Zach doesn’t much like to sleep. At night anyway. He sleeps fine during the day, but once his 1 a.m. feeding is done, life courses through his system.
Because I can’t feed him (thank you, Jesus), my job is burper.
In a typical night, Kris feeds him, changes him, swaddles him, and lays him down while I perform the fatherly duty of sleeping. She returns to bed and 12 minutes later, we hear the boy on the monitor.
I get up. I make sure he’s not rooting by kissing his cheek (for the first two weeks of Zach’s life, I thought he was trying to kiss me until Kris disabused me of that notion with a “No, Babe, he’s just hungry”). I give him his pacifier. I kiss away his tears. And I sit with him while he screams and tries to spit the pacifier where I can’t catch it. I try putting him in different positions to relax: up on the shoulder, on my knee, in the dryer. And I wait for him to take a deep long breath. When he starts to inhale, in that glorious split-second of silence: I begin my story.
When I was a boy, there were three storytellers: Dad, Mom, and Shel Silverstein. Jake, Jean, and I would get our PJs on, and put our pink, plastic cups of water on the nightstand. And then I, because I was oldest, would yell down the hall, “Story Time!”
We didn’t know who we were going to get. For the first year of our ritual, it was usually Uncle Shelby’s “A Light in the Attic.” Mom would read it or dad would read it. The flitty inflection of “The Sitter” or “How Many, How Much” made us smile.
But after the first year, we knew all the poems. And asked for other stories.
When it was Dad that came down the hall, he’d tell us stories of red, bouncy ball factories where Jimmy, Jake, and Jean were employees who tested the balls. Or of magical baseball games where we were the first brother, sister, brother combination in the major leagues (and we always beat the Dodgers). We were wide awake when he was done telling us stories.
When Mom came down, she told us our favorite story: The Big Blue Sky. About a walk we all took along a stream that was so cold it made our feet tingle. Her story was full of juicy plum trees and white puffy clouds of cotton. I don’t remember how it ended and found out years later that it was extended or shortened until the last of us fell asleep.
And now I sit with Zach. Telling a story about plum trees and clouds and super bouncy balls. And I pray that he calms a bit, looking for his next big breath, so I can start the story anew.