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I Just Really Need You to Stay

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I wrote about it when he was six, a kindergartener. Now he’s seven-and-a-half, the summer before second grade. And I still lie with him until he falls asleep.

I sometimes call him a “live wire.” He is always thinking, lost in thought. His body, too, moving along with his mind. He isn’t the most physically affectionate child. He’ll let you cuddle him plenty, but he won’t always cuddle back. He is stiff in your arms, doesn’t melt like my younger son does. And has never, ever fallen asleep easily. As a baby, a toddler, a young child. Just never. It takes a lot for him to unwind. And he needs help. Always has, still does.

And he needs ME to put him to sleep. Daddy will do sometimes, but I’m the favored one, and I end up doing it almost every night. Why only me? Because I nursed him to sleep for all those years? Because we slept nestled together for hundreds of nights? Because he’s just used it it? Yep. Probably all those things. And also — despite how long it sometimes takes, and how tired I sometimes am — I love it too.

As soon as he turns the lights out, he unwinds. Sometimes his voice starts to crack as he tells me something that has been worrying him. Sometimes it’s something from weeks ago that has been living inside of him and is now ready to come out. Sometimes he just wants to tell me all about Minecraft or whatever video game / tv show he’s currently obsessed with (he is easily obsessed). Whatever it is feels important, sacred, hushed. To both of us.

Since we moved there has been some extra worry, and what used to take twenty minutes has sometimes been taking much more time. He’ll say, his voice choking, “I can’t fall asleep.” And I’ll say, “I know you will. Your body needs sleep so it will come.” In the past, I would be able to get away if it was taking that long. I would tell him I needed to go get a snack and Daddy would come and take my place. But that hasn’t been as possible lately.

Recently, it was taking a very long time, and I was starting to get restless and annoyed. I was trying not to show it, but it was just one of those long days with kids, it was almost 10pm, and I was DONE. I was starting to resent that I was the only one who could put him to sleep, and that my day of being “on” as a parent was that much longer than my husband’s.

Finally, I heard a muffled sleep sigh, and I snuck out of the room. A minute later, my son came into the kitchen, squinting in the bright light. “I just really need you to stay,” he said, his voice breaking up, a few tears coming. All the frustration and anger I had been feeling welled up in my throat and turned to regret. “I’m sorry, baby,” I said, folding him up into my arms. I wasn’t sure if he had picked up on my frustration or not, but I felt genuinely sorry.

And I was so incredibly moved in that moment, to see how simply and honestly he could tell me what he needed. My boy is highly intelligent, super advanced, but like most kids — and maybe especially very “brainy” kids — it isn’t always easy for him to tell me his needs in a clear, non-whiny, no-strings-attached kind of way.

I hope that somehow, in these many hours I have spent — first with him at my breast, then in my arms, and now, mostly just with my presence and my listening ear — I hope I have taught him that his needs and feelings are important. And that there are places in this world safe enough to share them.

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14 thoughts on “I Just Really Need You to Stay”

  • A good friend’s son had a similar problem when he was young. He was helped enormously by learning bio-feedback. He learned how to put himself into an alpha wave state when he was 6 years old. He’s also incredibly bright and just got his Ph.D. In Physics.

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  • This is beautiful Wendy and your patience & respect for your boys’ needs and feelings is amazing. As your loving cousin :), I just want to offer another perspective, which I imagine you have heard and thought of… Something else important and wonderful that you can do for your children is to help them soothe and take care of themselves – especially as they get older, like Ben. Helping him to develop strategies for falling asleep so that he does not always need you by his side is important. And it’s equally important for you to get a break after one of those long days with the kids. No judgment – just another way to think about all this. Love you!

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    • Thanks! I hear you, but the whole thing is usually pretty quick and it’s a special time neither of us are ready to give up. I feel like I get enough grown-up time (as much as can be expected). And I’m genuinely sure he will outgrow the need for this, as he has outgrown every other kind of dependence on me :).

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  • Your love for him and awareness of his needs are wonderful. You help him to feel safe. He’s only 7. It’s okay to need your mom. Cherish each moment. I know you do. And yes, there are times that it’s all too much, but you’ll get through those times and have the comfort of knowing he knows you are there for him. I’m sure as time goes on, he will take care of himself. But, as I said, he’s only 7. If it becomes a real problem, I’m sure you and his wife will come up with a solution πŸ™‚

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  • I think this is great. Not just as a mom who also waits it out with my 2 year old son, but as a child who was always scared of bedtime, who was even more scared my parents would be mad if I came out of my room, who never self soothed herself until I could fully understand what that meant, around 12 years old or so. Keep doing what your children need. πŸ™‚

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  • This brought me to tears. I could just hear his voice. It’s all about their needs being met, I agree. Many people don’t understand. Thank you for sharing your experiences and validating for people like me. Such special moments.

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  • Thank you. I could have written this myself. My almost-8-year-old son (my only child) and I are so close, and spend so much time together, that often we spend TOO much time together and get on each others nerves. Sometimes, bedtime is the only quiet, calm, loving time we have together. I lie down with him until he falls asleep, or I rock him in the glider that we have had since we was born. We have the rest of his life for him to go to sleep by himself and tell me: “I’ve got this, Mom.” I’m going to love every minute while I have it. As much as it cuts into my “adult only’ evening time πŸ™‚ How long do we have in our lives to fall asleep knowing that we are fully and completely loved and safe?

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