He pulls my head closer to his face, smashing my nose into his. Warm thumbs pry open my eyelids and dark circles stare into mine as the corners of his mouth curl up into a smile. Warm breath caresses my face, red cheeks radiate heat, sweat and exhales and toothpaste enter my nostrils. I breathe in warmth, I breath in the smell of dried pee from sheets I didn’t have energy to wash, I breath in love.
His hands, still with baby fat covering the knuckles, fall off my face as his eyelids start to close for longer stretches, open, flicker, then close. He tucks his hands under his chin as he burrows his head into my chest. My heart beats into his forehead as the wiggles lesson, the feet stop squirming, and he gives into sleep, finally. I am off the hook, I have done my duty for the day.
But I remain. I kiss the top of his head and breathe him in longer, praying this never ends, praying I can remember this moment tomorrow when he won’t eat his lunch, praying I can remember this moment in 40 years.
I don’t know how I got so lucky. Me, who never really mattered to anyone. Me, who was never anyone’s best friend. Me, who is never someone’s first phone call. Me, who has never been needed by anyone.
But these boys need me. These boys need my physical presence, my touch, my skin. I am their security blanket. I am their shield.
I slowly lift my arm from around his back, pulling down his dinosaur pyjama top to cover his round belly. Trying not to move the springs in the mattress, I slide off the bed, lower one leg onto the floor, pause, hold my breath, check if his eyes have flickered, then lower my other leg. I exhale. I pull the covers over his small body and float backwards out of his room.
“Mommy, will you sleep with me now?”
A tiny voice from the top bunk beckons me, a mop of blonde hair spilling over his pillowcase as blue eyes, often neglected at bedtime because of the boy in the bottom bunk, pierce my soul. My little one stirs below, opens one eye and sees me start to climb the ladder. He bolts upright and scurries up the ladder behind me.
“No. No. No. No. Go back down now!” I shout. I growl. I beg. I give up. They giggle into each other, limbs pushing and pulling, hands grabbing blankets, skulls banging, pillows falling. I try to get out, they laugh and pull me back in.
They beg me to stay in their bed, and nuzzle up under my arm, one with their head on my chest, the other pressing his face into mine. They cannot get close enough, so one climbs on my torso and lays his head on my chest, cheek to bare skin. My arms wrapped around both, I gaze up at the ceiling, half wanting to manoeuvre my way out so I can start a TV show, half never wanting to move again. How did I get so lucky? I am needed. I am someone’s everything. I know this moment is fleeting, and in a few years they will no longer want or need me like this. But, right now, right now in this bed, our chests gently heaving as one, our skin melting into each other, we are one, and I am needed and I am whole. How did I get so lucky. This wasn’t guaranteed for me. Love wasn’t a given. But here it is and it is splayed out in front of me, on top of me, wrapping around me, and I’m going to keep holding on and breathing in this big, messy, beautiful love.