“I’m not doing this on purpose, you know,” my father says to me.
It’s 2:30 AM. I’m pointing at his clock, the new one we got that tells the time and the time of day. Above the 2:30 AM the word “PREDAWN” appears.
My father presses his lips together and narrows his eyes. He looks like the emoji with horizontal lines for both eyes and mouth. Exasperated. Frustrated.
I’m not sure what that emoji is supposed to represent. I’m terrible at reading emojis. My children try to teach me.
“I can’t believe you used the eye-roll emoji,” one of them said to me after I, guess what, used the eye-roll emoji. I thought it was more of a shruggy-I-dunno face. But what do I know?
“You use that smiley-face?” another one asked once. I use the basic smiley — no teeth, no open mouth, just a little upward-curved line.
“What’s wrong with it?” I asked.
“I read that as a snarky-teenager-if-you-say-so face,” she said.
Sigh. I dunno.
But at 2:30 in the morning, I’m not thinking about emojis. I’m thinking about redirecting.
I have a baby monitor in my room so I can hear him when he gets up. He often gets up to use the bathroom and then goes back to bed uneventfully. And I go back to sleep, because I haven’t left the warmth of my bed.
Some nights, though, I don’t hear the squeak of the hospital bed as he climbs back in. Instead I hear running water in the bathroom and know he’s planning to shave. Or I hear the creak of dresser drawers being opened followed by the sound of the hanging drawer pull as it drops down and hits the brass plate. I know then that he’s getting dressed and that it’s time to redirect.
I climb out of bed, turn the monitor off, and head downstairs. The overhead light is on in his room, its bright rays extending under the door. Sometimes, when I open the door, I find him in the bathroom. Sometimes, he’s at his dresser. Sometimes, he’s just standing in the middle of his room, like he doesn’t know what to do next.
“I’m not doing this on purpose,” he says to me, and it breaks my heart. He knows that what he’s doing isn’t right, but he also doesn’t know what the right thing to do is.
“Look at the clock, Dad. It’s 2:30 AM. You’re supposed to be sleeping.”
“I know that,” he says.
“Can I help you get back into bed?” I ask.
“You want me to go back to bed?” he asks. What I’m saying connects, but it’s like using a corroded battery where the connection isn’t a connection because of yuck that’s in the way.
“Yes,” I reply. “You need to sleep.”
And by that I mean that I need to sleep.
But it’s too late for me.
I help him get back into bed, then go upstairs to my bed, turning the monitor back on before I climb in. The silence on the monitor tells me that he’s back to sleep. My husband’s deep breathing tells me that he’s sleeping, too.
It’s 3 AM now.
I stare at the ceiling for an hour, wishing sleep would return to me.
When it doesn’t, I climb out of bed to begin my day.