01/19/2013 12:16 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Up and Away He Grows

His thin arms, growing longer it seems by the minute, envelop my neck.

"Goodnight, Mom," whispers my oldest boy.

Ours is a dance I know intimately. As well I should. I've been doing it nightly for over 11 years.

I rest my head against his, clear my throat and begin singing, "You are my sunshine, my only sunshine..."

He interrupts, "You don't have to do that anymore."

"I don't have to do what anymore?"

"Sing. My song. You don't have to sing it anymore."

Unaware, I smile, "I sing your song before bed every night, silly. I like singing it."

He looks away, cracking the knuckles of his long fingers, a brand new ritual for him. "Yes, but... well, I'm getting too old for that now. So, you don't have to sing it anymore."

Up and away he grows.

He quickly kisses my cheek and, careful not to look wounded, I conjure a smile for him.

"OK. Goodnight, sweetheart. Have a good sleep."

He turns and bounds up the stairs, two at a time. The exact replica of my husband, in a tween-size version. I sit on the sofa, gazing at the empty space on the stairs that his body just occupied. The lump in my throat is big enough that it threatens to choke me.


A few hours later, before succumbing to my exhaustion, I peek in on each of my boys. Another nightly ritual. The 4-year-old lies on his back with his arms and legs splayed wide, the fist of one hand closed... all but the thumb, which is up. He's lost the thumb that he sucks, and I grin at how it gives him the appearance of hitchhiking in his sleep. I kiss him gently on both cheeks, inhaling deeply, hoping for any trace of the baby smell that no longer clings to his little body. Nope. Gone. I hoist myself up to the top bunk to look at my 6-year-old, sound asleep on his belly. I kiss his cheek and smooth his hair, taking extra time to coax the Superman swirl in the front to play by the rules.

I close their door quietly, then tiptoe into the older boys' room. Pausing first at the 9-year-old's bed, I smile at the twisted and tangled mess of sheets, blankets and limbs. In perpetual motion, even when he's asleep. I kiss his cheek, pale and warm, nearly as soft as the day he was born. My final stop is alongside the boy who, on a Friday night one September, turned me into a mother. Eleven-years-old. He lies on his back, his favorite cat asleep at his feet. He spans almost the entire length of his bed. His hair, which grows thick like mine, is matted to his forehead. I run my fingers through it without fear that I'll wake him. For he is, and always has been, our only heavy sleeper. It's happening too fast. Just last week, he abruptly stopped calling us Mommy and Daddy, transitioning instead to Mom and Dad.

Up and away he grows.

I kneel beside his bed, take his warm hand in mine, and begin singing more earnestly than I have since he was a baby, "You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray. You'll never know dear, how much I love you. Please don't take my sunshine away."

For a few moments, it seems there'll be no end to the hot tears that flow down my cheeks, dripping from my jaw onto his comforter.

He may not need his song. And I want him to know that's OK. But, I still need his song. At least for now I do. And so our ritual has assumed a different shape. What was once an enthusiastic duet punctuated by dance and accompanied by air guitars has become a whispered solo, performed by a voice quivering from unshed tears, sung under the cloak of darkness to a slumbering boy who is blissfully unaware of my presence.

And just like that, it's happening.

Up and away he grows.

bethany meyer