Asleep in My Arms

Its 11 PM and I am driving home from a party. My daughter, Molly, is beside me, blissfully singing along to the car stereo. I have kept her up late because I didn't want to leave the party. Now I am really tired and hoping she will fall asleep before we get home. I just want to crawl into bed. I don't want to shepherd her through brushing her teeth, getting on her jammies, and reading her a story. I love our usual bedtime routine, but tonight I am just too bushed.

My chances of her falling unconscious while she is singing look pretty slim. So when the current song is over I advance the CD a few tracks to what I know will be a slow song. Luckily, Molly doesn't seem to care. I fish out a pillow from the back seat and suggest to her that she rest her head. She lays the pillow down against my thigh and slides herself down horizontally, her hips twisted by the seat belt. My right hand lights softly on her shoulder. She sighs, and in a few more blocks she is gone.

I become aware of her in a different way now that she is asleep. Her arm is so small. Her head is so heavy. I can feel the weight of it through the pillow on my thigh. I massage her neck with my thumb. I wonder at how relaxed she is. It's been thirty years since my neck and shoulders were that loose.

Here is this person next to me. Eight years ago she didn't exist. Her body is small, but amazingly healthy. If I twist my back, I'm down for two weeks. If she sprains her ankle, she can play soccer again the next day. What a vibrant package of life! Her mother and I have fed and clothed her, but it is some life force within her that propels her body to grow. It is a mystery beyond me. Yet, as her father, I have the honor of watching this mystery unfold.

I park. I lift her out of the car, carefully navigating past the steering wheel and the car door that won't stay open like it should. She is much heavier than she used to be. Her body spreads out too far for two arms to easily support. Still asleep, she senses this and wraps an arm around my neck as I climb the stairs to the house. "I love you, Daddy," she whispers dreamily. "I love you too," I whisper back.

Inside the house, I lay her down in her bed. I pull up the covers and kiss her on the forehead. Now I am done. Now I can go to sleep. So why do I pause before I close her bedroom door. And wish she was awake, so we could read a story together.

© 2008, Tim Hartnett

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Your children need your presence more than your presents. - Jesse Jackson

Tim 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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