The immense majority of human biographies are a gray transit between domestic spasm and oblivion.
Years ago, when I worked a summer as a front desk clerk in a Glacier Park hotel, I realized that the first thing everyone packs when they go on vacation is themselves. What I didn’t realize at the time is that every parent brings their child with them as well, even if their child isn’t physically with them. And that I carry ghosts with me wherever I go.
For us Bradsteins, during all of our recent travels, having ourselves with us has been the only constant, which means that all of our patterns were rolled like dice in a rock tumbler for the last month. 3B’s sleep habits were certainly tossed around.
He flew to Vermont, where he had to sleep in a Pack N Play, which he promptly climbed out of. (The week before the trip, Mrs. K was so caught up in updating me on 3B’s new linguistic tricks that she had forgotten to tell me that he had done the same with her.) But Mama was there to put him down every night. That is, until Mama joined me for the wedding in NYC, which is why Mama and Grammy tag-teamed putting 3B down in VT.
And then 3B was back home with us for a night before jetting off to DisneyWorld, where he again validated his sometimes moniker, Houdini, and so ended up sleeping in bed with us for over half a week. Back at home, we had Grammy put him down that first night since she would be doing that for the next week while Mama and I were in Brussels. After that week, we again returned and then Grammy left a day later.
It’s no wonder then that 3B’s been discombobulated and needy at bedtime.
Hell, I was discombobulated and needy at bedtime for awhile there too, which hasn’t made it easier for me to figure out with Mama how we’re going to get 3B back on track. We know that, to a certain extent, it will just take time for his sleep patterns to sort themselves out, but rather than being up with him until 10 every night until they do, we’re trying to find ways to help him find his rhythm again.
In the midst of our travels, however, it was a different story. The one night we were back home from DisneyWorld before Mama and I headed to Brussels was also the first night in more than half a week during which 3B slept alone in his crib. So, I didn’t hesitate to go in and comfort him when he was crying out from his crib for a hug, and it was there that I found myself facing my father’s ghost.
Although 3B has never explicitly responded to back rubs, I still rub his back at times like this. It’s part instinct, part habit, I suppose–my family was always big on back rubs and back scratches when I was a kid. And this is what we do as parents, isn’t it? Pass on our reflexes. After holding 3B for awhile, rubbing his back, I slowly stopped rubbing in preparation for returning him to his crib.
As soon as I stopped, however, 3B twisted his arm around to my hand on his back, moved my hand up and down on his back and said, “Want daddy to keep rubbing your back.” And suddenly I was back on my parent’s bed on a Saturday morning, after a sourdough pancake breakfast, lying on my stomach, feeling Dad’s dry, rough-skinned hands rubbing my back, hoping he would never stop.
As I resumed stroking 3B’s back, I knew why Dad had given such long back rubs. There’s just no feeling like that of comforting my son with a simple touch. Of letting him know that I’m with him. Of letting him know that I love him. In that moment, I realized that I was likely feeling the same depth of complete love for 3B that my father had for me, and had I not been holding 3B, soothing him to sleep, I likely would have slumped to the floor under the weight of that feeling.
I’ve had this feeling before, because 3B looks so much like I did as a child. Sometimes when I view video of him, I flush with emotion, and it seems as though I’m feeling for 3B the love my mother must have felt for me. It feels almost as if I’ve ceased breathing for several minutes. As though I’m floating outside of this life.
Even to contemplate that someone could have once loved me as wholly as I love 3B–as if he were the eyes in my face, the fingers on my hands, the air in my lungs that brings me life–is deeply moving and humbling. It reminds me that, because I cannot be touched by someone without also touching them, I don’t only carry myself, Mama, and 3B wherever I go, but that I also carry Mom and Dad with me. It reminds me that my love for 3B is wholly unconditional which is empowering–I could hold him and rub his back all night, if that’s what he needed–and terrifying–I would do whatever it takes to make him happy, no matter what it requires of me.
This is why I’m more than willing to take the time to let 3B find his own way back home to his comfortable rhythms, to the long, slow breath of sleep.