The Hills and Dales of Their Father

Remembrance of a Saturday morning



What was it like to have twin infants? a student asks, and immediately it is some years ago, on Saturday morning, and my wife and I have taken turns rocking the boys back to sleep during the night, and finally at dawn she carted them both into our big bed, and they fell asleep on me, and she said, firmly, if you move one inch in any direction and wake them up I will never kiss you with arrowed intent again the rest of our lives, and she promptly fell asleep, so there I was, with two one-year-old boys, sprawled on me like moist puppies, like tiny tender shirts, like rumpled drooling bundles of the warmest softest possible cotton.

One of them was draped over my shoulder and was breathing gently and wetly into my ear. The other one was straddling my equator like a belt. My wife slept deeply, while I was forbidden to move an inch. The thought occurred to me that perhaps the boys were into their own deepest sleep cycle now and I would be unable to move for the next six hours. I had mixed feelings about this. For them to sleep six straight hours would be a miracle beyond the feeble comprehension of any reader who has not survived the first year of an infant’s life, during which the parents do not ever sleep more than two hours consecutively, and they, the parents, become so addled and muddled with sleeplessness that they lurch around the house like primary voters, mumbling incoherently and eating napkin-and-cheese sandwiches and falling asleep in the shower. On the other hand, if they slept for six hours, I would have to be motionless for six hours, and while I could wriggle out from under them, and get up gently, and sneak a shower and a napkin sandwich, and hope that a merciful and understanding Proximate Cause would let the boys roll into the warm cave of the blankets and snore back toward their mother like salmon returning to their native waters, the chances of them not waking and wailing were minuscule, and the thought of never being kissed again with serious intent by this particular woman was horrifying, so I stayed motionless.

Even though I have spent many years trying to find the right words to evoke the extraordinary of the ordinary, I don’t think I can adequately articulate how glorious it was to wear not one but two small sleeping sons at dawn on a Saturday while an astounding woman slept like a rock to starboard. Our sons snoozed with their mouths open slightly. Their hair was discombobulated. Their scent was some combination of moist and pears and toast. One had an arm flung behind him at an impossible angle unless you are one year old and made of whatever substance it is that allows you to put your foot on your head for laughs. The other one, the drooler, was perched in such a way on my shoulder that the thin silver creek of his drool wandered slowly and cautiously around my ramparts, for all the world like it was afraid of something, and was pausing regularly for reconnaissance, and to check the wind.

In my memory I was in this motionless state, covered with sons, for several weeks, but my wife says this is not so, and in fact I fell asleep, and was snoring like a bear with a deviated septum, and she woke up, and took the boys off to be bathed and fed, while I slept for another few hours, but this is the most arrant airy nonsense, and I don’t remember it that way at all. I do, however, remember how holy and moving it was to have not one but two infant sons asleep on the hills and dales of their father. I don’t think I will ever forget that, as long as I live.

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Brian Doyle, an essayist and novelist, died on May 27, 2017. To read Epiphanies, his longtime blog for the Scholar, please go here.


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