Dear Two-Week Old Son
On a quiet night, a neighborhood is fast asleep except for one house on the corner. This house is like all the other houses on the street except the lawn could use mowing, and the neighbors are pretty sure the sprinkler has been watering that same patch of grass nonstop for a week. The house is dark except for a second story window. The room is dim, and you can briefly see the outline of a man pacing by the window.
Inside the room, the man is rocking back and forth, gently humming a tune that only he can hear. It almost looks like he is slow dancing, not with a partner but with something he’s cradling in his arms. The man's humming stops and his swaying slows; he cautiously approaches an empty bassinet. The bassinet is covered with a white cloth with lace trim. It’s not old but well used. Handed down from family and friends. It was small, about a quarter the size of a crib and kept near the man and his wife’s bed for easy access.
Down the hall sits an empty room that is well decorated with bedding of colorful owls. Owls of different shapes and cartoonish expressions appear throughout the room. The decorations look brand new, recently purchased or given as gifts. Their coordination is purposeful and gives the impression that someone spent a lot of brainpower curating a specific wish list that people obliged.
The man is ready now, he moves in one slow, deliberate movement. You can tell he's been working this final dance move out in his head for some time. It’s the finale. It’s the sort of ending that, if there were a crowd watching him, would bring them to their feet in raucous applause. Only, thankfully, there is just him, his sleeping wife, and the bundle in his arms.
He carefully places the little sleeping baby into the bassinet. His newborn son, two weeks old today, is finally asleep. The man holds his breath as he inches back from the sleeping boy. He steps back for a moment staring at his son waiting for him to stir. When he continues to sleep, the man begins to speak. Almost unconsciously, there is a chance he believes these thoughts are only in his head, his voice quivers a little as he whispers, "Good night, sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite, and sorry I called you a dick."
Now, Ben doesn't usually go around calling babies dicks. He’s not insane. Ben's not a dick himself. He likes babies; heck he loves babies. Loves them so much that he and his wife decided to have one of their own. In fact, out of all the babies he’s met in his entire 32 years of life he can’t recall a single one ever being dickish to him. But that was a different Ben.
Pre-kid Ben got eight hours of sleep or more on a regular basis. That Ben is dead. Okay, not dead, it’s not that dramatic. Let’s just say that Pre-kid Ben is gone. He took off. He’s gone and no one is sure right now if or when he’s coming back, or if he’ll even be allowed to go back. That’s because of the beautiful little pink boy with the owl onesie and matching swaddle blanket that’s finally asleep.
But if he’s asleep couldn’t Pre-kid Ben come back to visit? Couldn’t he just pop in and hang for a little then pop out when the kid wakes up? That would be pretty sweet but unfortunately, impossible. Because Pre-Kid Ben lives in a pre-kid world, a world where he was able to do whatever his wife would let him do whenever she would let him. But that world is gone and even if Pre-kid Ben were able to visit, how long would he be able to stay? How long will his little miracle of life blissfully snooze? It could be an hour, it could be a ½ hour, or it could be the next thirty seconds. No one really knows. It’s like spinning one of those giant wheels at the carnival, “round and round it goes where it’ll land no one knows, but it’ll be terrible.” Pre-Kid Ben isn’t coming all the way back for that?
While Pre-Kid Ben has been exiled, there is a new shiny fresh out the box Ben that will need to step up. New Ben is a lot like Pre-kid Ben, only sleep deprived, can no longer remember what day it is, and yesterday wore two different shoes to work and didn’t notice until he came home. It’s not New Ben’s fault, he’s a rookie that’s only been called up to the big show for a couple of weeks. It takes time to get used to how fast this level of play is. New Ben is making the same rookie mistakes that all new dads do: staying up too late, listening to strangers on the Internet, wearing clothes you care about when you pick up your precious pink puke monster, the usual.
Though he might still be a rookie, New Ben is showing promise. He’s displaying the exact reasons why he was called up. He’s jumping in with the late night feedings, helping his wife through an awful bout of mastitis, and learned the existence of new products like nipple butter. It’s not just dumb luck that New Ben is ready; he’s trained for this, for months. He's read the books his wife bought for him and left on his nightstand, he attended all the classes his wife signed him up for, even the Hypnobirthing class, that took place inside the break room of a lingerie store where he became so relaxed he fell asleep, then off his chair, much to the horror of his wife.
But nowhere in his training did it prepare him for the state of mind where he would be calling his newborn son a dick. What could have driven such a well-prepared normal person to say something so terrible about their son?
As New Ben dragged himself towards his bed, he thought to himself and wondered how he got to this place? Was it the lack of sleep? Was it the crying? Was it –
“Yes. It was that. It was both of those.” Said New Ben, out loud, answering his own thoughts. He stopped walking for a moment and blinked a couple times. Ben wondered if this was what being crazy felt like. He stood in the bedroom facing his welcoming mattress. There were his bed and his wife peacefully sleeping. Then he shrugged his shoulders in a "meh" sort of way and continued toward his bed. He decided that if this was crazy then so be it, he wasn’t hearing other people's voices, at least not yet, just his own voice and answering your own voice was a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Besides, next to getting his son to sleep, the most important thing was that his wife gets some well-deserved rest. They learned the dangers of both of them going without sleep already and were adamant about not doing that again. Tonight was Ben's night, and he had an almost patriotic sense of duty to let her rest. Like he was letting down the team if he or their son woke her up. Not on his watch, Ben thought.
With his wife soundly snoozing, Ben walked the last two steps before collapsing face first onto his bed. As his face sunk into his cool mattress, Ben didn't pull any covers or blankets over himself, he didn't rearrange himself in the bed, he didn't' even take off his slippers. He just lay there where he fell as if falling into a pool of sleep. Making himself comfortable was a waste of time. He didn't need to be comfortable to sleep, not anymore, that would only waste time. And if being a new father has taught him anything it was that "time" was the most precious commodity in his life now.
