The Night Shift
This is great, and I identify with three of the four panels. But the invisible dad panel hasn’t been my experience. Our kids do things we can’t predict, but a lot of that isn’t accidental.
The night shift started that first night. After her C-section, my wife was out. My son, an impossibly long newborn, lay in my arms trying to figure out why the world had gone bright and cold. He wouldn’t be put down, so I paced and talked and sang, and we spent a lot of time by the dripping faucet, which seemed to calm him.
My wife couldn’t lift him to feed, so he lay in his basinet on my side. In a half-sleep, I listened to his breathing and when he was ready to feed, I listed him and placed him. When he was done, I burped him and settled him. And so, as weeks became months and he moved to his room, when he cried he was accustomed to the calming presence of his father. Mommy in the day, Daddy at night.
In my lap in the rocking chair he heard every song I know how to sing. Month by month, he learned to sleep through the night while my wife slept. Sleep deprivation is something I cope with better anyway, so it seemed natural enough. He was used to me at night, and she needed to sleep.
He slept through the night. I put him down at night, or if I didn’t make it in time, I kissed him goodnight. I woke with him before dawn and held him. He dragged the stuffed horse to the floor, which he decided was a donkey. “Lay on the donkey with me?” he’d ask, and I’d pull the blanket onto the floor to cover us, the big squishy stuffed horse for a pillow, for twenty minutes or so before I needed to get in the shower. On Saturday, the Formula One races in Europe were on early, and we had the couch to ourselves. On weekdays, we discovered a British kid show about math and science on Noggin on so early that it was over before anyone else was up.
My office next door became a nursery. The workload multiplied and the sleep deprivation was terrible, and my nights were even more blurred and fragmented. This time, there was too much for me to do the night shift alone. For a few months, my wife and I took shifts before I could let her largely return to sleeping in. And when we finally returned to the wakeless night, I was besieged at 0-dark-thirty by what seemed an army. I’d close the bedroom door behind and take the brood to the basement on weekends. They got Mommy in the days, but the nights and the early mornings were Daddy time.
The night clinic, too, was my domain. For a while, I knew the receptionist, the nurse and a few of the doctors by first names. I hear people talk about fathers like we don’t know our kids’ medical history, and I guess that’s often true. A nurse some weeks ago when she asked my son’s weight, and I made the face of approximation, and estimated. She was surprised when I was within about a pound — she thought I was guessing. I was estimating growth from the last weigh-in.
And so last night I sang a few Scottish traditionals and closed one bedroom door, and crawled into another bed to read How To Train Your Dragon by a bedside lamp, then turn it out and watch him fall asleep. Those nights, now years behind me, were hard. And sometimes now he says he wants Mommy to read to him, and I don’t mind, because I am not invisible to my children.