There was a moment a few weeks ago when Miss E woke in tears for the second time in a night, when I crawled out of bed to cuddle her and nurse her and stroke her hair. I remember thinking, as I’ve thought for months and months now since we decided we couldn’t let her cry, that soon enough she wouldn’t want me in the night anymore. She’d be a grown girl who takes a few deep breaths when she wakes from a bad dream, a girl who’d know that the sun rises in a few hours and the scary things don’t seem so scary by the light of day.
I thought to myself, I bet the last time she nurses will come and go and I won’t know until after it’s over that… it’s over.
Miss E has slept through the night for the last week, which is absolutely unheard of. A night here and there, sure, but twelve hours, night after night, without a squeak of protest? It’s crazy. Now I’m waking wanting her and expecting her to want me, too, but she doesn’t. We both roll over, tug the covers, sigh and sleep again without the smell of the other in our noses.
Within the last month or two she’s nursed less and less, at first only before bed, once in the night, and again in the morning. Then she was too ready to go-go-go in the morning, and then a cuddle and a cup of milk – which I was having to offer anyway, so diminished was my supply – would satisfy her at bedtime. I began bringing a cup of water with me when she woke in the night, anticipating the inevitable weaning, and while sometimes she would take it, she would often still tug at the collar of my pajama top, signing for milk, and I would oblige her. And then she stopped asking. And then she stopped waking up.
It happened just the way I thought it would, and somehow, I’m still a little surprised. And a lot sad.
It’s only been at night that I can really imagine my baby girl as a baby. When she is half-asleep, she is vulnerable, she clings to me, she is inarticulate in all but the language of pressing close, snuffling and settling and sleeping again in the space between my shoulder and neck. At night her little body rests and remembers a day of exploring, tumbling, running, of pushing my hands away because she can do it herself, thank you, and if I must watch, could I please do it from over there? But at night my arms are made for bearing the weight of her dreams. At night she’s needed me still in the ways that are most familiar to me, because they are the first ways I learned how to be needed, the ways she taught me.
And now she is so big, and so fearless, but still so skillful. She is showing me new ways of being needed, new ways of being loved. I tell myself it is okay to mourn for a little bit her vanished, littler self. But only for a little bit. I need to conserve my energy to chase a toddler.