A version of this post appeared on Jennifer’s Little World earlier in the year.
A few years ago, when DorkySon was just a tiny toddler, my Dad came to visit and we went out for a walk. As I pushed the pram along, Dad kept skipping ahead to peek into it.
‘What are you doing?’ I asked, laughing?
‘Just watching him fall asleep,’ said Dad. ‘It’s one of the loveliest things to see.’
I thought he was a bit mad, and said nothing.
In retrospect, he was absolutely right. Watching DorkySon fall asleep was something that I took for granted because it happened several times a day – in my arms, or against my shoulder, or pushing him around in a pram. But it’s only now that I so rarely see it happen that I realise what a lovely thing it was.
DorkySon is now four and he has taken sleep – that most private of things – behind closed doors. He tucks in to bed with only Binky – his manky old hippo – for company. We will hear him sometimes, singing a song or chatting to himself for a few minutes before falling silent. Sometimes he will call me through, bleary eyed in the middle of the night, for a nose blow, a sip of water, or to retrieve Binky from somewhere in the tangled sheets. He’ll be in that half sleepy state; will murmur something dreamy that makes no sense to me.
But the actual process of falling asleep, those precarious moments between one world and another, are not something I see very often these days.
When I do – usually on some long journey – I understand what my Dad meant all those years ago. I’m reminded what a sweet sight it is.
He fights it, first. Bashes his head from side to side as though trying to shake those snoozy sensations right out of there, blinking frantically to ward off sleep. Any small noise or movement will make him jolt and sit straight up with a start.
But eventually, with a sense of resignation, he starts to settle. His eyelids become heavier, and his blinking slows right down, giving me the chance to admire those eyelashes that are longer and thicker and darker than is really decent. He clutches Binky to his face, turning him over and over until he finds the most loved part – his tatty old tail – that he picks at with the pinky nail of his right hand. Pick, pick, pick… No wonder poor Binky has needed so many repair jobs.
DorkySon’s left hand is saved for the serious business of ‘thumb pie’ which is what he calls sucking his thumb. Gentle, at first, although as he falls deeper and deeper into sleep it becomes more furious and noisy, great slurping noises that make me giggle, until he finally reaches that sleepy place where all is calm, his mouth relaxes, and the thumb is released.
He will nap like that for an hour; soothed by the motion of whatever train or plane we happen to be on. His head will get incredibly warm, and often a tiny bead of sweat will course its way slowly down his pink cheek. He will twitch, sometimes, dreaming of ice cream or buses or whatever other things make little boys happy. If he is lying on me, I will have to shift in my own seat, slowly so as not to wake him, trying to get comfy as his weight becomes heavier and heavier.
And then, when he is done, when the batteries are recharged, he will open his eyes and sit up, his hair a mess, his face crumpled and flushed.
‘Good nap?’ I’ll ask.
‘What nap?’ he’ll say. ‘What are you talking about? I didn’t nap at all.’