My ten-year-old has a new bedtime routine. Each night when I tuck him in he asks me series of questions about my favorites things. Mom, what’s your favorite movie? What’s your favorite country? What’s your favorite sport? What’s your favorite color? What’s the best book you read when you were in school?
These are fun questions to answer – although they get a bit repetitive. Tonight he differentiated the movie question to ask my favorite recent movie – as opposed to the top five of all time (“yes, Mom, I know, Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, and I can’t remember the rest.”) (For the record, A Room With a View, Annie Hall and Singin’ in the Rain.)
I have been struck by these questions, thinking that perhaps he is storing the information away to be resurrected at some later date when he is thinking about me. But I think it’s more than that. I think that he is beginning the drawn out process of separating from me, and that these questions are his way of drawing me close, even when he’s getting ready to pull away.
My daughter did the same thing. About six months before she turned 11, she changed our goodnight routine. Up until that time, we had snuggled and nuzzled and kissed goodnight pretty much the same way from the time she was a little girl (except for the year she where she would almost robotically recite a little ditty for us, the nonsense words to which I’ve written down somewhere for posterity, but that was an aberration.)
Then, all of a sudden, whenever I would lean down to kiss her goodnight, she would grab me with both arms, pull me down into the bed and giggle “Mommy, come sleep with me!” She’d try to get me to lie down with her and spend the night, not something we’d ever done in our house.
It took me a while to realize it, but when I did, it hit me hard. She was pulling me close in order to push me away. And sure enough, like clockwork, six months later when she turned 11, she no longer wanted to pull me into bed. In fact, our goodnight kisses became quite short (although still sweet) and now, at 12, even though she still wants a tuck-in, it’s nothing more than a peck on the forehead and a full closing of her door.
I don’t remember much about my oldest son’s waning goodnight routine, except for the enormous guilt I harbor about it. From the time he was about 10 until he was about 12, instead of reading books together, he wanted to play a game. Every night. At that moment in time, we also had a six-year-old and a four-year-old who needed extended bedtime reading and tucking routines. By the time we could turn around and pay attention to the 10-year-old, we were beat. The last thing on earth we could contemplate was Risk or Stratego.
So in those two years of his gaming desires, we probably sat down and played a total of five times. One day, as I knew he would, he just stopped asking. He simply started going to bed and closing his door. And I have never truly forgiven myself for not finding the strength from within to play those games.
My youngest son is now obsessed with a new electronic form of Monopoly that he received as a birthday present. And he also wants to play all the time. We no longer have younger children to attend to, but we are older and much more tired, and still have no energy for games at night. Somehow, however, this evening we found it within ourselves and the three of us played Monopoly, and I must admit, we had a great time.
And then it was 9:00, and time for tucking. And as my sweet young boy peppered me with his nightly questions, I relished every minute, knowing that soon enough, he will be retiring his need for such close connection and closing his door so that he too, can enjoy his dreams on his own.
When that day comes I will remember reading the wonderful book, “How I Became A Pirate,” in which a little boy runs off with Braid Beard the Pirate and his gang, and he thinks it’s all cool and exciting, until he learns that pirates don’t get to read books at night and there’s no tucking on a pirate ship.
I used to wish we were pirates. I yearned for a night off, with no tucking. But no longer. Now I want every tuck I can get.