It’s 1930 hours. The tension in our apartment is so thick, King Arthur could pull a sword from it. See, it’s our son’s bedtime – but don’t tell him that or he’ll freak the f**k out.
I mean, I’m being subtle about it, but I’ve kicked on the white noise machine, a dead giveaway. He’s drunkenly toddling around the living room hollering “ball” at a rate of 73 BPM (balls per minute).
He hucks a plush baseball, and I lean in for The Scoop, which must be executed to perfection to avoid a meltdown. The official Scoop method is to lift the child with two hands under each armpit, ease his buttocks onto my left forearm, and press my right hand gently but firmly on the base of his neck, guiding his tummy against my chest and shoulder.
If done properly, my son will naturally nuzzle his face into my neck. This smooth move will confuse him into thinking sleep is something he’s ever actively wanted long enough for me to briskly slip him into his pajamas. With any luck, we’ve made it this far without him trying to stage dive off the changing table in an ill-conceived attempt to escape.
But it’s far from over. If our bedtime routine is storming the beaches of Normandy, so far we’ve found a topographical map of France.
After a vital fill-up from the Milk Maid (otherwise known as his mother), we move to the rocking chair. The idea is that the perpetual rocking motion combined with the rather trite one-man show I put on every night will convince him that he’s better off unconscious.
At this point, there’s no sugar-coating it. I can no longer delay the inevitable – he knows it’s bedtime, and he’s pissed. Not one for passive aggression, he begins to scream-cry.
Now, if I had to describe this cry in a letter to a pen pal across the world, perhaps in a land without children, I would describe it as a kind of sleep apnea except instead of snoring he’s screaming like he wants Child Protective Services to kick down our door and put him in foster care.
I might include this anecdote for said pen pal: Earlier this week, my wife and I took our son to the emergency room because he was screaming like someone who had swallowed a sewing needle might scream.
Coincidentally, we had lost track of a sewing needle earlier that day, so such a scenario wasn’t out of the question. Fortunately, the X-ray showed that he had not swallowed a sewing needle. In fact, within an hour of being there, he was completely fine. So, until we were discharged, he meandered around the ER waving at the actually sick kids as if to say, “This place is great! Parents have no power here! We can stay up forever!”
I know it sounds like I’m complaining. I’m not. I’m just saying if this were happening in a prison cell instead of my apartment, it would be a human rights violation. Edward Snowden would be blowing the spit out of his whistle. Look, I’m not a strong person. I once Googled, “Can a parent be traumatized by their baby?” and Google just glared at me.
Anyway, my son still isn’t asleep. So, shall we?
The rocking chair portion of the night is oddly dichotomous. On the outside, I’m speaking softly and lovingly caressing his little hand. On the inside, I’m at the climax of a Chuckie-esque horror film. My clothes are tattered, my breathing ragged, and I have one last chance to end this thing once and for all.
On the outside, I pick up a book and begin reading it to him: “You are my ‘I love you.’” On the inside, I’m screaming through desperate tears, “See how you like this one!”
I finish the book, which he has been trying to close the entire time, then crying if I don’t open it back up immediately. I move on to his favorite book, “Little Blue Truck.”
On the outside: “Horn went beep, engine purred, friendliest sound you ever heard.” On the inside: “I’D LIKE YOU TO MEET MY LITTLE FRIEND!”
He’s still awake and cramming his fingers into my mouth. No surprise there. Time for some crooning.
On the outside, I’m singing the only songs I have memorized which are less traditional lullabies and more songs that really spoke to my fabricated sense of loneliness sophomore year of college.
This is my coup de grâce, if a coup de grâce can take place over a 40-minute span. So on the outside, I’m singing like a damned drop of moonlight. On the inside, I’m shrieking maniacally as my heart pounds in my ears like tribal drums of doom.
Then, suddenly, there’s silence. The smoke settles. The baby sleeps. I gingerly carry my son to his bed and lay him down. I cinch my eyes shut, not wanting to jinx my victory.
When I ease them back open to face the inevitable, my reality collides with the horror story in my head. My son is sitting up, looking at me expectantly. Our eyes meet. He smiles and says, “Hi!”
My self-pitying sobs echo as the room fades to black. The credits roll.