These heads, these little heads. At the window, looking out on the world, whether the snow or the birds at the feeder, pecking around the grass looking for the smallest of morsels. Those little heads looking for the slightest touch of the outdoors, the hints of freedom of the outside world.
The head on the left is my older son, from three years ago. He wasn’t even standing at the time, barely able to pull himself up. It was one of his first snows, one of those classic childhood moments of fuzzy pajamas and baby wonder.
When he’d wake up at night, his head smelled of fresh baked bread. I’d breathe in, wondering how he smelled so deliciously yeasty. I’d always heard people talk about how newborns smelled so good, but never older babies.
Now, he’s just started his last year of preschool. Instead of bread, he comes home smelling of paste and play-dough. At the playground, I watch his head weave and swerve as he rides his bike, often pedaling just a little too fast and braking a little too hard. There’s a bright red scrape on the side of his nose from where he tripped and went flying the other day. That head is now full of big words he likes to use like “motivated,” even though he doesn’t know what they mean. After dinner, I see the back of that head dashing around the house, as he cleverly avoids bedtime like a character in a childhood story.
Now, in the middle of the night, that head is more likely to be buried in stuffed animals than smell like baking. Looking at his head, noticing his hair darker than I thought it’d ever get, I linger. I watch at his pursed lips moving just slightly, his stuffed bunny nestled in his arms. Before going to bed myself, I fold his blanket back over his feet.
The head on the right is my younger son, from a few days ago. With the ever-ongoing teething process, I’ve spent many nights lately with that little head pressed up against me. Going into his room, my eyes blinking awake, I see his head tilted sideways, leaning on folded hands on the dark outline of his crib. He looks up at me with giant eyes, arms now reaching, grasping. I breathe in and smell just the faintest scent of buttered popcorn, a hint of childhood memories in dark movie theaters. Wrapping him in my arms, my head on top of his, I lean over to kiss him again and again, hoping those kisses will rock him to sleep.
Many nights that fails, his little mouth crying frantic, tired cries when I sit or even suggest putting him back in his crib. Those nights, he wants to walk, pointing wildly at anywhere that isn’t “here.” Instead of allowing me to hold him on my hip, he clings to me in a full-body embrace.
It reminds me of the newborn nights cradling him, pacing, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. Except now he’s four times as heavy and my back feels four times older than it did a year and a half ago. I mutter “Why don’t you just go to sleep?” and hope he understands the words but not the tone. His head buried in my chest, I meander to our back door, opening it to the cool fall weather, hoping that the bit of fresh air will relax him. After all, he is my wild child, my lover of the outdoors no matter the circumstances. “Look, it’s still dark, time for sleep,” I urge before heading back to his room.
Knowing that these nights will soon be over, I both embrace them and hope they’ll end quickly. The nights are long, but the years are short, I tell myself. They’re Both/And, as one of my favorite bloggers Beth Woosley says. At night and during the day, these little heads capture my heart, invigorate my mind, and exhaust my body.
So I join those little heads at the window. I join them in early mornings when I just want to lay back down and in noisy evenings when emotions and energy are running rampant. I join them to watch the birds congregating, to point out the bus going by, to observe and wonder. And then I take them and we go out into that big, beautiful world, where we can experience that freedom and adventure together.