Mel and I had been up most of the night with baby Aspen. She’d been getting up about every two hours, and we’d been taking turns soothing her back to sleep. This is why, at 5AM, when my 7-year-old son strutted down the hallway of our Small Town Oregon home dressed in a red polo shirt and kaki shorts, I flipped my shit.
I had a sleeping baby in my lap. The only light in the room was from the iPad playing this hypnotic techno image thing set to instrumental lullabies I’d found on YouTube in an attempt to get the baby sleeping again. It worked, and she’d been asleep all of about four minutes when Tristan entered the living room. I put up my right hand, telling him to stop, and with my left, I covered my lips to tell him to be quiet. It didn’t work. Tristan leaned in close to me, over the baby, and said, “I need to tell you something” in his regular indoor voice, which is much softer than his outdoor voice, but nothing close to a whisper, or straight up silence, the sound I was longing for.
Aspen stirred, let out the softest little moan, so I covered her ear with my one hand. In that moment, I felt a burst of frustration. A rage that only comes after being up all night with a baby. A twisted inability to calm down, that made me want to drag my son, kicking and screaming, into his bedroom and tie him up in his bed. He never got up that early. Never. Most mornings we had to drag him out of bed, and yet for some reason he insisted on getting up at 5AM on a night that had already been long and exhausting. To complicate things further, Tristan and Aspen shared a room. I needed to put Aspen down soon, or she would wake up again. It’s just the way she worked. If I made Tristan go back to his room, he’d wiggle around in his bed, ask for water, that sort of thing, and wake up the baby for sure.
I don’t know what it is about parenting. I don’t know if it is ill fate, or what, but it seems like having children means at least 18+ years of sleepless nights, and every time you think you have the opportunity to sleep in, or go to bed early, or take a nap, the game changes and suddenly you are up again. Everyday the kids can sleep in, they get up early, and every day they need to be up early, they want to sleep in. It’s a twisted exhausting cycle that makes my eyes red and my temper short, and causes me to drink an unhealthy amount of caffeine each day. Even though I know this, I’ve accepted it, I still have this lingering hope that somehow my kids will figure something out, commit to being more compassionate, more independent, and let me sleep, and each time they don’t, I get more and more frustrated.
In a stern whisper, I said, “Tristan. The baby has been up most of the night. Please shut your face.”
I don’t usually talk to my son this way, but considering the swears rolling around in my head, I’m actually proud of how I handed this situation.
I put Aspen down in her bed, and as I walked down the hall, back to the living room, I thought about the long night, and how tired I was, and how I had to get ready for work in less than an hour. I thought about the injustice in the world, and how I deserved sleep and how my children always came between me and it, and by the time I made it into the living room, all the lights were on, and both Norah (our 5-year-old) and Tristan were up, sitting on the sofa, looking at me, and all I could feel was frustration because now both of them were up.
Whenever Tristan and Norah get up that early, they argue over seats at the table, or the TV, or toys, or books, or weather or not they can smell the other’s fart. They argue over anything that can be argued over, and then, during the climax of the argument, one or the other comes running down the hall, fueled with injustice, screaming, and waking anything in their path.
I looked at the two of them, and they seemed like a wall between some grand thing and me and all I could do was feel tightness in my chest.
I didn’t ask for explanation. I didn’t ask why. I just went on in an angry whisper, telling them about the long night, and how tired I was, and how I now needed to get ready for work. I made threats that if they woke up the baby, or mom, because of any stupid fighting over stupid things I’d break every one of Tristan’s video games and Norah’s Frozen toys. “Do you understand?”
Both nodded, wide eyed, and terrified.
I started getting ready for work, rummaging around in the living room. Both children sat stock-still, staring at me.
Finally I asked.
“Why are you both up?”
Norah was in pink and white heart print pajamas. Her hair was mashed on the one side. Her eyes were a little watery, and I couldn’t tell if it was because she just woke up, or because she was scared of me.
“I woke up when Tristan went to the bathroom.”
“Why didn’t you go back to sleep?” I said.
“What about you,” I said to Tristan.
Tristan curled his lip a little. Then he said something that made me forget about how tired I was. Forget about the long night. Forget about how angry I was.
“I wanted to see you,” he said.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I didn’t see you yesterday because you were at work. So I just wanted to see you.”
Tristan was right. I got home late from work the night before. By the time I stepped in the door, all the kids were in bed.”
“You got up early because you missed me?” I asked.
Tristan nodded, slowly, still not sure if he’d done something wrong.
All my anger and weariness left me like water down a drain. The whole time I was trying to explain to him my situation, when I didn’t take into consideration that he didn’t get up to spite me. It wasn’t an act of aggression, or anything like that. Nor was it an act of bad luck or fate. Tristan missed me, and so he got up early to see his father before work.
I crouched down, gave him a hug, and said, “I love you buddy. I’m sorry for getting mad. I’m just really tired and…” I went on trying to explain myself, but none of it mattered.
“I’m just…” I said. “I’m sorry.”
Tristan smiled and said, “It’s okay.” Then he told me about a book he got in the mail. Something about a homework machine. “I wanted to tell you yesterday, but you were gone, so I got up early to tell you.”
This is what he was so excited to share with me, and although it wasn’t all that interesting, it was obviously a big deal to him and he wanted me to know about it. I don’t know how much longer he will be this interested in telling me about his life, so I sat on the floor for a moment and listened.
Then I said, “That is really awesome. Thanks for sharing it with me.”
Tristan smiled and said, “You’re welcome.”
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.