Long after my eldest and youngest lay snuggled in their respective beds, I laid on the couch, surrounded so firmly by my blankets that I looked (and felt) like a marshmallow peep, trying to figure out if watching a documentary about female serial killers was the best option while dealing with the dreaded “D Word.”

Before I could get too far into my decision-making, I heard the gentle pitter-patter of what I presumed were tiny boy feet shuffling down the stairs.

“Alex?” I called into the hallway, entirely unsure if the noise I was hearing was the cats barreling through the hallway like they’d just taken a particularity awesome dump.

pitter-patter, pitter-patter, pitter-patter

“Hi Mama,” he said sheepishly, his big eyes, so similar to my own keenly watching me, knowing he was out of bed too late and that I may (but probably not) reprimand him.

“Hi Baby,” I replied, opening my arms wide so he could jump into them.

“Whatchu need, Little One?” I asked gently, moving the hair out of his eyes and scratching his head lightly with my fingers, which he loves.

“Mama,” he looked at me, his eyes so soulful, “Mama, I’m hungry. I didn't want to tell you before because (mumbles) but I’m hungry.”

I laughed a little – the kid is always coming up with weird requests, trying to stall bedtime. Sleep has always been elusive for Alex, and as a fellow insomniac, I understand all too well.

“Whatcha hungry for, Baby?” I asked.

“Mama,” he said, scurrying around the kitchen, “I smell pizza.”

“We don’t have any pizza,” I explained, “but maybe we could make some tomorrow. How about I give you some crackers to take back to bed?” I suggested.

He thought about it a moment, his small face squinting into a mask of uncertainty, “Yeah, like in a baggie?”

“Sure, Baby, I can do that,” I said, pulling out the box of Saltines and handing him exactly five while he scampered off to find a baggie to put them in.

“Why’d you give me five?” he asked, always looking the gift horse in the mouth.

“Because YOU’RE five,” I told him.

“So when I’m six, I’ll get six?” He asked.

“Yeppers!” I replied.

“How many do YOU get, Mama?” he asked.

“Well, I don’t usually eat Saltines, Baby, but if I did, I’d get 32,” I replied.

“You’d waste them ALL,” he said, eyes widening. “Because you don’t like them. How about you give ME 32, instead, so we don’t waste them?” Ah, my con-man.

“Next time I get 32 Saltines, Baby, I’ll give them all to you,” I assured him. Those things taste like sawdust and pregnancy.

I tucked him in. “You gonna come check on me, Mama?” he asks, as he does every night.

“Yep, of course, Baby,” I assured him. “I always do.”

“How about in 30?” he asked, specifying no frame of time in particular – could be days, hours, minutes or seconds.

“Okay, Lovie, in 30,” I said, a smile playing on my lips.

I went back downstairs, my children tucked neatly in their beds again and resumed my internal debate – to watch women serial killer documentaries or pick something blander – I couldn't decide, which turned out to be a good thing, because the next thing I heard was:

patter, patter, patter

Alex, again.

“Whatchu doing, Baby?” I asked.

He sat down next to me in my blanket cocoon, where I once again wrapped my arms around him. “Mama?” he said. “I’m sorry you’re so sad.”

Tears welled up, as I tried to figure out what to say.

“I’m not sad with you, Baby,” I assured him. “Sometimes grown-ups get sad because stuff happens that they don’t expect.”

His eyes, wise beyond his years, nodded.

“But you make me so very happy, J,” I finished. “You've made my life so much better.”

He smiled at that thought.

“The second you were born,” I told him, “You made my life better. I was so happy – I’d wanted another little baby so badly and there you were.” Once more, I wrapped my arms around my squirmy son, and kissed his head.

“I’m sorry you were sad, Mama,” he clucked sympathetically.

“It’s okay, Baby, I want YOU to know how happy YOU make me.”

“I love you, Mama,” Alex said, holding me close. “You make ME happy.”

And with those three words, I knew that while many people think I’m a fuck-up; a failure, in his eyes, I will always be Mama – and HIS Mama, she is no failure.

Until age 16... but we’re not going there yet.