My little guy's story time is over and I'm sitting here while he settles down in his toddler bed.
"Is that your 'puter Daddy," he says as I browse and type on my laptop.
"Go to sleep," I say and he laughs, and laughs and settles down.
It's part of a routine we have now. Toothbrush, story, talk and rest while I type. I look up at his sleepy face periodically for the hour or so that I sit with him (he still takes a bit to put down) and think of myself at his age.
Sometimes, if it's a long night, I'll let my imagination run a bit and draw up conversations that might occur between the versions of myself at different ages; like a split screen between different Daves. I wonder how much we'd feel we had in common, or even if we'd like one another.
Normally, these imagined pairings cross decades of lived experience. The open eyed toddler looking up at the grown man; the slim shy teenager speaking hesitantly to only slightly less shy adult that I've become; the seedling and the tree.
But for some reason I can't explain - maybe it's those first few cool nights of fall - I find myself faced with two men very close to my own age. The new father that I was after my first child and the newly minted father of a disabled child trying to come to grips with a radically altered life.
"Geez man, look at all that grey hair - what the hell happened," the new Dad Dave says, looking a bit stunned.
"Lost some weight big guy - and looking rested; nice going," says the second, sleepy, cranky Dave, "What's it like to get 5 hours of unbroken sleep pal?"
"You guys want a beer or something," I ask in the empty kitchen, wondering if I have three beers (and then realizing imaginary beer or wine will do fine).
"Sure, what you got," says new Dad Dave.
"The last thing I need is a hangover," says the cranky Dave, "Got a ginger ale?"
And we sit, the three of us and talk out the last few years. We review all the tough days and the good days and the days I've nearly forgotten. I look at their eyes. The aged but eager eyes of my new Dad Dave and the "what just hit me eyes," of Cranky Dave.
"What do these guys see now," I wonder.
It's all nonsense, I know. Those two guys that were are long gone and this guy with grew hair that fits into the jeans of the younger guy and can look the cranky guy in the eyes is what's left.
It makes me wonder the way I used to wonder what happened to the perfect days when the sky was blue, or those terrible ice storms that brought down power for a week when I was a boy. It makes me wonder what happens when the thing you thought would never change has begun to change or is gone altogether.
There's no answer to these things I know. It's like trying to catch the smoke from a candle.
But every once in a while, a song will come on the radio, or the moon will show up over the rooftops and silver a thin cloud or the house will go quiet (really, really quiet) and I'll feel for a moment like I used to; like I've slipped on a pair of shoes that have sat at the back of the closet for a couple of years - I'll remember. Soon enough though, those moments will go too.
My little guy is nearly asleep and with any luck I'll get to watch something on TV in a bit while my wife puts my daughter to sleep. I'll check work email and - luck willing - I'll be asleep before midnight.
"The new normal," they say; "You can get used to anything." I know it's happening - It may already be done. What felt strange and awful and amazing is now just another day.
Another normal day. Good night.