I should have known it was his ears–that was always my mother’s go-to: “get the ears checked!”–but somehow checking ears always slips my mind in the hoary, blurry middle of the night. I wouldn’t discover that it was his ears until the morrow.
We were sick anyway, my husband and I. Our colds were making a bargain: sleep and we’ll skedaddle, don’t sleep and we’ll knock you down for a week. I mention it so you understand that the stakes were high from the very start.
So when 2 am rolled around and my body had that awful wired/touched-out feeling, that feeling where I’ve been milking the fussy babe at the breast for hours and I’m about to lose my ever-loving mind, I snapped away and let loose a barrage of verbal darts. “No! No! No, GO TO SLEEP! STOP! Just stop! Stop crying, stop nursing, stop rubbing your foot up and down my thigh, my knee, my leg!”
Placing his body on his pillow again and again I gave a cry of my own, a desperate “I can’t do this, I am sick, I have to get sleep!” which was code for “Husband, take over now because I’m becoming unkind and that probably means I’m becoming unsafe.” My husband rose, and I pulled blankets over my head.
The night was not in sleep’s favor, however. Just as I began to dose off, my husband standing command over the little jack-in-the-box of a son (“No. Lay down. Shhhh.”), from the living room came the cry, “MAMA!!!! MAAAAAMAAAAA!” Rushing, I found my daughter, huddled in a weeping mass on a makeshift bed, choking out the words, “it was a dream… there was a crab… he pinched Auntie Heather and then he was coming to pinch MEEEEEEEEEEEE.”
“Okay. It’s okay. Shhhh. Alright. Okay. I’m just… Mama’s going to the bathroom.” Which I did, because a few moments were necessary to fully pull myself out of the sleep-deprived stuporous state of my brain.
Well, so passed the next hour: Husband caught moments of sleep between refusing the baby his own moments of whimpering, and I splayed awkwardly upon the body of a four year old girl. Finally peace settled, harmony ensued, and the man and I crept under our covers, bumping into walls and each other and our own confusion along the way. Blessed, blessed sleep, how we wanted you.
It was the door that did it, though. A whispered “bang, bang” from a door normally out of the reach of the breeze. Our heads rose from our pillows, and questions almost formed, but tiredness beat out alarm and again we fell. The rest lasted only for a moment. For suddenly there was a large gust of wind that shuddered the south-facing wall, and we bolted out of bed, both of us, in one great leap…we could’t have been faster if we’d been on fire.
Away to the back door, running with all our might, across the yard in bare, tingling, adrenaline-filled feet. We knew what that gust of wind meant. It meant all things a prairie storm brings, and while dry now, it was only moments before our back yard would become a lake.
Across the grass, staked deep into earth, our camping tent flapped wildly beneath the wind. It lay flat but for a bulge where the poles had been shot out to the side, probably in the gust that brought us from our beds, and we stumbled in the dark to find the door. But there it was, and in it, an eight year old boy blearily poking through his head. The other son lay huddled in the bulge from the poles, and it took some doing to get to him beneath the collapsing canvas. The whole tent shook madly, poles hitting agains skulls and boys trying to get free. We rushed our sons into the house, then sprinted back, struggling to stand upright, silent in our haste, to strip the inside of the tent of blankets, books, and paper school supplies. We had had no idea they’d set up a perfect home out there and it took a few runs to get it all inside. But when the last load was in, we slammed the door against the tempest and collapsed with our faces to the pane. The skies burst forth, and rain, sheets and gales and cats and dogs and the like, just absolutely poured.
He took my hand. Our hearts were still stampeding and the children were all safe in bed. We watched the tent fight against the storm–my head on his shoulder–wondering if it would still be there in the morn. “I guess we made it just in time,” he voiced.
It was no barn fire for Pa Ingalls to put out, no hurricane before which we needed to sink our boats. But for all romantic purposes the night bore the same sense of emergency, and as I buried my face in his back when we had again curled in bed (at 5:30 AM), I murmured, “Parenting. It really is not for the faint of heart.”
To which he replied, “Harummmmph.”