On Watching Children Fall Asleep

(The Second Installment in an Occational Series on What I Wish Other Parents Had Told Me)

Plenty of parents talk about watching their children sleep. Mostly, its in a vaguely creepy context, where the child is already blissfully dreaming and the parents are hovering above the bed, whispering about how adorable their little angel is. There is also a fair amount of talk about the difficulty of putting a child to bed when that child is over-tired, over-stimulated, or just not tired at all. Screaming ensues. We are all familiar, even before we become parents, with the desperate scene.

a baby smiles at his reflection in a mirror from his carseat

Luckily wide awake here… (and stopped, for the record)

But no one warned me about watching a child fall asleep in the car. As you might have picked up, I drive a lot. And occasionally (likely more than is healthy for a growing human) Remy comes along for the ride. Currently, we are “those parents” who think our child should be rear facing until he’s in middle school. So, early on I bought a car mirror so I could keep an eye on Remy and so, as he gets older, he can see me. Partially this was due to one terrifying drive home when Remy cried bloody murder for thirty minutes and then suddenly stopped. In the ten minutes of silence before I could pull off of the highway, I was certain that Remy had somehow managed to strangle himself, choke on something, or escape from the car. So I bought the mirror, thinking it would reassure me.

It did not.

Let me just tell you now that a child “drifting” to sleep is the most disconcerting process I have ever observed. First, the child will be fussy. No surprise there. But then the child will go silent and begin staring off into nothing for long periods of time. This is mostly alarming because the child will seem to stop blinking. The wide, wild-eyed stare gives the impression that a zombie horde is approaching the rear of the car. I often get through this stage by reassuring myself that the child is probably blinking while I am watching the road. (I am watching the road – I’m driving after all). This works reasonably well until, eventually I glance back to find the child slumped forward in his car seat, neck at strange angle, and no sign of life. For a moment, I am always convinced that the zombie horde has somehow gotten into the car and infected my poor baby. This is ridiculous, since the car is easily going 78 miles per hour and all the doors are locked. Nonetheless, the thought might cross your mind, as it crosses mine.

Maybe I’m alone in this, but I am always slightly unnerved. Yes, I know sleep is very important. Yes, I am aware that the blinkless stare into space is a totally normal part of the process. But still. But still. Now that Remy is basically walking, I’m thinking more and more of other terrifying things that he will do – that he will have to do – and that I will have to watch him doing. Banging into walls. Scraping his knee. Falling out of trees. Falling in love with a crazy middle schooler. Going off to college. Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself here. The point is, lots of things that children do are not fun to watch. But they must be done, and we must observe the process, scary parts and all. So I suppose watching Remy sleep is a lesson in letting go and letting Remy live his life.

But still, I wish that someone would have warned me.


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