I open my eyes, slowly, my lids seem heavier than possible, and listen. I hear his footsteps padding across the hall to our room. I stroke his sister’s soft head as he pushes the door open, she is still latched on, though no longer eating. “Hi Baby Luna,” he whispers. “Hey, Mama. It’s morning!” I smile and try not to be annoyed that he wakes so early, “Yes, angel boy, it’s morning.” He pats the bed. “Come on, let’s get up. You need a hand?” I watch as his curly head makes its way to John’s side of bed, where he repeats the conversation. “You need a hand, Daddy?”
I’m sitting on the couch, nursing the baby. He’s chatting with his trains and lining up his pretend food by size and color. “Hey, Mr. Mama!” He says, breathless with excitement, “you like a banana?” I open my eyes wide with exaggerated happiness. “Yes! I love bananas, Xander!” He laughs. “Oh. Good.” He puts a wooden banana on a plate. “Hey, hey Mama! You like a cookie?” We repeat this until his little plate is too full of wooden food – a banana, a cookie, an egg, some apple pieces, and a rouge section of train track. He carries it with two hands, walking impossibly slow for a two and a half year old. “Mama. Here. I make salad.” He waits with big brown eyes until I take a giant pretend bite and exclaim, “Oh, this is the best salad I’ve ever had!” He laughs again (I’d never stop saying that if it would make him laugh every time). “Mama loves Xander!” he says. And I do.
He stops playing right in the middle of changing Charlie the Purple Train’s diaper when he hears the garage door go up. He immediately begins screeching and galloping around the room. “It’s Daddy! It’s Daddy! Daddy’s home! I so happy!” He runs to the top of the stairs and jumps up and down with so much force that the windows actually rattle. When John starts to climb the stairs he screeches again, “DADDY!” John drops his laptop and bends over, “I need a big huggie, Xander, can I have one?” Xander stops dancing. “Yes,” he says after a moment of thought. He laughs loudly when John tosses him into the air.
I listen in while John gives him his bath. He explains what each toy is thinking at any given moment, intermittent with protests against washing his hair. (“I no like hair! No hair! The ambilance goes over here!”) When the bath is done, and the pj’s donned, he runs out of his room, blankie in hand and pacifier in mouth. “Hey Mr. Mama! I wanna watch a show.” I feign surprise, even though we do this every night, and I already have his favorite episode of Blue’s Clues cued up on the TV. “Really?” I tease. “Yes! Watch a show with faffie! And Mommy.” He sits next to me while his sister nurses again, and wraps his dimpled fingers around mine. “I hold hand, Mama”
I hear his little voice bleat in the middle of the night. John rushes in because Luna spends the night attached to me. “I need Mama!” he cries. I gently detach Luna so I can trade places with John. In the dark of his room he tries to stop crying. “Mama lie down?” he pleads. I shouldn’t, I know. I should wait until he’s calm and then leave him, awake, to fall back asleep on his own. Instead I gently nudge him over so I can fit on his tiny twin bed. He leans his head against me and I sniff his curls. It doesn’t take long for his breathing to even out, but I stay a little longer. I like the weight of his body leaning against mine. The tickle of his hair on my cheek. He seems so big during the day. Too big when he tries to “help” me hold Luna – all elbows and knuckles against her soft newness. But here, in the dark, in his big boy bed, in his stripey pj’s, he’s small again. He’s my little boy who just wants his mama a little big longer.
And so I stay.