Little lion isn’t so little anymore. His cherubic cheeks have become angular. His legs are tall like stalks. His head stretches nearly to my chest. And his roar is mightier than thunder.
But when I put him to bed at night he suddenly becomes little again. Sweet, gentle kitten. Meek in his burrow.
He turned 5 the other day. On the night of his birthday I said “Good night my big 5 year old boy”. He looked at me from his pillow with lip turned down, holding back the tears.
“Oh my sweetheart, you don’t want to be 5 do you?”
He shook his head.
“That’s okay, you can be 4 again tonight if you want… Come cuddle me my 4 year old boy, let your mama hold you tight”.
And I did. I squeezed him so close to me. So small.
After awhile he kicked a little. “I can’t sleep!” he wailed. So I pulled the blanket up to his ears as we faced each other. I stroked his back and patted it in a rhythm. Ah, my little lion.
With each pat the knots untied. His lanky limbs sank heavy into the bed. My lioness eyes watched languidly, protecting every cell of his existence. I would watch him until morning. I would watch him for all days to come. I would watch him to the edge of the galaxy.
His eyes softened. His long lashes began to blink. The stillness of dusk. The cool breeze creeping through the window. The far-off screeches of cockatoos. The droopy blinking of cats. We floated down the river. Sparkles and glaze. He blinked and blinked until sleep came.
Eventually I stopped patting. I reached out for his paw, barely comprehending the smoothness. I kissed it and whispered. I want to kiss you every day for the rest of your life. I want you to be small forever. Do you have to grow up?
These are the things a mother says to her baby when they shift so effortlessly into not being one anymore. But it’s a slow walk out the door of babyhood. There is not one defining moment where you can see them leaving … perhaps on the night before they turn 3… or surely they’re still little until 4. But the day they turn 5 – well that’s when mamas all over the world know the littleness is gone.
I touched his cheek, his hair, his hands. I let the softness comfort me. The unexplainable grief at the passing of something so precious. The nostalgia for sweet innocence. A time that was so incredibly hard yet so complete in its joy. A time that can never be experienced again.
And then I tried to imagine his body bigger. I tried to imagine his heart so strong. I tried to imagine his bright future. Yes, I could see it in the mists ahead. More joy to come! A symphony to unfold.
Yet still I could wave as he was leaving. I could hold him tight at the door. I could rest awhile in the softness.
Little lion, let me watch you just a little longer.