Last night, before a case of insomnia hit me and kept me up late, late, late (or early, early, early depending on how you look at it), I headed upstairs to read for a while before falling asleep (I love how my insomnia strikes when I am genuinely tired).
As my feet hit the top stairs, I heard the soft but unmistakable sound of crying.
It was Becky, I saw as I opened her door. Her quiet crying ramped up to full scale when she saw me; she cried with the abandon of a toddler, sad and seemingly inconsolable.
I hugged her close, this simple act calming her, before asking, "What's wrong?"
It was nothing more than a case of the Little Brother Blues.
Tom, who adores Becky and follows her like a puppy around the house, happily doing her bidding and playing dolls if it means he gets to play with her, had snuck into her room earlier in the day and ripped up the sticker she had gotten from our local library a few weeks ago when she signed up for their summer reading program.
Her tears were so sincere, so profound, so young; the part of my heart that has grown a bit thicker, reinforcing itself against her flare-ups of tweeny attitude as it prepares for the coming trials of mothering an adolescent, just melted.
I hugged her harder, and whispered, "I'm sure some of our librarians grew up with little brothers, too. I bet they'll be happy to give you another sticker next week."
She calmed down, wiping her eyes, and heaved the shuddering sigh that meant she was all cried out.
"I love you, Mommy," she said, and settled down on her pillow, finally ready to sleep
I kissed her again, then gently closed her door and headed back to the hall to check on her brothers.
Next door, I found Huck sprawled across the very edge of his bed, almost falling off. When I reached down to push him back toward the middle of the bed, I discovered Tom, stretched out between the wall and Huck, snoring softly.
Tom's little hand was draped across his big brother's shoulder.
We'd had some rain showers earlier in the night and perhaps a stray clap of thunder had woken Tom up, sending him across the hall to the safety of his Huck's room. Or maybe it was just a nightmare, or sheer loneliness; Huck, the gentle giant that he is, never fails to push over and let his little brother snuggle back to sleep next to him.
I thought about leaving him there but decided against it so I carried Tom back to his own bed, whispering in his ear, "You've got the nicest big brother and big sister around, little guy."
It's funny; so much has gotten easier for me as a mother over the past year or so. Becky is almost nine, Huck is seven, and Tom is four and a half; while they still need me, the heart-thudding intensity of the early years of mothering them is slowly fading.
But they are all still so young.
And I am still, fundamentally, happily, their Mommy.