I think my daughter was two-and-a-half when the bedtime snuggle migrated from the rocking chair to the big-girl bed.
For years, our nightly ritual was the same: after reading Little Bear, Corduroy, or Ant and Bee, I would lie down next to her on her bed with the then-pink flowery sheets.
We’d talk until she got sleepy. It was a good way to get information, such as her early efforts to find a husband.
Franny: “Mom, I don’t want to go to preschool in the morning.”
Me: “But you love preschool. Why not?”
Franny: “I can’t get any boy to marry me! I’ve asked Jake, I’ve asked Cooper, I’ve asked Elijah. No one will marry me!”
It was also a good way to make my heart melt. Like the time she locked me in an embrace so I couldn’t leave the bed and giggled: “I love to hug you too much!”
And then, overnight, the pink bedsheets were bid adieu. Pink was OVER. Franny was on to turquoise and black, with newly painted white walls, a turquoise ceiling, and a black chandelier.
But the snuggle remained the same.
After reading Fancy Nancy, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, or Chocolate Fever, I’d turn out the lights and rest my head on the pillow next to hers. She’d tell me how she and her friend Stella were planning on wearing matching outfits the next day, or ask me if I thought her brother had “anger issues.”
And still, the vice-grip embrace when I tried to leave. “Stay fourteen more minutes,” she’d laugh.
Franny went though a fourteen phase for awhile, as in “you yelled at me fourteen times” or “I want fourteen pancakes.”
So when I asked her one night when our heads were pressed close on the pillows if she would be done with snuggling when she was fourteen, she said, “No, never!”
But at some point “no, never” became finite: “When I’m in college.”
Some nights, especially cold ones, I’d crawl under the sheets next to her, bone-tired from a full-day’s work. I’d tell myself it was just for a minute, then I’d wake hours later, so groggy it took a few seconds to figure out what day it was. Before we realized Franny’s nightly coughing jags were a symptom of asthma — which was later quelled by Advair and the nebulizer — I’d sleep in her bed almost the entire night, as if the heat from my body would keep her from coughing. And sometimes, I think, it actually did.
It was always so easy to sleep next to Franny.
Franny turned ten recently, and in the weeks leading up to her emergence into double-digits, the unthinkable happened.
She refused two snuggles in one month.
“No snuggle,” she said empahtically one night, as I entered her room for the nightly ritual.
“No snuggle?” I repeated, trying to make sense of those terrible words. “Not even a story?”
“No,” she said. “I’m just ready to collapse.”
After watching her crawl under the sheets and roll towards the wall, I flicked the light switch and closed the door. I stood in the hallway for awhile, my stomach somewhere around my ankles, unsure what to do with myself.
Like any tween, Franny seesaws from independence to little-kidhood, as she makes her way towards adolescence. Recently, just one night after refusing a snuggle, she surprised me by asking to sleep in my bed when my husband was away on a business trip.
But a few days later, her burgeoning maturity hit me in the face again like a splash of cold water.
She announced she was restricting me to three snuggles a week.
“Three?” I asked, my voice quivering. “I only get three? But why?“
“I don’t know,” she said, as she pulled the sheets over her head. “Mom, can you go out now?”
So now, when bedtime rolls around, I ask if it’s a snuggle night. I try to play it cool, kind of hard-to-get.
Last night it worked. I was invited in. We lay next to each other in the dark, talking about the things she will do during her upcoming trip to visit my sister on the other side of the country, the trip in which she will fly as an unaccompanied minor, the trip in which she told me, in no uncertain terms, she wanted to take on her own.
Every night that I am allowed a snuggle, I wonder if it will by my last. Often during the past nine years of post-divorce hell, I have fantasized about the day when my youngest will turn 18, and I will no longer have to attempt co-parenting with a staggeringly unreasonable ex.
As much as I want to fast-forward to that time, I also don’t want to wish away these remaining years of my daughter’s childhood. Even in intact families, childhoods disappear in a blink. But in divorced families, time feels more fragmented, more fleeting, more tenuous. You miss big chunks of experiences.
First teeth are lost at the other parent’s home. Kids schuss down mountain slopes and you’re not there to snap the photo. Your daughter goes to her first pop concert without you.
When my son Luca went to live with his dad, and then was sent off to boarding school, I found myself clutching at my time with Franny. Clutching foolishly, with all the likelihood of holding bubbles in my palm for more than an instant.
Franny and I have always been close, but you never know how the tides will turn when adolescence crashes on to the domestic shore. Maybe she’ll still want to hang out with me. Maybe she won’t.
So as I think back on all of it — the first steps, the running to grab my legs when I came home from work, the handmade birthday cards with backwards letters — there is no memory more potent, more savored, than the Bedtime Snuggle.
Franny, I love you. Always, forever, and beyond.