In “The Last Kiss,” Ralph Fletcher describes how his father initiates his son’s transition into manhood by ceasing their nighttime ritual: a kiss goodnight.
“‘Well, good night, then,’ he said, giving me a kind of half-smile, half-sigh that was peculiar to him. I was stunned” (Fletcher, 2013, p. 29).
“Next night I decided to try my father again. Maybe last night’s missed kiss was no more than a quirk…. ‘It’s bedtime,’ I murmured…. I merely watched with a sinking heart as my father’s hands got busy again, not with me but with something else, this time stacking his book samples in cardboard boxes. He stood up and turned to me. He reached forward to touch my arm. He squeezed my shoulder…. I was eight years old…. I was too old to be kissed by my father” (p. 30).
“Can I come in to snuggle?” my ten year old son tentatively asked.
“I know dad doesn’t want me to, but can I, just one more night?”
He weighs down the mattress as he clambers excitedly into his “middle spot” – much heavier than he was when this ritual started four years ago.
Before, the boys shared a room and giggled themselves to sleep nightly. I prayed on the top bunk, prayed on the bottom bunk. Then, turned out the light. Brothers, keeping each other company.
When we moved, at first, our middle son came out with me to “the big house” alone – he was in first grade and eager to join me in our new town.
His brother stayed back a few weeks to take the state test and leave third grade a little later.
That’s when the snuggling started. Keeping each other company.
When the rest of the family arrived, the house was so big that each child had their own room. The snuggling routine continued.
No worries about this new habit. It would not last past fourth grade.
“I don’t want to get any older than fifth grade.”
“Why’s that, buddy? You are going to love middle school.”
“I don’t want to get any older because then I’ll be too old to be your ‘bear guy’ (his nickname).” Softly sobbing, “We won’t be able to snuggle.”
We’ve known that time was running out. This precious time with my energetic, talkative, argumentative guy – our time to be calm, talk about our day with soft, relaxed voices, helping him settle down into sleep – was drawing to a close.
Ten was too old to be snuggling in bed with a mama, wasn’t it?
“Growing up isn’t as fun as I thought it would be. I don’t want to go stop playing with my stuffed animals. What will I play with if I cannot have Legos and stuffed animals?”
Dad says reassuringly, “There will be cars and girls!”
“I hate girls! And I don’t like cars like you do, Dad.”
Turning to me, “Why do I have to grow up?”
“Just think of right now – right here. Here you are, my bear guy. Nothing has changed. Just relax.”
As he drifts off to sleep, quiet tears trickle down my face. My guy is growing up too fast. I am going to have to give up a time that I have needed and looked forward to – bonding with my guy; snuggling with my baby. Letting me hold him protectively in my arms. I am not ready to let him go. But ten year’s old is too old to snuggle – and like Ralph’s father, I will soon have to let him go.
Just not tonight.
Not just yet.