His indignant cries rouse me from my state of half-sleep. I sit up and groggily reach for the monitor, turning it up so I can hear a bit better. Through his sleepy sobs I hear him singing the tune of “You Are My Sunshine” —his “comfort me, Mommy” song. Like one of Pavlov’s dogs, I am trained well; I slither out of bed and stumble across the hall.
He closes his eyes and whines a moment as he moves my hand into just the right position to press over his right ear. Something still causes him discomfort but he cannot tell me what it is; it has been thus his entire life. I rest my hand on the side of his head; my palm covers his ear and I gently stroke his cheek with my thumb.
He turns his face slightly into my arm and sighs. He snuffles and wiggles to settle in again. In the dim light I watch him tuck one hand between the mattress and the side of the crib as if anchoring himself in place. Within minutes he is fast asleep again; I extract my tingling hand and stumble back to bed to wait for the next summons.
It is the same each night; like clockwork, he stirs and comes to half-consciousness several times. Each time I stop what I am doing and go to him. Unlike those endless and horrible nights of mere months ago, he no longer requires pain relievers, homeopathic remedies, or extra padding in the crib to protect his head from the force of his thrashing about. Now, he settles almost instantly when my hand touches his face. Like before, though, he is unable to tell me what troubles him so.
As I watch his cheeks go slack and his chest begins to rise and fall with the steadiness of slumber, I ponder whether the touch of my hand actually eases a physical pain or if it simply comforts him. Does he remember all that time spent together in the NICU? Two hundred nine days —five thousand-sixteen hours —of which roughly half was spent with me by his side nearly always touching some part of him.
Does he remember the feel of my hands cradling his tiny head and impossibly slender bottom when he was mere days old and so incredibly fragile? Does his body remember, even now, the outpouring of love and strength which flowed through my trembling fingers —willing him to live, to fight? Is this then what pulls me to him even now in those quiet hours in the middle of the night?
His quiet singing and laughter rouse me from my state of half-sleep; I roll over and look at the lights on the monitor. With a smile, I sit up and rub the sleep from my tired eyes.
Each morning is the same; in spite of a night of disturbed sleep and whimpering cries, he awakes as if sunshine runs through his veins. He happily entertains himself while I drag myself to nearly full consciousness. I cross the hallway and pause outside his door; breathy strains of “Old MacDonald” or “Signing Time” gently tease my ears. With a smile, I open the door.
The sound of the opening door interrupts his musical reverie; he sits up with a sly smile and begins his nonsensical but deliriously happy babbles. I understand he is happy to see me again so soon. He stands and leans on the side of the crib, his face tilted up and lips pursed to deliver an unasked-for kiss. I steal two quickly before he begins to pull on my shirt in an effort to climb out of the crib. Bracing his hand on something more stable than knit cotton, I help him down. He continues to chatter and sing as we make our way down the stairs.
He squeals and scampers over to his toy bucket and begins to systematically empty it as quickly as he can. He finds his chosen toy for the morning and carries it to the sofa. He climbs up to await our routine of medicine through his tube, followed by clean pants and clothing.
He proudly pulls his shirt on by his self and then lies down to await his clean pull-up and shorts. Supine, he reaches to pull up his shorts. Once they are settled just so, I help him with the zipper. He sits up and snuggles against my side, glancing up at me with his most engaging smile.
“Aahh aahhh aahh ahhh ahhhhh!” I intone my best Tarzan yell as I gently beat my fists on my chest. He collapses against me in a fit of the giggles. I do it again just to hear his laughter and see the sparkle in his eyes. “Your turn; you do it!” I tell him as he reaches to pull my hands against his chest. He pats his chest with two open palms and tries to mimic the sound; it comes out as more of a satisfied sigh than a throaty warble. My heart turns to goo as he collapses against me in another fit of the giggles. I warble and beat my chest as his body shakes with mirth again and again and again.
Life is good. Sleep is overrated.