I was just tucking Mary Tyler Son into bed for the night when he asked me to make a circle in his bed. “What do you mean, a circle?,” I asked. “Well, there is a circle in my bed and in the middle of the night I fall through the circle out of my bed and right into your bed.” He described a hole that immediately reminded me of Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen, with Mary Tyler Son as Mickey.
This makes sense in our home, this hole in the bed, as every night, without fail, our boy sleepily walks from his room to ours, crawling between us and settling in for the end of his sleep. I honestly can not remember a morning waking up without him there. Some days it might be midnight, some days five AM, most days somewhere in between.
We are not really parents that give a fig about co-sleeping or crib sleeping. Our first child always slept in a crib. That changed when she was diagnosed with cancer at 20 months. Somewhere in the midst of her treatment, Donna simply moved to our bed. It wasn’t even really discussed, it just was. I don’t regret that in the least. The way I see it, we got hours and hours and hours of more time together with that shift in sleeping locations. When your life is measured in the number of years that can fit on one hand, hours really do make a difference.
Poor Mary Tyler Son spent his first five months sleeping in a car seat. Literally. He had acid reflux that I first noticed in the hospital when he was born. He would not sleep on his back and sort of made a barking noise. It was honestly kind of alarming. I asked his pediatrician about it before we left to come home and he was the one who suggested using the car seat. “Three weeks at the most, and he should grow out of it,” he told me. Well, that three weeks eeked out to five months. And one day, as promised, he simply grew out of it. Into the crib he went. Which worked well, as Donna owned that real estate between us in the bed.
Some of my sweetest moments occurred with Donna between us in bed. And some of my most terrifying. Feeling her breath on my cheek, being tickled with whatever little tuft of hair she had left. Hearing her whisper sweet nothings into my ear. Counting the stitches from her scar behind her left ear. Those are priceless memories to me. The other side of that coin are the hours I spent awake in the middle of the night, imagining what our life would be like without Donna, as I looked at her, tears falling down my cheeks. Then there were the times I lie awake monitoring her breathing, after the cancer had moved to her lungs. Fucking cancer.
Donna died in our bed. There we were, one parent on either side of her, all of us sleeping. Neither of us were awake for her final breath. There was no wailing or screaming. Instead, there was Mary Tyler Dad shaking me awake telling me, “She’s gone.” And she was. Donna was gone.
To scoot in the middle of our bed, after Donna died, was to inhibit sacred space. I can still feel her there sometimes, and certainly think of her there if I migrate too close to the middle. We sleep on the pine futon Mary Tyler Dad used as a bachelor. I can’t imagine another bed. I mean I can, like a cool platform bed with storage drawers that we need desperately, but then that thought disappears. Our bed is where so much of Donna’s life was spent. And now, so much of Mary Tyler Son’s life.
When my boy talked tonight about the hole in the middle of the bed, that hole that connects us and him, and Donna, too, in such a profound way, well, I don’t think I have ever loved him more. There are few things in life that bring me more pleasure and comfort than waking to the sound of my child telling me they love me. And for Mary Tyler Son to imagine a fantastical world where our beds, that great symbol of nesting and rest and comfort and peace are magically connected, where one just tumbles into the other, what greater evidence of love do you get in this life?
Good night, dear readers. I will sleep well tonight. I hope you do, too.
UPDATE: I am thrilled and honored to report that this post was awarded a VOTY (Voice of the Year) from BlogHer in July, 2013. It was selected as one of 100 VOTYs from over 2,500 submissions. Thank you to BlogHer reviewers for selecting it, and thank you to fellow ChicagoNow blogger, Listing Toward Forty, for the nomination. I am surrounded by immensely talented writers and made better for it.