Parenthood, or Weird Things That Happen in the Middle of the Night

Being a parent is a wonderful thing, truly. It is also, however, filled with all kinds of strange and frustratingly unforeseeable occurrences, which keep you just off-guard enough as to create an almost pervasive anxiety. I can’t decide if that makes it sound better or worse than it actually is.

Two nights ago, at about one in the morning, I was lying awake in my bed, trying and failing to find sleep. I heard a car door slam somewhere out on the street. I thought it was a little strange, but since I’m not usually awake at one in the morning, I couldn’t have said for certain whether the sound was out of the ordinary. Maybe one of the people living down the street gets home from work every night at around one, and so on. About two minutes after I heard one strange noise, I heard another. It sounded something like the gasp of someone in a swimming pool just before they are dunked back underwater. I was only hearing things, surely. One out-of-the-ordinary noise begets an imaginary one. My brain playing a trick, creating a narrative wherein the person exiting the car is now for some reason gasping. Or trying to break into my house. A paranoid illusion. Probably.

Then I heard it again. And louder. It was definitely coming from across the house. I sat up. There it was again. Then my wife sat up. “Do you hear that?” she asked, and though I kind of wished I could have said no, I just got up. My wife walked past me, and when we came out of our bedroom we knew for sure that the sound was coming from our son’s room on the other side of the house. We walked that direction, the occasional gasp still breaking the silence. I’m thankful that I wasn’t the first one into his room, because then I would have been the one to see his empty bed. I would have been the one, who in the half second that it took to realize exactly what was happening, I would have had to suffer the fear of abduction, of death, of a childless life. Because this is what goes through my mind every time I find empty space where I expect my son to be. Fear of losing the things we care about is part and parcel of caring about them.

“He’s in the closet,” she said. The empty bed didn’t mean anything to me any more. But I knew already what she had suffered in that split second. My son was standing in his closet, in the dark, facing the corner, and totally asleep. The gasping sounds had come from his crying, muffled through the walls. My wife lifted him and clutched him to her chest and carried him to his bed. We patted his back and told him we loved him and that everything was alright. He just kept crying, saying that he needed medicine. When we calmed him down, we carried him into our room to spend the rest of the night with us. The prospect of having the same thing happen again was too unnerving to warrant thinking about.

For hours before this all happened, my wife and I had been fighting desperately to get to sleep. Both of us have to wake up before 6:30 every morning, and neither of us wanted to be awake at 11:30 at night, let alone 1:00 AM. I was upset about not being able to fall asleep, but when we found our son in the closet, suddenly that didn’t matter very much either. If we’d been asleep, who knows how long it would have been before we had found him, or how scared he might have been when he had finally woken up?

It took me a while to finally nod off, and when I woke up, it felt like I’d only just closed my eyes. I rolled over and turned off my alarm and felt his warm little body curl up against me.

This is parenthood, that strange collection of the absurd and mundane, the frightening and the transcendent. All in one night.

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3 Comments on “Parenthood, or Weird Things That Happen in the Middle of the Night”

  1. Karen Taylor
    August 21, 2012 at 9:02 am #

    “Fear of losing the things we care about is part and parcel of caring about them.” This is exactly why I must hand my children back to God every single day. And I say thank you, for letting me have them up to now, even if this is all there is. Their lives are a gift to me and I treasure every single day. But I know they aren’t really MINE. I must put them back into the arms of Christ, for he knows them and loves them even more than I do, which is pretty hard for me to believe sometimes. Yes, I know they are grown men now, but that doesn’t lessen the feelings. Actually now I have two more children that my sons brought into the family. Now I have daughters! Yes, I must give them over every single day, or the fear would consume me. Seriously, what do atheists do?

    • joshacorman
      August 21, 2012 at 11:48 am #

      “Seriously, what do atheists do?”

      This is a sweeping (and therefore maybe useless) generalization, but I think that a sort of protective shell, whether it manifests itself as nihilism or simply a Murphy’s Law approach to the world, has to take over. There must be a way for us to explain the potential and actual misery that the world is fraught with. Telling yourself repeatedly that the only explanation is that there is no great force governing existence (because s/he/it would have to be malicious if there was, to let so many terrible things happen) actually softens the blow, because it stops us from having to ask painful questions and, ultimately, reach frightening conclusions. Saying that your children aren’t yours is an example of that type of conclusion, because only total trust in who/what you are offering them/your love for them to would allow that to happen. It’s scary unless you believe that you’re giving them to a better, stronger, more prepared guardian than yourself.

      • Karen Taylor
        August 21, 2012 at 9:12 pm #

        Faith is something that found me, rather than me finding it. So it’s hard for me to think about what I would do as an atheist. It’s still scary giving them over to a more prepared guardian. But I think it would be even scarier not to.

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