17 March 2002
I walk into the darkened room, Damian in my arms. It’s the only time of day I still carry him; the kid’s getting big. But it’s part of the bedtime ritual and so it continues, at least for now. The spinning rice paper lamp atop his toy-laden bookcase glows red on the soft blue walls and the butter yellow walls. A peaceful room, especially in the dark.

As we cross the threshold, Damian comments, "The spinning light is going around." Another part of the ritual now, his commentary. I start the lullaby CD and sit down in the rocking chair for the requisite two songs.

Damian curves into my shoulder, puts his arms around my neck. "I’m hugging Mommy," he whispers.

I whisper in response, "I’m hugging you back."

"I whispered," he says.

"Yes, you did. Now it’s time to be quiet, okay? Time to relax and close your eyes and go to sleep."

He stays quiet for a few moments. Then he gives a big sigh. And of course has to tell me about it: "I took a deep breath, Mommy."

I sigh myself. "Indeed you did."

Another moment of quiet. Until he barks a small cough.

"I coughed."

"Yes you did; you’re still a little sick."


Um, yeah. Why? Hmm. "Because you were very sick yesterday and it takes time for your body to get well. You’ll probably be all better tomorrow."


"Why what? Why do you still feel a little sick or why will you be better tomorrow?"

"Why do I still feel a little sick?"

Err. See above. I paraphrase. Talk about how his body is strong but it has a lot of work to do so it will take time. I figure he understands one word in five but maybe it will be enough.

Nope. He corrects me: "I still feel a little sick because I have to go to sleep now."

And with that, he nestles his head on my shoulder, snakes his arms around my neck, and breathes softly into my hair. Finally ready for sleep.

As soon as Summertime starts, the third song on the CD, I slide my arms under his body, walk carefully over to the bed and shift his weight onto the mattress. His arms are still linked behind my head. I lie down next to him and gaze at the deep blue wall behind his head. Gaze too at his long lashes, his round cheeks, the dark hair falling over his high forehead, those pouty lips, that chin with the tiniest indentation of a cleft. Hear his breathing gradually deepen into sleep.

Something about a sleeping child -- my child, asleep -- makes me hold my breath. Wondering about the dreams inside his head, the next day, the future ahead. Something about a sleeping child makes me think about this child, his life and mine intertwined like the small hands still holding my head close to his.

In the night anything’s possible and everything’s unknown, as mysterious as his dream life, as unknowable as the future.

He’s come so far in just a year. So very far. It takes my breath away.

Even a few months ago he wasn’t asking questions. He never asked "What’s that?" or "Who is she?" or "When are we going home?" And he certainly never asked why. Why is the hardest question, the one that comes last. Children half his age may be asking why the sky is blue, why Grandma is grumpy, why they have to eat their cereal but Damian never has. For all his obvious intelligence, for all his surprising new linguistic sophistication, he never has asked the simplest questions. Now he is. The first why came about a week ago, during the bedtime ritual. After books and pictures, I’d gone to the bathroom. My PowerBook was on our bed, the lid closed to prevent small fidgety feet from knocking it out of sleep mode. Damian noticed the blinking green light.

"The computer is pretty."

Dan asked him what was pretty about it. They agreed it was because of the green light.

"Why is the green light on?" Damian wanted to know. So Dan explained about computers and sleep, appropriate enough for a little boy who would soon be asleep himself.

It seems natural enough, that curious question. But for Damian? A breakthrough. Something in his brain has clicked into a new way of thinking. If he doesn’t know something, he can ask. So simple. So powerful.

Now, in his quiet bedroom, Damian’s breath turns to congested sleep-snuffles. His arms behind my neck loosen their tight grip. I sit up slowly. His hands fall to the pillow, still slightly curved. I pull the comforter -- dark blue, with moons and planets and bright shooting stars -- up over this small figure. My son.

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