Fourteen minutes after one in the morning, Pax reached his hand behind my neck as I hugged him good night. He pulled me close and lifted his head to rub his cheek against the stubble of my beard. “This can be our new secret handshake,” he whispered, “…give me your hand.” He slid his other hand from under the blanket, palm open, waiting for mine. A secret bedtime handshake. Made official. He was tired. We’d just gotten home from celebrating the new year with friends. He settled into his pillow and quickly drifted off to sleep.
Flashback six years, when a fifteen-pound four-month-old boy lay against my chest at exactly the same time of night. He raised his soft chubby arm up to feel my face. Between the occasional pinch or scratch, his arm grazed gently up and down my cheek until I felt his breathing slow and his full weight relax into my shoulder. Standing up slowly from the rocking chair, I placed him in his crib, covered him with his blanket and watched him drift – open mouthed – off to sleep.
This night, I snuck out of Pax’s room and walked across the hall to the illuminated outline of Ella’s door. I knew how I’d find her, and when I opened the door I wasn’t surprised. Eight years old, but always nine in my mind for some reason, she was sitting up in her bed reading a book. I turned on the small white lamp next to her bed and sat beside her. We exchanged kisses and hugs and goodnights and I stood up to go when she says, “We haven’t been reading that much at night anymore…”
It’s true. We haven’t been reading at bedtime as much any more. Mainly because the holidays are busy and we’re getting to bed late, and sometimes I’m tired, but really it’s been on my mind. “I know sweetheart. It’s actually one of my New Year’s resolutions to get back to reading with you. But not tonight because it’s already after midnight.”
“O.K.” she says as I walk to her door and turn off the light. She rests her head back down on her pillow and adjusts so the little desk lamp shines dimly on the pages.
It’s a New Year. Everything is a year older. It’s a time to say goodbye to the past and think about what’s ahead. And even though we may need to remember to write a new number at the end of our checks, and we need to throw away one used up grid of squares to make room for another – this one without x’s on it – and after we’ve overextended our ability to stay awake in order to celebrate this monumental change, this break with the old and hope for the next, this passing of time and moving on, it made me smile, there in the hallway that night, to know that nothing much has changed.
She’s still that same little girl who loves to have dad read to her at night. He’s still that small boy who finds comfort in the stubble of his father’s face.