I had already been awake for at least an hour.
The hotel bed was one of those lumpy ones that felt like it was bruising my spine, no matter how I twisted and turned. The room was hot and stuffy, even with the AC on as high as it could go, possibly because it was 35 degrees outside and the seal around the windows wasn't great (as evidenced by the fact that the closed blinds had flapped and rattled against the sills all night, waking me out of uneasy slumber with every gust of summer wind).
It was so hot that both children slept only in nappies. Their bare little bodies made time roll backwards: they seemed impossibly young and vulnerable, still my babies for this night, at least.
When at long last the dark weakened under those flapping, banging blinds and the pre-dawn sneaked into the hotel room in stripes of grey, watery light, I took in a giant breath of relief.
To my right, tucked tightly into a ball on his belly, I could see my little boy asleep with his thumb in his mouth and his curly hair wild on the pillow.
How am I even a mother? And I started that self-indulgent thing that mothers like to do, thinking to myself: this time last year... this time two years ago... now...
The way he giggles when I tickle him: big, throaty, hearty chuckles. His current obsession with everything vehicular, our days punctuated with "chug" and "zoom" and "broom" and "beep beep beep." Chasing his sister, arm raised, and when I say "No hitting!" he responds "Just kissing, Mummy," and resumes the chase, baby-lips pursed. How he still sucks his thumb and curls his hair when he's tired. How everything new is "lovely" and "beautiful" and "I lub it!" At night when I tuck him in he sits straight back up and tries to make me laugh. "Lie down Ralph," I say, hiding my smile behind my hand. But when I leave the room he calls out, repetitively until I respond. "I lub you Mummy! I lub you more! Lub you por eba!"
The wind rattled again and on the other side of the room, Scout opened her eyes and looked straight at me. I crooked my finger at her and she leaped out of bed and tip-toed as fast as she could over to ours. I lifted her into the lumpy bed, in between me and a still-sleeping Mr B, and she wrapped her arms around my neck and kissed my cheek.
Then I heard a thump. Ralph had climbed out of his own bed, and thudded over to ours, all puffy-eyed and wild-haired, and I helped him climb into bed, too.
"What doing Mummy?" he asked, voice croaky with sleep.
"Shh," I said, "lie down."
So he simply lay down, half on the bed and half snuggled on top of me, thumb back in mouth. Scout lay down next to him and reached her little hand out to his curls, softly stroking them.
"Is that lovely Ralph?" she asked softly.
He let his thumb out of his mouth for only a second. "Yes," he whispered. And then, "Do my ear?"
So Scout tickled his ear, then his back, and then his hair again.
"It lovely," he breathed.
Then Mr B woke up and rolled over. "Happy birthday Ralph!" he announced, and both children sat up. Ralph pulled his thumb out of his mouth and said "Yeah!" and the birthday began.