It starts small. Little thuds that could be my own heartbeat. An indecisive ringing in my ear, as if the eardrum itself were debating the detection of sound. Though my mind relaxes, my body is tense. Alert. Ready to react.
As I hear the inevitable cry, I sit up immediately. I feel a mix of irritation and relief that I can finally commit to being awake after floating in a space between dreams and consciousness.
The hallway is dark except for a lone nightlight. It casts a glow around a doorknob that I fumble to find, for although I have been endlessly anticipating for this moment, I have not yet come to appreciate the coordination it takes to open a door.
I creep in, as if somehow my silent footsteps will lull the fussing child into sleep again. Unlikely- as he is standing in his crib. He stares at me- tear graced face, hair askew, pajama shirt pulled up to his armpit on one side- and wails. His cries tell me of a boy who has been neglected, who hasn’t eaten for a wretched five hours, who was sent to bed by a cruel mother who abandoned him for her own selfish pursuits.
I sigh and free him from his wooden imprisonment.
As I feed him I stroke his hair and wipe the tears. His eyes are closed, and I know he wants to sleep- for it is very dark and very safe and very quiet in my arms- yet he forces himself to eat. To stay awake. To make absolutely certain that I won’t leave him alone again. I rock him and reassure him that I will never go. Eventually, he meets a peaceful sleep.
I set him down on a fluffy blanket, watch his chest move up and down for a long moment, and leave the room.
I hazily return to my bed and my snoring husband and glance at the glowing numbers on our bedside table: 2:41. I relish in the fact that sleep is near, and yet it doesn’t come. I don’t think about how annoying it is that my son doesn’t sleep through the night. I don’t dwell on how exhausted I am. I don’t envy my husband and his unencumbered 6 hours of slumber.
My thoughts are on my little boy, who grows so much every day. Who, one day, won’t need me to hold him as he falls asleep.