You must know that when I hold you, for what may seem too long to you or your siblings, that I am holding all of you.
By the time he was 8 and in third grade, your older brother got himself up each morning and came downstairs on his own. Your big sister was doing so by this point as well. But with you, our youngest, it is different.
When it’s time for you to rise, to eat breakfast, and to get ready for school, I walk quietly into your room. I gently wake you, and you, after a few sleepy stretches, climb instinctively into my arms for a ride downstairs. I hold you close, refusing to let you go.
I wouldn’t change this for the world.
Your brother lodges the occasional protest, though, pointing out how I had quit carrying him long before he was your age. His complaint is expected. After all, every older child believes that his or her parents adore their youngest far too much. To these older children it’s a great injustice, and I even hear in your brother’s pleas some of my own complaints from long ago. There were too many times when your grandmother seemed to like your uncle, the youngest, the best.
But your brother and sister will understand one day.
They will understand that while we don’t turn into our parents, we do travel the same road through parenthood. It’s a road that has changed very little over the years. I know this from every “because I said so” and from every exhausted night. And I know this because the first thing I did after calling your sister by the cat’s name was to call your grandmother. When I was a kid, she once called me Tarheel. Tarheel was our dog. I’ve never forgotten that, but I wanted her to know that I now forgave her.
Because I understand what it’s like to be a parent.
And I understand now what it’s like to have a youngest child. The last in the line. There will be no more after you.
Somehow, you have always understood this, too, as I suspect all youngest children do. Every day you gather so many of the meaningful moments that we’ve scattered about over the years. All of the bedtime lullabies for the three of you. The long hugs and snuggles. The kisses. And, of course, these early mornings together. Your brother and sister don’t seem to see them anymore, but you, our youngest, do. With that same deliberateness and care with which you walked along the beach in your earliest of days picking up shells, you collect these moments, too.
Then, wrapped tightly in my arms, you bring them all back. When you do, your sister is not fourteen, nor is your brother eleven nor you eight. You are all just children in your daddy’s arms.
Our youngest child, you must know that when I hold you, for what may seem too long to you or your siblings, that I am holding all of you.
Because I understand, as all parents will, that our days together pass too quickly. I know that one day much too soon you will stop bringing these things to me. Your sister will go to college, your brother will follow, and you will leave not long after. When you’re gone our house will be one where hugs and kisses can no longer be seen or collected. They will only be remembered.
But that time is not yet here. Now, with the bedtime stories finished and the nighttime lullabies all sung, you sleep peacefully.
Sweet dreams, son. Know that I will be here in the morning giving thanks for all that you bring.
And I will carry you and hold you close for as long as I can.