When I was a kid, if you got a sore throat in the middle of the night, you woke my dad. If you were scared by a thunder storm, you woke my dad. Heard a noise that sounded like a robber? Dad. Cough? Dad. Fever? Dad. You get the idea.
The dad thing was partially due to the fact that my dad was a pharmacist, which was pretty darn close to a doctor in our book. Plus he prescribed OTC meds better than any MD we knew. It may also have had something to do with the fact that my dad was a light sleeper. The mere scent of a sick child within feet of his bed made him awake, aware and alert almost instantaneously. He’d gracefully leap out of bed and stealthily sweep you away with the finesse of a danseur performing a well rehearsed ballet. My mom, on the other hand awoke startled, bolting upright like an overdone pop-tart shooting out of a burning toaster. She’d accost you with a hysterical “What’s wrong?” or a frantic “Who died?” It was stressful to wake my mom. Plus, we doubted she’d be able to help us since she lacked the intense medical training we imagined my dad had gotten to be able to wear that illustrious white jacket and count pills all day.
Once I became a mom, it was almost eerie how the pattern unconsciously seemed to repeat itself. My boys just started waking their dad when they were sick or scared or needed a glass of water. It always bugged me. But I didn’t want to be childish about it. I mean, why shouldn’t my husband be the parent of choice after dark. I actually learned to enjoy my status as unwanted mom in the middle of the night. I did experience jealousy pangs though, when my girlfriends would lament their exhaustion after being up six times during the night with a sick kid. After a while I started to obsess about it. Why wouldn’t my boys want me to soothe their spirits or bandage their boo-boos? After all, I was their mother.
One day I came out and asked them about it. They very matter-of-factly explained to me that they didn’t wake me in the middle of the night because daddy was a doctor, a trained professional. Therefore, he was clearly better suited to taking care of them than I was. It hurt — on several levels. My husband, noting my pathetically sad posture, tried to tell the boys that mommies are even better at taking care of little boys than doctors. Of course, my boys weren’t buying that for a minute. I even tried to convince them that I actually was a kind of doctor. My initials could prove it. I was, after all, D.R. Gettleman. But our attempts to even the scales were for naught. It seemed I was destined to remain the undesired slacker parent, the bright-eyed, energized, morning mom with 8 uninterrupted hours of shut eye each night. Until last night.
Last night I awoke easily around 3a.m., opened my eyes and saw my youngest, Eli, standing silently over me, his head cocked curiously, his sleepy eyes looking sad. I surprised myself by effortlessly sweeping him out of the room so as not to awake my exhausted spouse. When we were out of ear shot, I asked him what was wrong. His foot ached, he told me and he wanted me to rub it to make it feel better.
Wow! It was my turn to be middle of the night care-taker. I happily agreed and blissfully went to work. He fell asleep soundly as I gently massaged his foot. I tucked the sheet snugly around him, kissed him on the forehead, and returned to my room with a feeling of tremendous achievement and satisfaction. Then I lay awake the next few hours appreciating what it felt like to finally get my turn as parent-of-choice for one glorious pre-dawn moment.