I make pretty good furniture, but not in a crafting or constructing sense. In that sense I make ugly, fragile, uncomfortable furniture. In the sense of serving as furniture, however, I do okay. If smaller people need furniture, I’m functional. I can be a wall, the arm of a couch, a footrest, or any number of other things that mostly require size with a bit of squishiness for comfort. For a while in her first year, my daughter used me as a bed.
At the time we were desperate to get her to sleep. My wife and I had transformed into twitching cranky zombies because we couldn’t remember what it was like to feel rested. Or more accurately we remembered but our memories seemed like far-fetched dreams about fairy tales. Calling them merely fairy tales would make them seem more attainable than we thought they were.
Sleep was like some mystical creature–a dragon or unicorn, for example–that we’d been delighted to believe in until reality smacked us with the dripping exhausted mop of parenthood. You might imagine us like cartoon characters trapped on a desert island, except instead of looking at each other and picturing food, we saw pillows and blankets. I think at one point we debated emending the Lord’s Prayer to ask for “a few minutes to nap” instead of “our daily bread.” We didn’t want bread; we would need to be awake to eat it.
Meanwhile, all of the other new parents kept telling us about how well their babies slept, and how naturally it came. One person even complained about how her baby slept too well, so she needed to wake her out of a sound sleep every night in order to feed her. My response was something diplomatic like, “Why would you do that?!! Is there something wrong with you?!”
I admit that I wasn’t as charitable to that woman as I ought to have been. In my defense though, at the time she might as well have said, “We keep finding gold and valuable gems in our yard; it’s so frustrating.” I wasn’t in a good emotional place to sympathize.
Everyone had advice, of course, and just to be clear, that isn’t a complaint. Frankly, we needed all the help we could get, and I’m glad that our air of disheveled panic inspired people to offer. We were so tired that we didn’t even know to ask. I really appreciate when people band together to care for one another. I just wish that any of the advice would have worked.
We tried everything we were told: old home remedies, baby psychology, thuggish stubbornness. We read every book that anyone recommended, too, which was quite the library. I think we spent more on books about baby sleep than we did on our mortgage. Aside from giving us a bookshelf that makes us look like the most educated and diligent parents of our generation, reading just wasted time that could have been spent napping. Our daughter would not be soothed.
Then we discovered something amazing: she fit perfectly across my belly. More importantly, as long as she was there, she would calmly drift away into happy, peaceful, parent-thrilling slumber.
You know the sudden excitement of accidentally balancing something in an unusual location? For me it usually involves silverware that I’ve assembled into a strange and precarious stack on top of the edge of my water glass. As soon as I see that it will stay in place without me holding it, I want to back away with my arms spread as though to prevent sudden gusts of wind. I want to whisper to everyone not to touch anything while simultaneously shouting for everyone to come and see what I’ve done. That was the feeling I had when I realized that my daughter had fallen asleep on me.
Ironically, it was very invigorating. In fact I think it was one of the best feelings I’ve ever experienced. I couldn’t be cranky anymore because my beautiful daughter was asleep right there in front of me. Crankiness didn’t even make sense as a word; it was just gibberish that people mumbled because they didn’t understand that my precious little girl was sleeping like an angel. It seemed so silly; they needed to stop making up nonsense words and look at my beautiful daughter.
She wasn’t even hard to find; she was on my belly. For the first time, my belly had a purpose. Up until that point, my wife’s belly had had a monopoly on baby-related activity. You might not realize it, but baby-related activity is the highest honor that bellies can hope to attain. Before, mine had mostly resigned itself to catching the occasional crumb and making my pants fit oddly. Suddenly it became a champion, the most heroic of bellies. I’m pretty sure I heard a choir of angels start to sing in the background as light streamed down from above.
Oddly, none of the books had suggested this, even as a stop gap. One book encouraged us to leave her alone to cry for two hours, but not of them said, “Try cuddling.” In retrospect we can understand why–cuddling to sleep is a bad habit, and a difficult one to break–but the alternative was whimpering insanity caused by sleep deprivation. We needed to pick our battles.
Also, at least in my experience, the older my daughter gets, the less often I can be what she needs to feel entirely content and safe. I really wanted to try. For a tiny moment in time, I pulled it off too. She would stretch out on me as though trying to hug a giant ball, and something about it would calm her enough to drift her off to dreamland. Maybe it was because I was warm, or because my belly rose and fell like an easygoing amusement park ride. Maybe it was my tendency to sing each of my random thoughts. Maybe she could sense how much it meant to me. It was nice to see her relax as though she’d found a place that was entirely good.
Naturally, it ended too quickly. After a couple of months she had grown too big for our nightly arrangement. Thankfully, by that point we’d found a book that actually worked and she started sleeping through the night on her own. I just wish she hadn’t outgrown my belly so quickly.
I should have eaten more while I had the chance; my belly might have kept up.