1. Daylight Savings came, and it’s not dark at bedtime anymore. Asher is plagued with fears about bad guys and unlocked doors and the very real feeling that comes along with realizing what it means to feel vulnerable, without the words to say, I feel vulnerable. He can’t fall asleep.
We bend around him in his small bed at night and move through two books, two stories: Once upon a time, there was a boy named Asher, his little brother Lucas and their big dog Louie. One day, Asher rode is shiny red bike up the side of the biggest, brightest rainbow he had ever seen…
We wake up with him in our bed almost every night. He slips in silently most nights and curls against one of us. I wake up with my head craned up against the pillow, slowly realizing that there’s a tuft of red hair pressing into my nostril or Drew’s elbow against my rib because there’s been a move on our bedtime real estate. It’s kind of obnoxious, this new habit, but the motivation is alarmingly sincere. He’s afraid of being by himself, and there we both are, being so quiet and comfortable, with plenty of room between us.
Why do you and Papa get to sweep together but I have to sweep awone?
2. The summer before we got married, Drew took the MCAT and was volunteering in the hospital to pad his Med School applications while we were living on my family’s farm in North Carolina. He’s kind of a silent soldier in the way that he does these things–at the time I remember him studying vigilantly in my father’s barn for his test, tucked into a make-shift desk after his labor-intensive days as a carpenter. He would write in his endearingly tidy cursive as he took notes under an industrial wall-mount lamp that my father had once used to carve birds under. Ten years later, the image is stark and rich to me still: notebooks open, the Carter Family warbling about the unbroken circle in the background, the rough barn walls and dust that filled that living space, and Drew hunched into the corner of it all, setting his own standard. Drew would make a cup of coffee and get to it, learning all of the things, silently filling his mind and his notebook, preparing to make good on the hundreds of times that he had told people that he was going to be a doctor.
One day during that year, he came home from his volunteer shift at the hospital and said that he wasn’t going to get the kind of medical experience that he longed for as a doctor. (To the doctors that might be reading this: you rule and we love you. This is not a statement about doctors, this is a statement about Drew. Carry on brilliant life-savers!) He had scored well on the MCAT and was preparing his applications, but he knew that he wasn’t going to get what he wanted from that. He said so clearly, so surely, in his perfect Drew way, I want to be a nurse. And so we reset the compass and my tall drink of water set his sights on nursing.
3. Lucas doesn’t sleep well either. He’s eight months old, and maybe like his big brother, he’s realizing that the world is too big of a place to spend your nights by yourself. Or maybe he’s eating all of the solid foods and they’re turning his stomach into a tornado at 1:00 a.m. Or maybe he just wakes up and it’s dark and WTF WHERE ALL MY PEOPLE AT. Or maybe it’s a Lucas-ism, something that we’ll talk about casually as another bread crumb of our family lore. Honey, you never did like sleeping at night. Babies are deeply mysterious and charming little creatures.
Though macabre, perhaps, I have been reminded too often in my freshman years of motherhood that we are inviting in a kind of vulnerability when we add Parenthood to our life CVs that is hard to stomach. After losing a child, a dear friend of mine told me that she never, ever, ever took having to get up in the middle of the night for her children for granted ever again. It didn’t make the loss of sleep any more convenient, and she still grumbled as she padded down the hall, I’m sure, but forever she sees it as a blessing to stand over them, pushing back sweaty hair and wiping the tears away. I think about this every night, and though I complain during the day, and though I cannot wait to know what three nights in a row of uninterrupted sleep feels like, I stand as that witness over Lucas in the dark and briefly mark the fleecy hump of his sleeping back with the palm of my hand. I silently say the the same words that bind parents together across centuries, oceans, beliefs, sensibility, and divides. Keep this child safe. Keep him here.
4. Drew has watched more people die than he can count over the last six years. He’s held weeping wives, washed cold skin, completed the transaction of moving an empty body from a room, to a hallway, to its next destination. He never brings that home with him, or at least not in the traditional sense. If anything, his coping mechanism is that his pendulum only swings up and so he comes home jovial, content to just be with his family, relaxed that he’s alive and his life feels good. I see that in him and I am reminded that living in my delicate world of picture-poems and analysis is a luxury. When Drew says thank you, he says without skipping a beat, thank you for our health.
He walked across a stage at UVA two weeks ago with a smile and a brand of humility that is inherent in him down to the pores of his skin. He shook a hand, bent low to have a hood hung around his neck, stood for a picture, and smiled up to his family. He was one of many black robes with big smiles and proud families, one of many that have given up Christmas mornings and sleep and time with family and hobbies and more to chase this calling. We knew that it was all a little silly, that the reward will not be the declarative piece of paper on his wall, but the sense that he will have for living a fulfilled life. He’s going to be a Nurse Practitioner, he’s going to continue to help people sort out the unreliable mechanics of our hearts, and for the first time since sitting under the solitary lamp in the dusty corner of that barn, he’s going to get to spend some time not being in school and just enjoying the fruits of his labor.
We’re kind of beside ourselves.
We’ve been having a lot of fires outside at night, talking through the smoke to each other about what this next chapter means, waiting for one child or both to wake up realizing that the world is too big of a place and call us back in. Of course I’m talking big, always pressing on the temple of the future, impatiently knocking to find out what’s next. Drew is much more quiet, quickly diverting the conversation back to this night. To this feeling of gratitude. To what is now, I realize, his simple genius in contentment. He’s thankful for our health. Thankful that we’re all still here.
Tell me the one about the bike and the rainbow.
Well, Asher rode his bike up to the top of his driveway, and when he got there, there was a giant rainbow, the biggest that he had ever seen. It’s colors were so strong that Asher realized that if he pedaled hard enough, he could shoot right up the side of it. So he started pedaling fast and soon he was cruising up the side and up, up, up, up across the arch until he was waaaaaaaaay up in the sky at the very top of the rainbow. From up there he could see his whole family far down below–Lucas was playing with Mama, and Louie was chasing the ball that Papa was throwing for him. Asher wished in that moment that he could fly down to them, and just like that, his bike turned into an airplane. He flew off the rainbow, through the clouds and…
And what?! Where did he land!?
In his yard, at home with his family, on the other side of the rainbow.