the long hug goodnight

Last night as I was coaxing my son to sleep, there was a moment that had a deep impact on me. It was about 30 minutes past his bedtime, and he was having some trouble getting to sleep. I'd gone in to respond to the latest wails, prepared to instruct him, firmly but lovingly, to lie down. Instead, I met him at the rail of his crib and asked him if he wanted a hug. He nodded yes, and I picked him up.

In that instant between placing my hands on his waist and lifting him to my shoulder, I felt a profoundly deep sense of being...


The word grasped my throat with an iron fist and shook me to my core. You know that instantaneous, panic-induced ice-cold burst you get in the front of your chest that sends your head throbbing and your heart racing? It was like that, except instead of adrenaline it was just a sense.

I am alone.

As I stood with my child, his head on my shoulder and his body draped across mine, I thought about how I am the only one. I'm the only one who could tell by his little face that he needed a hug, not an authoritarian. I'm the only one who knows the full range of his vocabulary, or when he wants a graham cracker not an animal cracker, or whether he wants to "share" my food because he's bored or because he's hungry. It's my job, day in and day out, to teach him that he is worthy of respect, that we do not hurt the ones we love, that God is here.

Certainly there are others who know him and love him. And there are those who have stayed or come alongside me. So we aren't really alone, not really. But at 9 o'clock at night, I'm the only one who hears him sneezing on the baby monitor. No one else reads the parenting books, places a hand on his head to recite the evening's prayer, understands which insert goes with which cloth diaper. My thumb is the only one that marks the sign of the cross his little forehead every night.

So I stood there, hugging my son in the center of his room, well past bedtime and deep into my final reserves of energy for the day. Because he needed a long hug to end his day. And because I was the only one who was there to hug him.

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