You were closer to one year of age than two. Our family just three. Between surviving a combined internal medicine and pediatrics internship for me and navigating your young world for your mom, our days were challenging. But the nights. Those endless nights. As the sun would set on the cumulative fatigue of our day, the tension would grow and start to take hold. The rising dread would join our evening journey. Sleep, for you, was never easy. If and when it would come, its hold on you was more often brief and brittle. The crib lay empty and your room stood quiet, having been given up months ago. We entered nights with one goal in mind. Survive until the morning.
That night was different. The reasons escape me; exhaustion in your mother’s eyes or the frustration in mine. But that night I was determined to create a night of sleep for your mom. I pushed her out of our bedroom door, leaving just you and me behind.
You ran to the door, chasing after her. I grabbed you. Picked you up without looking you in the eye. I carried you to the far side of the bed and lay you down, tucking you under the covers. Almost before I could get to my side of the bed, you bolted up and slid off. Racing back to the door, hoping to get through and back to the comfort of your mother’s embrace. And thus it started. I rolled out on my side, intercepting you. I picked you up without looking you in the eye. I carried you to the far side of the bed and lay you down, tucking you in under the covers. Within seconds, you were sliding out of the bed. Repeating this dance. Again. And again. And again. With each repeated attempt, your determination and frustration grew. The cries louder and the screams stronger. I lost track of the number of times you bolted for that door, blurred by the tears streaming down my face.
I look back and wonder what fueled those tears. Was it the pain I sensed in you? Your confusion over why tonight was suddenly different? The comfort you missed, not being able to nurse? The overwhelming fatigue and exhaustion that was the constant state of my being?
As I caused this pain or anger or fear or frustration or all of the above, my tears grew despite my attempts to be stoic. And minutes turned to hours, while your efforts continued undaunted. No signs of fatigue. You were unwavering in your determination that the next attempt for the door would be the one to get you through and to the other side.
Before the night gave way to dawn, I lay on the bed, waiting for you to slide off yet again. But this time you sat upright and the crying stopped.
Silence. Just the sound of our breaths.
You looked at me. Forcing me to see your eyes. Focused. Concentrating. I looked back at yours. And in the darkness of that room, you reached out with your small soft hands and placed them gently on my cheeks. You pulled my face down to yours and placed a gentle kiss on my lips, salty from both of our tears. Then quietly, you snuggled next to me and as your breathing settled and slowed, you finally drifted off to sleep.
I don’t know what changed to help you switch gears. From scared and in crisis, to recognizing my tears. From screaming and crying to reassuring me with a kiss. Although it has been many years since that evening, recently I have been thinking back to that night, reliving that memory. My focus used to be on the struggle. Yours and mine that night. And how sweet and kind and intuitive that kiss was.
But this week, I have appreciated a different view of that evening. The resolve, determination and persistence you showed, to get to the other side of that door. They caused so many tears years ago. But today they provide solace to my aching heart.
I wait now on the other side of that door.