I creep into his room with a pile of clean laundry, and see him lying there, way past bedtime, under the covers but far from sleep. I’m exhausted and want desperately to be off the clock, but something about his expression tells me to wait.
I stand there and notice how he looks out of place on the bottom bunk, with limbs hanging off and his growing body quickly filling the space meant for a boy. I realize it’s been a while since I’ve seen him in his bed at night. When did the “tucking in” stop… and why? I don’t remember, but it saddens me.
“Hi bud. Can’t sleep?” I say as I kneel beside his low bunk. Instinctly, I start to straighten and pull covers tighter around him, but he subtly pushes back and undoes my work … and it feels like a rejection.
“No.” He gives a half-smile, but I can see the battle of adolesence raging behind his eyes, inside that deep-feeling soul of his.
I hate how strangely awkward I feel at his bedside while manhood is breathing down his neck. Everything seems suddenly foreign to me: his voice, his scent, my role.
“What’s wrong? Wanna talk?” I stretch my neck a bit, trying to gain eye-contact.
“Nothing. Nope”, he says, still staring at the ceiling. I struggle to read his tone. It’s not angry or sad, but definitely not happy or easy. It’s some sort of restlessness to which I can’t quite relate. This mystery reminds me that he’s on his way to a place I’ll never fully understand. He and I are parting ways… and I hate the space growing between us.
Desperate to fill the void, I stumble through some small-talk; asking about what’s in store for his classes the next day, reminding him of our plans for the weekend… like we’re strangers. Even my voice sounds strange and too high-pitched. Like a woman in a man-cave; out-of-place and uncomfortable. Perhaps, even unwelcome.
He’s polite, but I can tell he’s not really listening; eyes glazed, his reactions not quite matching my words. A concoction of emotions bubble up and gain a voice inside of me: insecurity, sadness, longing, regret, worry. Does he want me to go? Stay? Am I holding him back? Pushing him too far? Am I nurturing enough? Too much? Panic tightens my chest and I want to run away. What’s kind of mother am I?
Even though he’s not listening to my jabbering, Someone must be monitoring my soul, because his hot hand reaches out from under the pillow. I grab it like it’s a lifeline and the whispers of doubt seem unable to cross. The pause prompts me to turn to my Father and invite Him in, and I’m brave enough to allow for silence while I beg, wordlessly, for guidance.
I lean in to wrap my arm across his chest; careful to not constrict; leaving him some space. With this slight leaning-in, comes a bit of clarity…
“Do you remember that poem-thing that we used to say at bedtime… when you were little?” I ask. The low tones of my voice are back, and I feel more grounded. I look him in the eye, and he crinkles his brow, looking five again.
I rest my head on the bones that protect his heart and say:
At the last line, I lean back just enough to catch his reaction, willing him to remember… needing him to.
His voice cracks, “Jesus.” He turns to look at me and something within me breaks. “I remember that. Love you, Mom. Good night.”
As I leave his room, I realize that now, during this stage, he needs to be tucked in more than ever. I vow to do better at holding on to some comforting routines of childhood so that he has something to grip while on this roller-coaster ride to manhood. I pray for him … and for me.
I peek in a couple of minutes later. He’s sprawled out, still not asleep, but more relaxed. Like always, he has one foot kicked out and is breathing deeply.
He notices me in the doorway and gives a small wave, “Thanks, Mom.” It’s too late in the night and too complicated a season for many words, but I unwrap what he gives me:
Thanks for tucking me in.
Thanks for remembering that poem.
Thanks for letting me push away from boyhood, while not yet expecting me be a man.
Thanks for being willing to change with me; for adjusting to my new needs.
Thanks for wrapping me tight with blankets of unconditional love and security even when I didn’t know I needed them.
I crawl into my own bed as my mother-heart whispers a prayerful response:
Good night, son. Once your wild soul settles a bit, things will be easier. Just remember that the answer tonight, and always, is “Jesus”…
… so that no matter where you’re headed, you’ll be able to sleep like a baby.