Instead of the peaceful embrace of my own mattress, I am sharing a bed with my 2-year-old, actually a pullout couch in a small hotel suite somewhere outside of Knoxville. I feel pretty certain the industrial strength “bed” springs, which have long outlasted the now semi-transparent padding, are trying to coil between my ribs like a wild vine wrapping the branches of a tree. My ribs actually feel like they are separating. My 2 year old and I are “settling down” for the night.
And, of course, she is suddenly amped, and never sleeps particularly well in new places anyway. I, in my selfish and futile parenting way, explain to her that she is to sleep on the other side of the bed (read: not all up in my shit). I say it mostly for myself, for that flicker of hope all parents have at moments like this that the next 6-8 hours won’t be pure hell.
She seems to actually get it. Seriously. There is air between us.
To further my point about our “sides” and to make my case as an unabashedly selfish parent in this moment, I roll over so that my back is toward my daughter. It’s harder to snuggle up against a back: that’s my theory anyway. I really want to sleep. I’m an asshole and I have been driving for 9 hours. Don’t judge me!
And…then…that 2 year old, that wild little animal, that creature hell bent on making me miserable for the next 8 hours, that child that made us stop because of the crying and screaming to spend too much money on too little hotel room in suburban Knoxville…she gently pulls the sheet and blanket up over my back to cover my exposed top shoulder. She tugs a little more to cover me up to my neck. She then pats my shoulder a couple of times gently. She sweeps her hand down my back and the blanket as if to smooth it all out, to get it just right. One more small tug to cover my shoulder, two more pats, and then she rolls over to “her” side of the bed.
Oh my god. I am terrible. This sweet little being. Tears welling in my eyes. She loves me. I love her so much. She’s gonna let me sleep!
Well, as any parent reading this knows, I totally overreacted and the next 8 hours were a complete shit show. She kicked me. Smacked me. Sat up and started talking to me in stream-of-consciousness. Crawled all over the bed. Tangled the sheets into uselessness. Played with my nose. Put her legs and feet across my stomach treating me like a human ottoman.
Despite her nearly constant activity, I continued for those many hours to try to “convince” her she should sleep, that that was her side of the bed; this was mine. Please leave me alone and go to sleep!
Ironically, sometime after sunrise, she finally fell asleep for a couple of hours. So, I slept for a couple of hours too.
Before long, my wife and older daughter came in, having waited long enough for us to wake up. They left us in “the bed” to head to the lobby for food and coffee. The loud clack of the deadbolt and door handle stirred the two of us from our brief slumber.
I felt like shit and was feeling a bit resentful about it all. But, I hadn’t really opened my eyes yet.
As I did, the first thing my daughter did, her first act of the day, was roll over to me and offer me one of her cozy, soft, cuddly, prize possessions: “You want a lovey, Daddy?”
Holy shit. Seriously. The sweetest ever.