Dinner’s done, dishes washed, laundry folded, bed sheets changed.
Jeb’s completed his assigned 15 minutes of silent reading. It’s twenty minutes til bedtime and we still have drills and study for tomorrow’s geography, spelling and math tests.
He’s taking a pause, stretched out on my big bed.
He looks at me and pats beside him, “Mom, just come here for a minute.”
Seeing the hesitation on my face, he says with more earnestness, “Come on, I need this.”
Skeptics may suspect he’s trying to wriggle out of the multiple choice questions about his map of Nebraska. I don’t care. He’s thirty days shy of eight, and Jeb’s not going to be asking to cuddle up with me forever. Maybe I need this too.
I settle in at his side and he wraps his arms around me, throwing one long leg over mine.
We’ve been curling up like this since that first day when he moved from my womb to rest his wet cheek on my heart. All the days and nights. Each time our bodies found this comfort spot between us, familiar and grooved.
Except that his shape just keeps changing. The plump toes that used to graze my belly button, now stretch out towards my ankles. And that koala-bear body I could scoop up with one arm to adhere upon my hip, is sixty-five pounds and gaining. Nowadays, if Jeb falls asleep in the car, I have to wake him and walk him up the stairs.
He gave up on me fifteen pounds back, but these days even the big guys in his life repeat the mantras.
“You’re getting too big now!”
“You’re heavy, I can’t lift you up anymore!”
“Whoa, you’re getting strong…be careful when you wrestle!”
But tonight, there is no rough house. Tonight Jeb asked for pause with me. He’s sidled up in my arms and as I embrace his frame I am amazed to find him delicate. He seems so small. Long, thin arms are hinged toothpicks. His fingers that trace my forehead, feathers. It feels as if I squeeze him too tightly he could break.
His eyes keenly scan my skin, noticing freckles and a scratch on my shoulder.
I feel the shape and weight of him within my arms. I soak in the delicacy of his boyish precipice. I am entwined in his limbs, these appendages that grew within me, cell by cell. This will all soon disappear.
In this, I am alone. He will never know.
Because I smile the mother’s smile. The one that holds the bittersweet. That we love with all our hearts. Body. Soul. Give to let it grow. One day the children will not need us. And this is what we want.
“Can you choke when you’re learning to swallow vitamins?”
His random question is close to my face. His breath, warm and without boundaries, exhaling peanut butter and honey sandwich across my cheeks. For a moment, I think to turn away, but catch myself. Then breathe it in a little deeper.