Perhaps someday you’ll carry me
When I first walk into the bedroom all is dark and silent. I empty my pockets of keys, earbuds, and change, and then lay my phone on the dresser. When I’m done, my eyes are almost completely adjusted to the darkness and I can make out two figures asleep on the bed, cuddled closely together. One of them is your mom and the other is you, Oscar, two and a half years old as I write this. Moving as silently as I can so as not to disturb your mother, I work my arms underneath you, pull, and pry you from her. Usually, you let out a whimper or a loud sigh, but you do not wake. Slowly, I carry you across the hallway to your room and lay you down on your bed, tuck your white teddy bear into your arms, cover you with a blanket, and walk out of your room quietly. For the past two years, most nights have included this ritual.
And it is a kind of ritual, mind you. Every time I put you in your bed I go through the same thoughts: that though fatherhood has been very hard for me, as my time has been, shall we say, severely reassigned to things I’d rather not use it for, I cherish those steps from one bedroom to another. You see, I once heard my own mother say, many years ago, that kids were wonderful ‘but only when they’re little,’ and that one had to enjoy them while that period lasted. I don’t remember exactly how old I was at that point, but I think it was in my teens. I didn’t understand what she said and indeed found it ludicrous, since it was obvious to me that little kids were unbearable. For the most part, now that I have a small child of my own, I think I was right. Sorry. Parenthood is not for everyone, and schizoid misanthropes like me are probably the least miserable when we’re alone, especially away from small children. But when I carry you along those dozen steps and lay you to sleep, I feel my mom might have been on to something. I tell myself that holding this little creature in my arms is not so bad after all.
There are a few times a week when you pull me by my hand or call me to you, but for each one of those there are at least a couple more when you push me away and call for your mother, or one your aunts, or even your grandma (my own mother, that is). It doesn’t hurt me, as I know what being safe with mom feels like, and I never hold those rejections against you — after all, you’re just two! But when I pick you up at night and tuck you in, for about the thirty seconds the procedure lasts, you do cuddle against me and seem content to be asleep in my arms. There is no other feeling like that in the world — a soft reminder that I am a provider to someone, and at the very least a temporary protector of dreams. Each night I do this (such as I will in a few minutes) I think to myself “this is what mom meant”.
Like I mentioned earlier, there are a few times when you push me away and call for someone else, usually your mom. This morning, for example, you awoke crying as we were getting ready to leave for work and leave you at your aunt’s. Your mom was in the shower, and it was I who came to your room — but you told me to go away. “Over there!” you screamed, “Nooooo! Go over there! I want mom!” I tried to calm you down and pick you up, but you refused. Your mom heard the commotion, hurried out of the shower, and came to your rescue.
As you grow older you will push away in more ways, not just from me, but from your mother as well. This is normal and even healthy. You’re not quite at the stage where I’m a superhero to you, but you will reach it and then leave it behind. I know because I’ve been there too. Needless to say, I won’t be carrying you in my arms much at all by the time that happens, nor ever again. This is how growing up is supposed to be, in a way. Parenthood is the management of you pulling away from your mom and I, in the hope that you will turn out OK in the end.
If all goes well, it will be you who carries me in the end, perhaps quite literally. I won’t be around forever, and that’s the way it ought to be. For the young to come of age, the old have to get out of the way at some point. If we succeed at this parenting business, your mom and I will be pulled away from you, definitively and even if we don’t want to, before you’re pulled away from us. It is in those moments when you carry me, and lay me to rest, that I hope having been my son wasn’t so bad after all.