager to grow up is taking a long time, I know there will come a point in my life when I wish I could do it all over again.
So whether it’s reading The Christmas Pig or tucking in, I choose to look at these countless evenings as an index of investment in him. And him me. Despite my occasional impatience, he can grow up when he’s darn well ready.