Sunday, August 16, 2009

Light and Sweet

The kids woke up at 4:30 a.m. this morning; my son started to cry and my daughter came to our room to ensure that we were aware of the situation. 

"Dad. Dad. Dad. Dad. Dad," she chanted. 

I came out of my dreams roughly and was trying to deny the reality of her voice. Our son has been sleeping through the night for a couple of months now and we're starting to get soft again. I never truly appreciated the soldier Martin Sheen played in the film Apocalypse Now and his desire to get back into the jungle until now; the jungle makes you suffer, but it keeps you strong. 

"Um, Dad. Um, Dad. Um, Dad," my daughter repeated without any urgency. She was not going away. 

I tapped my wife on the shoulder. Without opening her eyes she rolled over to get my daughter's hand and pull her into the bed, while I rolled out to attend to our boy. 

This arrangement of dividing the kids is still a working routine for us and like all good routines it begins without thought. As I moved away from my room, I could hear my daughter's little piping voice alternate with my wife's soothing her to rest. I have to admire my wife in this - she rarely ever fails to get my daughter back to sleep. 

My efforts with my son are less predictable. 

Nonetheless, I tried to stick to my routine and after so many months of practice, my muscles just took me down to the kitchen for fresh milk and back up to my son's room automatically. This morning, as I sometimes do on other mornings, I said a little prayer along the way: 

"Please God, let him go back to sleep. Please God, I'll give more money to charity, just let him go back to sleep," or something very much like that. 

But when I opened the door to his room and saw him sitting upright in his crib with clear and wakeful eyes I knew that God was busy elsewhere and was leaving this one up to me. 

My situation was made slightly more difficult in that we are on vacation this week and had one of my cousins and his fiance staying with us. So my usual back up plan - to let my son throw his toys around in the most remote part of the house - was not possible without waking our guests (who were in a spare room downstairs). 

I felt a little like a baseball player whose lost his favorite glove and has his place in the lineup changed on the same night. I was completely out of my grove. 

As the reality hit me and I came into full consciousness I felt some anger and frustration, but the urgency of my son's tears forced me to put that anger aside; If there was anything worse than having him awake, it was having the whole house awake with us. I scooped him up as fast as I could, threw my wallet and cellphone into his baby bag and hustled out to the car. 

He was still crying when I turned the engine over and pulled out into the dark. 

The clock on the radio showed that it was nearly 5 a.m. I thought I'd drive around until someplace opened up for coffee. 

To sooth us both, I steered the car down to the road that runs along a long stretch of beach. Usually this road is choked with cars jockeying for parking, but at this hour it was desolate. The first faint pinks of the dawn stretched out over the horizon of the ocean and I thought of Homer's famous line - "Dawn, with her rosy fingers."

Homer, I had been taught, used beautiful phrases like this as a way to prepare his audience for the next scene. It was a way of breaking from the action with a soft distraction. And this morning, that distraction seemed to work for both the boy and me. My haste and anger dissipated slowly and my son stopped crying. 

We drove around like this for maybe an hour. I resisted to the desire to put on the radio and just let the light grow up around us quietly. By 6 a.m. we were both peaceful and calm. I was more awake and my son was growing sleepy again. 

I pulled into a donut shop whose lights were on and waited for the attendant to flip the "Closed" sign over to "Open."

"It's not so bad," I thought as I picked up my sleepy boy and went in to order a coffee with a jelly donut - I don't diet when I'm pulled out of bed this early.

I was the first customer of the day and man tending the store smiled at me knowingly as I held my son by the counter. 

"Probably thinks this is cute," I thought wearily. There's a kind of almost military camaraderie between parents who have survived the no-sleep thing; almost like soldiers who have shared a battle together. I can usually pick out a parent at a time like this just by the look on their face. 

I met his eyes and recognized the kinship, but no commentary came. He looked once or twice like he would say something, but something was holding him back.

"Coffee, light and sweet and a jelly donut," he said gently handing me the bag. 

I had turned to the back counter to get some napkins when he called gently over my shoulder.

"Uh, Mister," he said, "Wasn't sure if I should, but I got to tell you something."

I looked up questioningly. The expression on his face was both amused and knowing and shy. 

"I think you're still wearing your pajamas," he said gently with a smile. 

"I'm a Dad too," he added as I turned red and smiled with embarrassment, "Hope the day gets better." 


Paula P. said...

I just wanted to tell you that I like what I am reading. I hope that is encouraging.

Molly said...

i was really glad to stumble across your blog via motherlode on the times site. i have a 4 yr-old also, who is "typically" developing, and my 22 month-old son has CP as a result of bilateral strokes on or about his 5th day of life. i write a blog about us at, and i know how great it is to see readers comments.
i'm enjoying your writing and i'm certain my husband will too.
molly, mom to Henry and Foss

Julie Steinberg said...

Loved this one

nkelley741 said...

Just wanted to say that I'm enjoying your blog after having read your Motherlode columns in the Times. I, too, have a son with CP. He had a stroke (grade IV) on the right hemisphere of his brain, either in utero or shortly after he was delivered by emergency c-section. He has epilepsy and mild spastic hemiplegia on his left side. I'm interested in the whole cast-on-the-arm thing that your son has now! Your posts capture much of the joy and pain of having a kid with CP. It's so, so nice to read your reflections and to feel as though someone else out there is going through the same things.

David said...

In a more general sense, you thoughts are those of all parents and often bring back nostalgic memories of my now 40-year old daughters' childhoods.


David Sexton said...

Hi Paula P.,
Thank you for leaving a note on my blog. It's great to know you're reading and that you're enjoying the site. It will help to keep me posting.

Take care,

David Sexton said...

Hi Molly,
Thanks for your kind words. I will be sure to stop by your blog and read about Henry and Foss.

Take care,

David Sexton said...

Hi nkelly741,
I will write more about the cast that my little guy has - the therapy is called constraint therapy. We went to NYU for the treatments. His cast is off now - thankfully. We see some changes in his arm, but they're very sporadic. We saw more changes in his speech (babbling really) and his desire to walk.

I hope your little guy is doing well.

Take care,

David Sexton said...

Hi David,
Thank you for saying that. Part of my blog is just about being a Dad - all other things aside.

My little boy and older daughter are among many things, regular, mischievous little rascals who I love. I'm doing my best to live up to their needs. I'm really glad that there's some common ground here for you as a fellow Dad. I'm honored also that with your veteran Dad status (I'm the same age as your daughters), you like my stories.

Take Care and please stop by at the blog when you can,