It’s the same thing every day.

I’m told that sameness is a comfort for toddlers, and after living with this one, I can believe it. He smiles and laughs as we climb the stairs hand in hand, he brushes his teeth standing on his little red stool (“No no, we don’t run with our toothbrushes in our mouths”), and then we read a story. After the story, he runs, joyous and laughing, into his own room. We hug and he tells me how much he loves his stuffed panda and his blanket, and then I put him in his crib and say, “I love you, have a good nap, I’ll see you soon.”

Then I walk out and close the door. At that point, every single day, he cries.

Will the child sleep?

It’s the question on my mind each and every day. There are no breaks from the question, and there are no breaks from the impossible waiting. The pattern, the sameness of every single day, is less comforting for me than it is for him. I sit on the couch, and I wait. I listen to his sweet baby babble. I listen to him singing songs to his panda. I wait, I listen, and I wonder. Will the child sleep? Often it goes quiet, and I breathe a sigh of relief, and wonder how much time I have. Often, the sounds get louder, and I breathe a very different kind of sigh and drag my tired self back up the stairs to say, “Seems like you’re having some trouble, huh?”

I remind myself that he’s tired, he needs the nap, and it must be more frustrating for him than it is for me. I remind myself of lots of things. When you’re a parent, and you’re waiting (always waiting), you fill your brain with a thousand platitudes.

It used to be different. A few short months ago, he still wanted to breastfeed, and nursing was emphatically the only way he would fall asleep. So there he would be, a giant baby cradled in my arms, and I would be there too, waiting. In those days it was both easier and harder: I had a ready way to calm him and ease him into sleep and I never had to close the door on him, but I also lived with the constant knowledge that a poorly-timed sneeze would wreck any chance of a daytime nap, ruining both of our days. Those days, the waiting was unbearably, achingly quiet. These days the waiting is filled with sounds that my ears zoom in on, sounds I am obsessed with. I listen to him singing, whining, and just breathing. I listen as hard as I can, trying to decode the sounds. I try to picture him in his crib in a restful position, as though this will somehow help.

During the waiting, time changes shape. I can wait for half an hour and think it’s been five minutes, and it happens the other way around too. I always feel like I should be using my time more productively, but I’m afraid to make a sound and I can’t focus on anything anyways. My brain is elsewhere, every part of me consumed in the question:

Will the child sleep?

There is so much waiting. Once, I was waiting for it to be time to try to make a baby. I didn’t want to wait, I wanted to rush headfirst into parenting like a cannonball into the clouds, but it wasn’t the right way. For one thing, I’m gay, so there were months of prep. We met with the sperm donor, we set a date, we drew up a contract, and we waited. Then I waited for those magical fertile days to arrive. I put stickers on my fertility charts, waiting to find out whether or not conception had occurred, waiting for the nausea to subside (it did not), and then, of course, waiting for labor to start.

I had thought that I was waiting to become a mother, and that once I arrived at that coveted status – motherhood – I would feel, well, arrived. Maybe I do feel that way, some days, but mostly I feel like I’m constantly in limbo. Mostly I feel that parenting is, by definition, a kind of waiting. We, the parents of the world, are all holding our collective breaths together.

Will the child sleep?

We wait for milestones. Once he’s this age, I’ll be able to do that thing I want to do. Once he can talk, I’ll finally stop worrying about his development. Once he can sleep through the night, we’ll have sex again. Once he’s school-aged…and on and on.

I wait for my wife to come home. I wait for organized activities that might give structure to the totally structureless amoeba that is life with a toddler. I confess that sometimes when I’m outside with him, I watch the clock like a hawk, waiting for it to be a reasonable time to return to the simpler world of our living room. We are waiting, waiting, waiting. I have given my life over to this strange stretch, the push and pull on time itself, the sensation of the constantly-baited breath.

Will the child sleep?

Today, it’s almost certain that he will not, so I am taking a deep breath and trying to prepare myself to climb those stairs again. The day will go on and, soon enough, it will be time to wait for bedtime.