My two and a half year old son Cavanaugh is asleep in my childhood room, the room I slept in throughout high school, weekends home from college, and which my mom still calls mine though I haven’t lived here in 21 years. Tonight is the second night my son has ever slept in a bed without me.
Last night, we were at my dad’s house. His guest bedroom has wood floors, a high antique bed that’s set in the middle of the room so neither side is against a wall–and Cavanaugh rolls, turning himself into the horizontal bar of an H, flips upside down so his feet rest at the pillows. He’s a mover. At home, where we sleep on our king sized mattress on the floor, this is not a problem. If he ever rolls over the pillow barricade around the edge of the mattress, and travels the eight inches from the mattress to the carpeted floor, he sleeps through it. His slumbers would be disturbed by a two+ foot tumble bumping over the jutting walnut frame to land on the cherry floor. Not even if I put a pad down. It is dangerous.
When we arrived at my dad’s last night, Cavanaugh was asleep. He hadn’t napped on the flights from Austin to Albuquerque. A visit to a friend, a trip back to the airport to trade out one rental car for another, then sloshing through a beautiful hard rain that pulled all the sage and dirt scent to welcome us into not-Texas weather sent our boy to the Land of Nod. I transferred Cavanaugh from the car seat and he slept through the cool air and the lie down. He slept in his own bed all night long.
There was no warning him that this would be different, that Mama would not be next to him in the bed when he woke up. And he did wake once in the night. He stood up and I opened my eyes though he never said a word. It felt like the 976 nights I have shared a bed with him transferred to this new way of nighttime parenting, the one in which he just knows without our even having talked about it that I am there and he is safe. I reached over and pulled him into the bed with me and my husband. I said, “We’re at Grandpa’s and you’re sleeping in a special bed because this one is so high. You can sleep between me and Daddy if you want or you can go back to your special bed.” He crawled over me to get off the bed, lay down, hugged a pillow, and went to sleep. I lay there, not sleeping.
So tonight at my mom’s, when we took Cavanaugh back to my bedroom, I asked if he wanted to sleep in the big bed with me and Daddy or in another special bed. “In ‘nother speshul bed.” We rolled out the mattress, added one small white stuffed kitty, one velvet “special” throw pillow we carry with us from home, his newly adopted “special” blanket from the travel kit my husband gave me as a present one year and I finally carried on the plane, and our sweet boy with his newly found ability to sleep on his own. I nursed him for awhile and then he asked for “some cuddles” to help him go to sleep.
I lay on the carpet next to his roll out mattress and managed not to cry. I studied his brown eyes and their long lashes, looked at his cheek bones and how the shape of his face is changing. What if I’m not ready for the big boy bed? He’s our only son, will be our only child. I will never get to do this again. And now, without ever having come to some formal decision or figuring out how to transition or talking anything through, he’s just sleeping on his own, happily, in his special bed. He cuddled facing me for a little while and then turned over, hugging his kitty, curled into the soft blanket outside my arms.
Sonya Fehér is a co-leader of the S. Austin Chapter of API and is a contributing editor for API Speaks. She blogs at http://mamatrue.com.