Our fingers interlock. His hand is small compared to mine, but not as small as I remember. I trace his face gently – touching his forehead, nose and chin. I remember how he used to love butterfly and Eskimo kisses. It was our thing. The ritual way we said goodbye, but not anymore. His breath is heavy and slow. He finally releases the long day and drifts into a deep slumber.
I watch my 7-year-old sleep with his hand in mine and I feel the pangs of time moving too fast. The pangs of regret and guilt when I think about how difficult our relationship is at times. He is my most affectionate and demonstrative child. He is the one who is always smiling and trying to get a laugh. He is the entertainer who craves attention. All attention, but especially mine. He is also the one who knows exactly which buttons to push and how to get a rise out of me. If only he understood how much more attention he already receives. I give my heart, but it never quite feels enough. I always have this deep-rooted feeling like I’m doing it all wrong when it comes to him.
I recall our earlier conversation and feel more pangs. The deep in the stomach kind. The clinching of my heart kind of pain. He spoke with such thoughtfulness and a surprising maturity beyond his years. We were sitting in the doctor’s office alone just waiting when he informed me that he only wanted to hold my hand at home because he got embarrassed in public. So I told him the story of his first day in preschool and how he didn’t want to let go of my hand and how he made me do our butterfly/Eskimo kiss ritual three times. He paused and looked at me and asked, “Why can’t I remember that? Why can’t I remember a lot of things from when I was little? And how come you can?”
With my heart in my throat and my soul on the floor I answered,”It’s my job to remember. I will always remember everything. I will remember every kiss and hug, even if you can’t.”
He smiled so sweetly and bright and asked if I could give him a butterfly kiss and Eskimo kiss again. My heart leapt and I gently brushed my eyelashes against his cheek and rubbed my nose against his nose. I will never forget that moment.
I will also never forget my realization that he is right. There are so many precious moments that do slip away from memory over time. The seemingly innocuous ones that you take for granted. I wish I could lock them all into a box and experience them again and again. I want to feel my babies sleeping soundly and perfectly on my chest. I want to smell their bald heads and breathe in their scent. I want to feel the tightness of their baby hands wrapping around my finger. I want to rock them on my shoulder and feel the heat of their breath on my neck.
I do feel it is my responsibility to remember and preserve these moments in time. The moments that are creating the foundation for who or what my children will one day become. It’s not always easy or possible though. I sometimes find that the memories of my four babies blend into one. I sometimes struggle to remember it all.
But, not this memory. Not this conversation. This one will always be about my sweet, loving boy. The master of pushing my buttons and stirring my frustrations who also knew exactly what was needed today as he slipped his hand in mine and drifted off to sleep, but not before whispering, “I love you to Pluto and back because the moon is just not far enough.”