On Darkness, or The Good Parts

I focus on the darkness.

In life, yes, but, more particularly, on this blog. Part of that is an attempt to balance the scales of parenthood media. Don’t get me wrong, if you dig, there is no shortage of brutally honest portrayals of the difficulty of early parenting. But still, the overwhelming sense you get from books/movies/people is one of innocence, of joyfulness. In commercials or in films, when the sleep-deprived father closes the door to his child’s bedroom, finally thinking he has gotten her to sleep, and she wakes upon hearing his first creaky step on the floor boards, the father gives an “aw shucks” sigh or hangs his head instead of collapsing against the wall in tears or cursing violently under his breath or punching some unbending surface until his knuckles are raw and his fingers are broken.

On a good day, I am trying to get through to the truth, to the meaning of my life (I don’t think I can speak for anyone else’s). By writing, by reading, by talking to people I love, or people I barely know, by collaborating on artistic projects, I am trying to push through to the truth of my existence. And maybe I’m near-sighted, mopey, narcissistic, naive, but I think the path to the truth lies through darkness. Through facing the things in my life that are difficult (of which there have been mercifully – or woefully – few) and being honest about them. I don’t mean to block out the light – I want the light to be the light – but I am letting darkness take the stage for a bit, so I can see what it says. I feel that not to give it its due would be truly foolish. Truly naive.

Alexis went up to Boston to visit her sister and try on wedding dresses a week ago and brought the Pope-a-dope with her (baby’s first trip). I got home from work at 7:30 pm the night they got back and upon entering the apartment was greeted with the sound of a complaining Poe. “Here we go,” I thought.

Alexis brought out our very crabby, tired-looking daughter. Her eyes were red and staring. Clearly it was bed time. She gets into these moods when we don’t catch her sleepiness quickly enough and won’t be consoled until she’s been fed and put down to sleep. But the second she looked at me, she calmed. She didn’t smile or light up, just looked at me.

I’m constantly imbuing Poe with thoughts and feelings and narratives that are probably just products of my imagination, but this is what the look said to me:

I see you.

It felt like a simple acknowledgement that we are tied to each other, have been tied to each other since her birth (or maybe before), and will be tied to each other until the day I die and until the day she later (much later, please) dies — that when my eyes close for the last time, I will be thinking of her. And when her eyes close for the last time, she will be thinking of me.

That’s my narrative at least.

I was anxious for the rest of the night in a generalized way. Preoccupied. I hadn’t seen Alexis in three days but found myself unable to focus on her. “Is Poe about to wake up?” I thought to myself. “Do I have clinical depression or anxiety? Am I going to need to go on medication?”

Alexis gave Poe a dream feeding around 10:30 pm and then we went to bed. I awoke to Poe’s voice over the monitor at 11:30 pm. Usually Alexis wakes up first, but she’s so sleep-deprived at this point that I’ve been waking up first on occasion. Alexis has been in charge of all night duties for a couple weeks now, but Poe didn’t sound too upset and, based on the clock, definitely didn’t need to be fed. So, I quietly got up and walked into Poe’s room, hoping to let Alexis sleep a little longer.

The moon was full that night and our blackout curtains are shit, so the room was filled with a crystalline blue light. Poe had flipped over onto her stomach (a common nightly occurrence) and had also rotated 90 degrees and gotten both her legs wedged between the slats in the crib. So, there she was — face down, torso in the crib, legs dangling out — making goofy gliding sounds with her voice. She didn’t sound happy necessarily, but definitely didn’t sound upset. Just reveling in the new sounds she has been learning each day.

I freed Poe from her wooden prison, rotated her, and eased her onto her side (her preferred sleeping position). She continued to babble, eyes closed. I put a pacifier in her mouth, patted her back, and shushed a bit. She immediately calmed. I continued the shush-patting for a few moments just to seal the deal. I allowed myself to bask in the moment for a bit.

Here she and I were, in the most basic of parent/child interactions, performed in some version or other billions of times across the globe since the dawn of humanity. She had a need, I provided it. Simply. I didn’t think about my ego or whether this meant she would continue to have sleep disruptions for the next 17 years or whether it maybe would have been easier to avoid having a child in the first place. Just me in a room with my daughter. No far-reaching ramifications. It felt simple and deep and good.

She woke up 10 minutes later, but I didn’t care. My mind didn’t flood me with a million negative thoughts or outcomes. We were engaged in a dance, she and I, and I had stumbled quite a bit in the beginning and would step on her feet many more times before this was all through, but for now I was moving, I was calm, I was fluid, I was smiling.



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