As a toddler, our son Michael came into our bedroom at night to sleep on the carpet near our bed. He never knocked on the door or asked to come in or tried to climb into our bed with us. He always conked out on the side near his mother. Obviously, just being near us—or, rather, her—gave him a sense of security.
I’m sure my wife felt flattered by his wish to be close to her, though she never said so. Who could blame Michael, really? I mean, there he was—what, two, three years old?—in his room down the hall from us, thinking, Hey, it’s dark in here and I’m all by myself. And then I can imagine his just deciding, Look, enough of this alone-in-the-dark stuff. I want my Mom.
All around, it was really cute.
Michael’s habit of silently slipping in to join us lent our nights an aura of mystery and suspense. I remember waking up and wondering, Is he here yet? He would make his entrance at different times, most likely whenever he felt the need, rather than going by any regular schedule. And then I might look down, and there he would already be, sprawled out with his eyes closed and his head on a pillow, all tucked under his blanket. And so night after night in he would come, our reliable little visitor, bundled in his baby-blue pajamas, the three of us sleeping together in the stillness and the quiet until morning.
This little ninja routine of his brought its problems, though. For example, I would get up at night to go to the bathroom and either almost step on him or trip over him. So we had something of an issue there: I wanted to avoid hurting him—and myself.
And then, Michael turned four, and I started to wonder how much longer he planned to be our nighttime roommate. I suspected he was getting a little too old to depend on our company all night. And of course, the older he got, the more he grew, creating a larger obstacle.
Now, please understand. I loved having our little guy there. Some nights I would kneel down next to him in the shadows and look at his beautiful face, just watching him breathe. But I was concerned about squashing him, and said so to his mother.
“Maybe Michael should sleep through the night in his room from now on,” I said. At a certain point he would need to learn to sleep by himself, just as everyone does, and maybe the sooner the better. I wanted only what was best for him.
“It’s fine,” his mother said. “It’s no big deal. He’ll stop coming in when he’s ready to stop coming in.”
Naturally, I worried about what the future might hold if we took this course of action with no cutoff point. Michael would be sleeping with us in our bedroom at the age of 10, and then at 20, and then at 30. He would graduate from college, start a job, get married, even have kids, but still there he would be, sleeping on the carpet next to our bed. And all along my wife would be saying “It’s fine; it’s no big deal. He’ll stop coming in when he’s ready to stop coming in.”
But one night only months later, I looked next to the bed and four-year-old Michael was nowhere to be seen. And the next night, too, and then the night after. And eventually I went to his bedroom to check on him and there he was, warm under the covers, at last secure enough alone to stay put.
And for just a quick moment, proud as I felt of our son, I wanted to invite him to come back.
Bob Brody, a New York City executive, essayist and father of two, is the author of the memoir Playing Catch with Strangers: A Family Guy (Reluctantly) Comes of Age.