Your baby does not want to be held in cradle to nurse at bedtime anymore. You have always started bedtime this way, ever since he learned to nurse, but the last few times you tried he has latched for only a second or two before throwing himself back in your arms. He wants to nurse lying on the bed, and so you do. You nurse on the first side murmuring Wherever You Go: My Love Will Find You as he twists and kicks his leg into the air. He unlatches and rolls away, but does not race to the foot of the bed like he used to and resists less when you pull him back. You nurse on the second side, singing Taps, then Simple Gifts, Over the Rainbow, and Stewball. Sometimes he unlatches and relatches. When he unlatches and rolls away unsettled you switch to the other side while continuing to murmur and hum. You switch back and forth until you lose track of how many times it has been, and then he rolls away and lies quietly babbling to himself. You rub his back. He rolls around before finally settling on his tummy, and you rub his back some more as you watch him drift off to sleep without the help of nursing.
You look at him sprawled out asleep on the bed. You see the baby from the NICU, the baby you brought home from the hospital, and the baby you had just before he turned one, but all of these babies exist only in your mind’s eye. The baby asleep on the bed next to you is a little boy. He is your baby, but he is not really a baby anymore. The reality of this hits you, and you almost cry. You feel the tension of holding simultaneously the sadness of letting go of the baby he used to be and the joy of watching him grow into the person he is to be. It is not the first time you have been caught in this in-between place. The sweet and the bitter, the happy and the sad, the pulling close and the letting go collide often in parenting H. As you watch him sleeping, you bounce between joy and sadness before your mind comes to rest on the little boy next to you, not as he was or will be, but just as he is.