Monday, July 27, 2009

Sleepy Sleepy . . .


This is what I am, once again: sleepy. Bone tired. The kind of tired you are not sure you will recover from, and the kind that makes you feel like a child no matter your age. My memory of the moment springs from this feeling, which my son apparently shared tonight. This depth of fatigue is no problem when you are able to lie down and drop immediately into a profound sleep. Sometimes, however, that's not possible, which is when you'd be glad for someone to rub your back. For years now—since a particularly tortuous transatlantic flight with my then-toddler—my son has asked for someone to "rub my back and count to twenty." Counting to twenty is getting off scott free: the whole ritual took form on that cramped airplane, when the only way I could get my son to sleep was to start counting . . . and count all the way to two hundred before it had any effect. Now it's either one of us (my husband or I) who counts at night, but there's another thing that only I do; I was asked to do it tonight. It's something that takes me back to my own childhood in a heartbeat, since my mother would do it for me when I had trouble going to sleep or just wanted a little bit of extra company. She did this at home, but for some reason the most vivid memory is of a time when we were visiting her parents, and I was in a spare room, bundled under one of my grandmother's crocheted afghans (black background, granny square style with fluorescent colors that clashed horribly but somehow worked when all of a piece). I remember lying on my stomach while my mother patted my back gently, in time to a rhythm she created with her voice: Slee-py, sleep . . . go to sleep . . . nighty night . . . I love you . . . slee-py sleepy . . . Her cadence was slow, low, close to a whisper. This went on for who knows how many minutes, usually until I dropped into slumber—it worked nearly every time. Now the same is true of my son. When he is having the most trouble falling to sleep, counting to twenty is not quite enough. There'll be twenty, but then the lullaby of sleepy sleepy. I'll rub circles on his back, under his shirt. On those nights, I'm pretty sure that I myself—no matter my own state of exhaustion or agitation—will have no trouble when lights are out. I will curl up on my side, close my eyes, and remember the soothing lullaby of childhood. It still works like a charm, all these decades later.

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