The apotheosis of sleep

Posted by jdg | Tuesday, September 26, 2006 |

There were times when I was working that I would come home late after Wood had done all the work of putting her to bed and I would just stand there and watch Juniper sleep, my fingers gently gripping the edge of her crib with her face in a stream of mystical light leaking through a crack in the blinds. Those were times when she would later wake up crying and I would rush to hold her, to calm her and sing to her and bounce her on the yoga ball, getting swept up in the rhythm myself, holding her long after she had returned to sleep just to feel her warm breath on my chest.

Those nights are a distant memory. Now I am the enforcer of naptime.

Juniper has not yet figured out that I am serious. It's like she thinks we're on some weird vacation together, and that at any moment her mom is going to shift back into place to make sure she's properly fed and attended to, for surely no one would ever place such important tasks in the hands of the likes of me. I am, in her eyes, solely for goofing off. At no time is this more clear than when it comes time for that afternoon nap. She laughs at me when I tell her it's time to sleep, she smiles when I sing to her, and then she watches me leave the room, giggling, and then sits up and chatters to herself until I return, when she smiles at me again and throws herself face first into the mattress, knowing that my next words will be, "Juniper, go to sleep."

In the last few weeks she has learned to shut her eyes on command, but doesn't just shut them: she squeezes her eyelids tight and smiles, like an older kid waiting for a surprise birthday present, trying to push out all the light of the world. Her eyes wrinkle up in their corners and the lids twitch with this histrionic shuttering until a few seconds later she peeks up at me and laughs some more. It is miserably cute, and so frustrating when I just want her to sleep. So I inevitably return to her side, sing her songs and pat her back until she closes her eyes on her own and falls asleep for real.

And then, silent as a thief I head for the door, but inevitably turn back to make sure she isn't watching me with a sly smile on her lips. If I've patted her for long enough she'll already be deep in sleep, and despite whatever pile of work has accumulated for me to accomplish in my limited window, I find myself pausing there to behold her sleeping, thinking for the five hundredth time of those words of Don Delillo's narrator in White Noise, who says: "Watching children sleep makes me feel devout, part of a spiritual system. It is the closest I can come to God. If there is a secular equivalent of standing in a great spired cathedral with marble pillars and streams of mystical light slanting through two-tier Gothic windows, it would be watching children in their little bedrooms fast asleep. Girls especially."