Even though he was nearly asleep Ben's brain was still whirling away, it tried to recall ever being this tired before. He was young once. He’d been to Vegas. He had stayed up all night cramming for tests in college. He once drove to Atlantic City, played cards for a day and a half then drove home. But all that, all those times were different. No matter how tired he’d been, there was always in the back of his mind the comfort of knowing that there was a reprieve. An end.
After the tests in college, there was a dorm bed where Ben would sleep for as long as needed. Vegas trips thankfully always end. And even the Atlantic City trip, there was the McDonald’s parking lot where he took a nap when he couldn’t drive anymore.
Each of those instances had a beginning, a specific time period of being crazily tired, and then always ended with him catching up on all the sleep he lost.
And there was the difference. That was the thing that keeping Ben from drifting off to sleep right now. That this doesn’t have an end does it. At least not one that his sleep-deprived brain could see. Was this his new normal? Was this what his life was going to be like from now on? Will he be shambling around for the rest of his life like a zombie craving sleep, not brains? There was a detour in Ben’s thoughts now, and the image of him as a zombie appeared, he was limping around the office, dragging one leg behind him.
He groaned a gargled “Sleeeeep” at coworkers who watched him pass unafraid and just shook their heads at him. He wasn’t after them or their brains, that’s not what he craved. Then zombie Ben saw his target, an empty love seat with a soft fluffy throw pillow on it. He pounced, well not pounced more like he slumped over to the love seat and poured himself into it. He grasped the fluffy pillow and instead of devouring it just rubbed it against his face, smiled, and closed his eyes.
“Sleeeeeep…” whimpered out of Ben, muffled a little by the mattress pressing against his face. A smile came across his face. His wife stirred a little placing her hand on the back of his head. She was going for his chest, as that was where he usually slept. She didn’t know that Ben was half on/half off the bed; face down still with one foot touching the floor. It was as if he didn’t want to fully commit himself to sleep because he knew it was only a matter of time before he’d have to get up. And it’s just going to make it harder if he’s comfortable.
The one-foot on the floor thing was something he learned from college after a long night of drinking. If the room started spinning his one-foot acted like an anchor to keep him from spinning off the bed and sucked into a vast black hole that would end up causing him to vomit into one of the drawers of his roommate's dresser.
But this time it was more a tether. Allowing Ben to be in both places at the same time, blissfully dreaming about devouring throw pillows but also aware of any noise coming from the bassinet 10 feet away. And then the tether began to tug.
At first, it started off as restlessness. The kind you get when you want to sleep, but you can’t get comfortable. There wasn’t much the little boy could do; a professional swaddled him. One that spent months practicing on a stuffed Elmo, baby dolls, and even to his friend’s long-haired dachshund. Ben was a pro, and he wasn’t going to be able to wiggle an arm free. Ben rolled himself off the bed trying to not make any noise, hoping the wiggling from the bassinet would fade and he could return.
He crept toward his son trying to remember what he read in one of the books about how far babies could even see at this stage? Was it two feet? Twelve inches? It didn’t matter, it was still dark enough he could sneak a peak without being detected. Inside the bassinet, swaddled, wearing his owl beanie to keep his tiny head warm Ben’s son reminded him of one of those toy glow worms his sister had when they were kids. The kind you would hug, and music would play, as its butt would light up.
His son’s eyes were wide open, they looked black in the dimly lit room, and he was looking around, as much as a baby wrapped up like a breakfast burrito could. He began to fuss, and his face started to scrunch. Hoping to intervene Ben scooped up his son and gently started his well-practiced butt pat. The boy stopped fussing, but his eyes didn’t close. They just stared up at what was probably just a grayish/blackish blob. Ben stared back and his patting remained steady. He’s done this many times in the short time he’s been a father, and it almost always works. And soon enough his son’s eyes began to droop, and his little mouth let out an “okay, I give in” yawn, and the little boy went back to sleep.
Ben slowed the patting and eventually at some point stopped. He forgot how long he had been standing there rocking back and forth again. He softly placed his son back into his bassinet. Before retracing his steps again back to his bed he stole one more look at his beautiful son, sleeping quietly, and smiled. How foolish it was for him to ever call his son such a terrible name. He doesn’t know what he is doing? He’s only two weeks old.
Ben chuckled to himself as he, this time, got into bed correctly. He maneuvered into his most comfortable position, on his left shoulder, head on a pillow, him spooning another pillow. Then pulled the sheets and blankets over top of himself, right over his left shoulder and up to his chin. He let out a sigh as his brain; now no longer whirling with ridiculous thoughts of zombies, McDonald’s parking lots, college, and other trivial things. His mind began to become cloudy with sleep.
He gave himself one last chuckle as he laughed at the absurdity of his (or any) two-week-old child being a dick. The utter silliness of someone so small, which can’t even see beyond a couple feet from this face, would have the wherewithal to purposefully be anything but the adorable little boy he was. The only solace he had was his wife slept through the entire ordeal. To her, he would remain the loving husband and doting father forgoing sleep to take care of them both.
Once again a smile appeared on his face. No longer tethered to the floor, Ben plunged into the pool of sleep he’s so longed for. And for a few moments, it was quiet. The house on the corner that needs a mow and for someone to turn off that sprinkler joined the rest of the neighborhood is silent unity.
That is until the piercing screams of two-week-old lungs hacked through the silence like a machete followed by the unmistakable sound of a man falling off his bed and roaring…
“THAT LITTLE MOTHERF—“