While we get our kids ready for bed, my son climbs onto his top bunk. He doesn't sleep there yet but loves the somewhat "off-limits" idea of it. My daughter looks up at her brother and immediately points to him and says, "Up!" My husband gently lifts her onto the bunk and she starts running from one end of the mattress to the other.
My stomach starts doing flip-flops as I envision her falling headfirst onto the floor. "Sweetie, no running. Crawl."
She looks down at us, "Huh?" as she tilts her head to the side, using both hands to brush the hair from her face.
My son looks down at his dad with a big smile and says, "You come up here, too?" My husband agrees and starts to climb the ladder.
I stand down on the floor, arms crossed, secretly counting the minutes until the kids are asleep and I can get back to my book. But eventually, I give in to their cries for me to "come up here!"
Truthfully, my heart swelled knowing they want me to join them. All too often I choose to sit on the sidelines, letting these moments pass by, worn out by the demands of motherhood and mentally clocking out before they are asleep.
My husband and I sit on either end of the bunk to act as a buffer to the floor. We quietly watch them run back and forth, their eyes and smiles showing they are clearly in delight of this forbidden activity.
"They're only two and four once," my husband says as he reaches out for my hand. I nod my head and smile, my fingers entwining with his across the bed.
Earlier that day, our son asked to see the framed photo on my dresser, one I have seen hundreds of times, but never tire of looking at. It's me, pregnant with him, our first child. I reached out to pick up the frame and lowered it to his eye level. I knelt down in front of him and my voice dropped to a whisper, "That was when I was pregnant with you."
My hand instinctively fell to my now empty womb. "You were in my belly in this picture."
He looked at me with slight confusion, but I also noticed a bit of a sparkle in his eyes, "Me? Where's my sister?"
He grabbed the frame and pointed to his dad, "Was she in Dad's belly?" I smiled and tousled his hair, which has long lost its newborn scent.
"No, you were in my belly before she was. This was before she was born."
Those final weeks of pregnancy felt more like months. My son is 4 years old now and I realize just how fleeting that time was. It's hard to wrap my head around the fact that neither of my babies are actually babies anymore. My pregnancy with him was years ago. I am grateful I have this photo when he was only mine to hold; my body growing his.
It feels like I am so quick to want to move onto the next thing. I wanted my pregnancies to be over so I could meet my babies. I want them to be a little older because I think (hope) it will be a little easier. I rush through bedtime to get a few minutes to myself. Parenthood is a constant push and pull of emotions, and at times it can feel nearly impossible to enjoy the here and now.
Back in the bedroom, the kids stop running and start jumping up and down, their feet tucked in their footie pajamas. I watch our daughter jump up and down, her hair floating into her eyes—her smile from ear to ear. Our son is laughing, loving that we are all on his bed.
Have you ever had a moment where it feels like time has actually stopped? You aren't looking at the clock. You are truly looking at your children and soaking them all in. We will never be able to come back to this moment. This age. This night.
After the kids are tucked into bed, I walk down the hall toward the living room. I glance at the clock, realizing it is almost an hour past their bedtime. But the kids went to bed with smiles on their faces.
As I pick up my book, I think back to the photo of me pregnant with our son, and remember how surprised I was when the doctor announced, "It's a boy!"
At four, he has nearly outgrown his chubby cheeks. I know I'll miss picking him up from preschool, where he always greets me with a "Moooommmm!" as he slams his whole body into my legs. I dread the day when our daughter stops using both her hands to cup my face as she plants a wet kiss on my lips. I know someday I won't be her favorite person in the whole world, and she might not say every day, "Mom, you're my best friend."
Some day when we take the bunk bed down, I imagine I'll look up at the top bunk and remember when they were only two and four.
But for now, when most evenings bedtime feels like a finish line I can't wait to cross, I hope to remember how I felt when I joined them on the bunk bed. How those extra minutes in their world made me feel. I'm reminded that the time from when they were in my belly to jumping on the bunk bed went by in a flash. I want to embrace the here and now—knowing tomorrow they will wake up one day older and one step further from needing me.