Dear Daughter is a very proficient reader for a not-yet-six-and-one-half-year-old. She discovered my Garfield comic book collection in the storage room a few weeks back and has developed the same passion for them that I had as a kid. Only I was a quite a bit older than she is currently when I began collecting and reading them.
We've had the same bedtime routine for nearly six and one half years: PJ's on followed by teeth brushing and about an hour of reading followed by several minutes of snuggling together in the dark and debriefing our day, or what we've just read, or whatever is on the girl child's mind. In the past couple weeks a new dimension has been added onto the routine. Dear Daughter now gets an additional 30 minutes of time by herself to read her Garfield comic books after I leave her room as long as she turns her light out when told (she knows how to tell time by herself now), and stayed in bed the night before instead of sneaking around the house.
Tonight I pointed out to Dear Daughter that it's kinda silly for us to turn out the lights and snuggle in the dark only to have her switch the light right back on to read some more by herself after I leave her room. The lights out for snuggle time routine began six years ago as a means of helping her wind down and go to sleep. Tonight I suggested we just leave the light on as we snuggle a few minutes and ponder the meaning of life, and then I would leave and let her read her comic books until the specified "lights out" time. By definition, this arrangement implied less time to cuddle up together. Dear Daughter loves cuddle up time. I expected her to protest my suggestion. I probably secretly wanted her to protest a little. She didn't.
"Well..." she began thoughtfully with a little grin. "I guess I have to grow up SOMEtime! So I think that would work, Mommy! That way you could go get started on your night-time work and I can get to reading my Garfield books!" I watched her face as she spoke, and feelings of bittersweet pride stuck in my throat. I knew I wouldn't be able to stop the tears, so I just let them trickle in warm paths down my cheeks. I was remembering when, at almost two years of age, she finally allowed me to place her in her crib awake instead of rocking her to sleep first. I was pregnant for the second time, and I could no longer lift my big rear out of the chair along with her 30 pound body without causing her to wake up. In fact, tonight was very much like that night just over four years ago. While my rear is not quite as big as it was then when I was pregnant, the same lump choked me in my throat as did four years ago when Dear Daughter allowed me to put her in her crib awake, and with a tearful, pitiful voice assured us both with her words, "Mommy be back!" I barely got out the door that night before the tears flowed, and tonight I didn't even try. I just let them slip down my cheeks as I held her close with the lamp still on.
"Yes," I said in a pitiful voice. "I guess you have to grow up SOMEtime...." I heard her pitiful little not-quite-two-years-old voice echoing in my memory..."Mommy be back!" Yes, my baby girl, I will always "come back," no matter how the fabric of life changes you or our relationship. But that doesn't stop the ache that comes with the knowledge that a milestone has once again been passed, and once again things will never be the same. I would have held you a little longer last night if only I would have known.