As as I was tucking Ethan into bed the other night, stuffing every free space on the mattress with stuffed animals, turning on the nightlight and generally performing the nightly before bed rituals, Ethan said to me with absolute certainty, "Mommy, I need a schedule."
"Schedule? What kind of schedule?" I had no idea what he was talking about. It surprised me that this gleefully rambunctious four year old could come up with the word, let alone the meaning of it. Let's get real: I would love to be one of these supermothers that keeps their kid on an activity schedule, sets up recurring playdates and is organized in that soccer mom kind of way. I count myself lucky that my son likes to go to bed at the same time every night and takes bathes voluntarily.
"Nooooo Mommy," he said in that exagerated, exasperated way of little kiddom "This, is my schedule. This pillow." He picked a small pillow decorated with painted lobsters. He listed numbers out loud : ..."50, 72, 12, 41....." Ethan waited for me to understand.
"You want to make a schedule of numbers?"
"Schedule for hugs!" he said and let himself fall back on his captain's bed for added drama.
"Ohhh! I said, you want to make 'Hug Schedule.'
"Yes, Mommy! Yes!" Excitement ejected him into the air.
Let me explain: When I got home from Kessler, Ethan was certain that I would, suddenly and without warning, go away again. To give him extra reassurance, I started a new routine at bed time. No matter who puts him to bed, I visit him without fail, five minutes after lights off. The 'Five Minute Check' as we call it, usually entails a hug. I sit in my wheelchair and he scrambles up on my lap. After he chooses a number from 1 to 100, the hug must last the number of seconds he dictates. Every night, he giggles as I squeeze him for all he's worth. I whisper and count in his ear. He let's his body go slack in a swoon and completely relaxes. This little ritual is just enough for him to pop happily back into bed without a worry of where I'll be when he wakes.
The next day at the kitchen table we made a grid of the days of the week and we filled in the squares with numbers. Ethan scribbled a bit on the page and pronounced it perfect. He took the stickers from a bag of apples and used them to stick the Hug schedule to his bedroom door. That night he checked the grid and declared that tonight being a Thursday was a 49 second hug. According to the first row of schedule.
"Okay," I said as he hopped up on my lap. He stared at the grid from his higher vantage point.
"What happens when the we use up all these numbers?"
"We'll make another hug schedule."
"Good," said Ethan.
I gave him a good squeeze and start counting.