This picture has nothing to do with this writing. It's Beren and one of his pals eating wintergreen.

When Beren was about two, Jared and I went out in the evening to friend's house for dinner. Beren was to spend his evening with my in-laws. We'd be back later to sleep over.

Our friend hosted several couples and one pair were to have a baby in the coming months. We noted that this was the first we'd been out at night together without our son. Everyone was surprised, especially the couple with child.

Later, one mother told me she and her husband rarely went out. "We realize we miss our girls at home. We try not to talk about them, but then we have nothing to talk about. So, I'll say, "Guess what the little one did yesterday? It was so cute!'" I shook my head, agreeing.

Deep into the evening, we received a text message, "Asleep."

On the road to my in-laws, Jared and I wondered if Beren would still be asleep when we arrived. We tried to time our arrival for "The 10:30 Wake Up", but the food was good and the conversation engaging enough that we lingered.

When we opened the door at my in-laws' house, I heard Beren's hysterical sobs coming from upstairs. "He's been crying like that for only a few minutes," my father-in-law said.

The 10:30 Wake Up.

I bounded up the steps, taking two at a time. My heart pounded, partly from the adrenalin pushed through my system by my child's cries and partly from a fear that he might wake and not return to sleep.

My mother-in-law was calmly crouched by his side, uttering comforting words. "I couldn't get him back to sleep," she said simply.

I tucked in beside him and nursed him back to sleep. This was our routine for years.

Another evening, we left Beren at my in-laws' and when we returned, he was cuddled in my mother-in-law's lap watching a movie on a projection screen. Beren's face glowed blue with the silver screen's light. "When I asked if were going to go to sleep, he said, 'No,'" my mother-in-law explained. Jared and I shrugged, not surprised.

Things have changed a little lately. The 10:30 Wake Up is no more. It's become The 10:30 Application of Chickweed Salve to the Chapped Face Because it is Otherwise Refused During Waking Hours. Beren doesn't like greasy stuff on his face. He's living in the now, as people sometimes say. As in, I don't know when this now will end. It could be forever. And that is most likely what he was considering when Momma and Papa were not home at the bedtime hour.

Over the years, I've snuck away, guiltily, in the evenings, leaving Jared to put Beren to bed. It was already a fraught time of day, the ultimate transition for a little one who cared not for change.

I did this rarely while Beren was exclusively breastfed, perhaps 3 or 4 times to attend a night class. I was not undisciplined at the breast pump, just doing it while at work. Otherwise, I felt I hardly had the time for another task. I'll just stay home - let's just nurse and conk out.

As he's gotten older, I've more frequently been away at night, to see friends because Jared's taken over the bedtime routine. And as of the past couple months, I've begun taking a night class once a week. It was time, and like most things there were no determining signs, we just fell into the rhythm.

Sometimes before I go out, Beren tells me, "You should stay here FOREVER!" And while I usually agree, my occasional evenings out have come more steadily as Beren's become more steady. "I'll tuck you in," I say, and apply salve liberally to those pink cheeks, I think.

On the way out to my class, tears begin to roll down my cheeks. Things are changing lately. I wipe my eyes and focus on the road.

On the way home from class, I drive around the last bend before our house, I watch for Beren's light. It's off. He's asleep. Inside, I ask Jared, "Did he say anything sweet? Did he ask for me?" Often the answer is "Yes". Once Beren asked why I always went out at night.

Upstairs, Beren is swaddled in his down blanket. His mouth hangs open. I put my hand on his chest and let it rest there and then I rub salve on his cheeks. "Goodnight, Beren. I love you."