By Richard Talbot | A bedtime story about a first-ever overnight babysitting gig that made this Papa cry all the way home |
Last night, alone in the car, in the snow, in the silence, I found myself crying all the way home.
My wife, Jan, and I had spent the afternoon and evening at our son Paul’s house. His wife, Kaitlin, went to an all-night affair with her sister. Paul, a customs officer at the airport, worked until 1:00 am.
It was the first time we’d babysat for our 2 ½-year-old granddaughter, June, at bedtime. Jan put her down around 8:30 pm. At 9:00, I heard them upstairs.
When I entered the darkened bedroom, June was sitting up and crying for her mommy and daddy. Jan was lying beside her, explaining that Daddy would be home later and Mommy would be home tomorrow.
I gently eased June down onto her pillow beside Jan. I began to sing an old lullaby we had sung to Paul thousands of times.
This little penny is a dancing penny / See how it glitters and it glows
“I need some back-up here,” I said. Jan joined in.
Bright as a whistle / Light as a thistle / Quick, quick as a wink / Down to your twinkling toes . . .
As we sang, June’s eyes closed and her breathing slowed. But when the song ended, her eyes flew open. It was time to pull out the big guns.
“June bug, I’m going to sing your daddy’s favorite song when he was little like you.”
Jan stroked June’s brow as I sang.
When a star is born / They possess a gift or two / And one of them is this / They have the power / To make a wish come true . . .
By song’s end, June was fast asleep. Jan smiled at me.
Smiling back, I whispered, “Papa fix.” Then I quietly rose and left the room.
I went downstairs and played with Paul’s computer, the only piece of electronics in the house I knew how to operate.
A little while later, Jan came downstairs and prepared to leave for our other daughter Kate’s house, where she would begin an overnight shift of babysitting our other grandchild if Kate were called in to work at the hospital.
I was given last-minute wife instructions; I can’t remember any of them now other than to listen for the baby. No problem. What could possibly go wrong?
An hour or so later, I heard the baby cry. I went upstairs to June’s room as fast as I dared, where I found her sitting up in bed, hair ruffled, tears streaming down her face.
“I want mommy,” June sniffed.
“Mommy isn’t here.” I caressed her shoulder. She shrugged it away.
“I want Daddy.”
“Daddy won’t be home till later.”
Throwing herself back onto her pillow, she demanded, “I want Grandma!”
I began to sing a song from Mary Poppins that I had sung to baby Paul 5,000 nights in a row.
Now stay awake and don’t you sleep / Though your pillow’s soft and deep / You’re not tired as you think / Stay awake, don’t nod and wink . . .
As I continued to sing, June’s crying subsided to stifled whimpers, and she began to settle down. By song’s end, her breathing had slowed to that of a child on the edge of sleep.
I immediately launched into my very best lullaby, from The Sound of Music.
I know I had a restless childhood / I might have been a miserable youth / But somewhere in my youth or childhood / There must have been a moment of truth . . .
That did the trick! I hummed the bridge as I gazed at the magical sight of my sleeping granddaughter and listened to her peaceful breathing.
My cell phone signaled an incoming text from Paul. I withdrew it from my pocket and read: I’m heading home now. Roads are snowy.
I texted back: I’m up in the baby’s room sleeping with her.
I closed my eyes, and with one hand resting on June’s heart and the other folded above the crown of her head, I began to drift off. My last thought was, Surely, I will hear Paul when he comes home.
Suddenly, I was awakened by the sensation of a warm, strong hand around mine. It was Paul. He had silently entered the room and taken my hand in his. He helped me to my feet, and we crept out of the room and downstairs in stocking feet.
At the bottom of the stairs, we embraced, and I whispered in his ear, “Oh, Paul. It’s been so long since I held a sleeping babe. It was, I don’t know, it was —”
I had no words.
He held me close as he always does.
“How often do you sleep with your baby?” I asked.
It made me glad to hear him say that, realizing he knew something that I now knew, too.
“Thank you, Paul, for letting me —” I started to choke up.
He kissed my cheek as I slipped on my coat.
What just happened? I wondered to myself, as I walked to my car.
The snow had been falling throughout the night. Soft and fluffy, it squeaked beneath my shoes and muffled the tires as I drove away. A few minutes later, at 1:30 am, alone in the car, in the snow, in the silence, I found myself crying all the way home.
Richard Talbot is a columnist and freelance journalist living in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. It is his particular bent to see the uncommon aspects of common things.