Last night was my son’s Magical Night. It comes once a year; the night that he goes to sleep one age and wakes up another.

This year’s Magical Night was the bridge from six to seven, crossed alone as he dreamed in his cocoon of velvety blankets and Star Wars pajamas. He came up with the term himself, inspired by his older sister whom he overheard explaining to me that birthdays are like magic.

“You wake up different from when you went to bed, and all you did was sleep!” Sophia explained. “And it can only happen on your birthday, so it must be that birthdays are magic!”

Every year they release a little more information about the nature of Magical Nights to me. Yesterday, Eli told me that on his Magical Night, he gets to choose his dream.

“A kid can always choose what they want to dream on their Magical Night but only on that night! Other nights, they just have to dream whatever and have no choice,” he said, his green eyes brimming with the wonder of it all.

I’m glad to have one night to blame for this; before he let me in on the secret, I blamed every night. They pile up, stretching his bones and growing his flesh. He was chubby just the other day, I swear it, and now he is a lean stripling reaching further and further for the sky.

Little Boy swimming through a starry night to adulthood

I’ve threatened for at least a decade to lock my children in a box every night, “because that’s when you grow, and I can’t allow it any more.” When they crowed about “turning double digits” or “becoming a first grader” or “being a preteen,” I wanted to run for the hills with my babies on my back and in my arms where they belong. We could and should live up there, where time maybe goes slower or stops completely.

My children laughed and mocked me, saying they would kick the box open with their strong legs, warning me that stopping them was impossible. They were right, and it’s not really want I wanted to do. I just wanted each night to stop stealing a little more time from me. It’s slow and insidious, unnoticeable until you look at a picture of your son from two months ago and see the baby fat of his cheeks have evaporated just a little more.

We moved to the actual hills two years ago, and it hasn’t done a thing. Now I know, it’s the annual Magical Nights changing my cuddle babies into real people, tall and strong and with their own ideas and personalities.

Eli’s Magical Nights are the worst because he’s our youngest child. One Magical Night will eventually come, and be the one that removes his last vestige of childhood, leaving us with a grown man. It’s how the world works.

This is how mothers work: we smile with joy as a son explains the nature of Magical Nights, as our hearts crack open a little; we hug and kiss our daughters and sons goodnight, and slip out the door, leaving them to an ancient and unstoppable process that we can’t help but hate.

We hide the tears because it’s not right to burden little hearts with the selfish desire to keep them young and tender forever. Now we understand our own mothers so much more. Now our hugs goodbye with our mothers reflect not just how much we will miss them, but acknowledge what they lost as we gained freedom, wisdom, and strength with each Magical Night.