Crossing into and out of Dreamland
"Daddy?" asks a small, sleepy voice at my bedroom
door. "Yes, Molly?" I reply, not knowing that I was
even awake. Someone used to have to shake me by the
shoulders or pour water on my head to wake me up.
Now that gentle wisp of a voice has me up on one
elbow with just one word. "Can I sleep in your
bed?" I melt at her innocence. Almost every night
she wakes up at some point and comes to cuddle back
to sleep with me. I always let her. But still she
asks. Is it that she wants not only to cuddle, but
to know that she is wanted?
"Did you pee?" I ask. This means both: "Did you
wet your bed?" and/or "Did you go to the toilet
before coming in here so I know you won't wet MY
"No," she says, honestly.
"Go to the toilet, and then come back and climb
in with me."
She scampers away. I have a moment to adjust to
the fact that my bed will soon be more crowded.
(The problem is that sometimes Molly fidgets in her
sleep. This I cannot bear. Usually, after about
twenty minutes of me hoping she will settle down, I
will pick her up in exasperation and carry her back
to her bed. If she wakes up in the process I will
lie down with her there until she falls asleep
again. Then I will steal away, back to my bed.)
When Molly returns from the bathroom we have a
moment of exquisite sweetness. This is what makes
me willing to take the risk of being kept awake by
her fidgeting. Her little body burrows into the
warmth of my chest and belly. Her hand reaches up
in the dark to find my face. Delicate fingers light
on the stubble of my cheeks. My arm around her tiny
frame must feel huge to her. She believes her
daddy's strong arms will forever keep her safe from
all the scary things in this world. Feeling her
complete trust in me, I almost believe it
"I love you, Molly" I whisper. In the daytime I
will say this and she will sometimes mock me,
annoyed by my redundancy. "I wuv you Mauwee, I wuv
you Mauwee." she will sneer. "You are always saying
that!" I flash on my own childhood and think,
"Better always than never."
But just before she crosses into sleep she
eagerly soaks in my affection. "I love you too,
Daddy,...really, really love you." Then in a
moment, she is gone, safely back in the land of
It can be scary crossing the gap between waking
and sleeping. You go from conscious awareness and
control of your life to surrendering everything,
including your own mind. It takes faith to believe
that you can let it all go and still be safe. Maybe
that's why we say our prayers at bedtime. Even if
you are not afraid of robbers or ghosts, you never
know what upsets your dreams may bring forth.
It can be scary coming back to waking too.
Peaceful sleep must give way to endless demands:
the rush of getting ready for school, the scary
teachers waiting there, the older kids, the
bullies, the shifting alliances of best friends,
the ever-present danger of ridicule.
When Molly wakes up in the morning she needs me
to help her transition into the day, just as she
needed me to help her get to sleep at night. Her
body insists on being next to mine. She starts by
sitting on me in bed and refusing to let me rise.
We wrestle. She feels powerful against my waking
body that doesn't really want to get up anyway.
Walking downstairs by herself is intolerable agony.
She believes that her place is on my back. To her I
am a school bus that she hops like a freight train.
When we get to the kitchen I set her on the counter
so that I can make the oatmeal. She leans out
toward me trying to hop on as I pass by to get some
salt. When I need to fill her lunch box I have to
steer clear of her like I would a pond full of
leaches. Her seat at breakfast is always in my lap.
In my pick up truck she sits right beside me,
trying to get her fill of body contact before we
arrive at school. When we arrive in the parking lot
the agenda is obvious to us both, but she pauses
and I always have to say, "Time to get out now.
Don't forget your lunch."
When I pick her up in the afternoon. Everything
has changed. There is not even a hello. It's just
"Dad, please can I go to April's house? Please? Her
mom says it's okay." I agree and drive back home
alone. I'll pick her up at April's later, but even
then she won't want to come with me. We will eat
dinner with Mom, read stories with Mom and turn out
the light. Molly will be faced with crossing that
bridge into sleep once more. But with Dad on one
side and Mom on the other she will release her day,
like a sky diver stepping off a plane. Buoyed not
by a parachute, but by the warmth of her parent's
bodies and the soft sounds of her mother's
© 2008, Tim
Other Father Issues,
* * *
Your children need your presence more than your
presents. - Jesse Jackson
Hartnett, Ph.D. is a licensed Marriage and Family
Therapist in private practice in Santa Cruz, CA. He
specializes in Individual Counseling, Couples
Therapy, and Divorce Mediation. He can be reached
at 831.464.2922 or through his website:
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