Cries in the night can be exhausting but also sweet.
“Daaaaaaaddy! Daaaaaaddy!” he calls from his crib, the word getting more urgent each time. On the nights he calls for Daddy, I’m the one who hears. And on the nights he calls for Mommy, I’m dead to the world.
“What do you need, buddy?” I ask, still rubbing my eyes as I reach his darkened room.
“I need to go potty,” he tells me, his body wiggling with urgency.
I’m hyperaware of how quickly potty needs can turn into disaster. With swiftness that really should be impossible at this hour of night, I pick him up and rush him to the bathroom.
We avoid disaster.
When I finally zip his soft, footie pajamas back up to his chin, he whispers something so quiet I’m not sure if it’s sleepy nonsense mumble or something I need to hear.
I stretch open my own bleary eyes and bend my neck down so my ear is right in front of his mouth. I ask him to say it again; his whispers jumble together. Two more tries and I make out the word cuddle in his otherwise-muffled sentence.
“You want to cuddle with me?” I ask.
He sleep-nods, tired relief washing over his face now that I understand.
“Sure, baby,” I say, and we wash our hands together. His eyes are closed while his feet stand on the toddler stool.
I scoop him up and melt at the feeling of his head, heavy already with sleep, on my shoulder as we turn the corner into my bedroom.
After I lay him down in the middle of my bed, he immediately rolls over to the warmth I left behind on my side. As swift as I can, I scoot him over and climb in before he can steal my place again.
He wakes enough to grab greedily at the blankets. Once he’s covered to his satisfaction, he nestles into me. I lie on my side, one hand across my middle, the other resting on the crook of his tiny knees. He has positioned his head in my neck, his hands folded under his chin. He is already breathing deeply.
I realize I can reach down and touch his toes without stretching. How is this possible, I wonder, when he has recently outgrown all the clothes in his closet? How can he still be so little?
Soon my breathing matches his. I don’t even feel myself slip into dreamland.
Two hours later, I stir and see him still there—still close, still breathing deeply.
Thinking of how early my husband and I wake in the morning, I know this 3-year-old needs to return to his own bed so he won’t be woken too early.
Oh, practicalities—the destroyer of all perfect moments.
He doesn’t protest as I scoop him up, his heavy head again on my shoulder. I take my time walking the few feet back to his room and slowly settle him into his crib.
Softly, I whisper the three phrases he insists upon each night as we tuck him in. “Good night. Sweet dreams. I love you.” He blearily repeats them back to me, as he always does, only this time I know the phrases are mingled with the dreams behind his closed eyes.
After I close his door quietly, I peek in on my 9-year-old down the hall. She nearly fills the twin bed that she moved into when she was as small as her now-snoring brother. Her 6-year-old sister across the way spreads out comfortably surrounded by dozens of stuffed animals and taking up far more inches than seems possible. Yet they each somehow look so small as they slumber.
Since my children have aged almost entirely out of the wakeful nights of feeding and crying, midnight potty runs are not the nuisance they once were. I’m well rested now, and it doesn’t hurt so much to wake in the night. Instead, these quiet nocturnal interruptions are rare little pockets of time that remind me to be gentler when the sun comes up.
Rebecca Brown Wright is a writer and content marketer in Sandy, Utah.