0018 | tiredness (measuring)

It was my wife who first gave me reason to believe that I might become a father of some competence, almost six years ago and our first night together no longer as two people, but as three. Seventy-two hours old, my daughter’s cries that night were harrowing – the first realisation of how little we knew about so many things, not least of all love. Love: redefined, contorted and tested in ways we couldn’t have understood before. That night, I paced the length and width of the room and then repeated those steps with each foot finding the ghost of the step from the previous pass. I realised that I’d never before truly measured distance. I mapped the space between four walls, judged the proximity of bed and chair, knew precisely where the board had given out underneath the carpet, and at which point along the window wall the amber glow from the lamps outside would send an oblong of light across her face. That night, we learned to measure time too. The neon-blue numbers of the alarm clock revealed how tiny increments of time stacked so slowly. Numbers, superseded by more numbers. Large quantities being broken down into thousands and thousands of tiny particles. Hours, made of minutes, made of seconds. That night, we began in ignorance of tiredness, knowing nothing of exhaustion, or rather, that fear that convinces that exhaustion is close. That night, I carried my daughter, and then my wife carried her, each of us certain that our instincts were right: terrified by the possibility that they could be wrong. We continued to try to measure. I took her from my wife once more and carried her downstairs, past that point of secession that had informally been established between us. I shut out her cries and walked, measuring space and time anew, feeling all our tirednesses, finding shafts of that same orange light that had broken through upstairs, leaking through breaks in the fabric. I found flaws which prevented the curtains from joining, could see where hooks were missing and where the pleat tape at the top of the drape was in need of repair. I resolved to fix them soon. My gaze found her again, in my arms, her eyes closed. Silence: something else we would come to measure, more accurately than we had ever considered it before.

When my wife entered the room, she smiled and whispered, ‘You obviously have the knack.’ I smiled back, proudly accepting her words, reflecting that I knew the same to be true of her, acknowledging my first real contribution as we approached the fourth day of my daughter’s young life. For tiredness is that state which can disable an ability or truncate a desire to express ourselves more clearly, and this too was something we were already learning to gauge better: measuring what so few words could mean; what was there in a smile, a look; redefining noise and silence and so many things we thought we already knew.

Reader Comments

  1. Your post brought back so many memories. You explained exhaustion as only a new parent experiences exhaustion.
    Your words, so eloquent, your experience, so universal.

  2. Your fragments of a life lived are as insightful as ever, Matt. And, more than that, they’re starting to take on the form of a long, powerful and connected narrative. I hope you’re working on a novel – you really should.

  3. Your last line is particularly beautiful. The whole fragment distills that wonder and fear and alternate universe of new parenthood so precisely, but only as precisely as passing time will allow.

  4. OpinionsToGo:
    Glad you liked this one, Jane. Our hitherto understanding of tiredness certainly got very quickly revised!

    Charlie:
    Thank you for reading and for commenting again. It’s lovely to hear that you think the Fragments hold together as a larger narrative. I’d love to write a novel, but this form for now is one I love and probably the only one I can do justice to.

    Mary-Colleen:
    It’s so nice to find something from new commenters, so thank you very much. I’m really glad you enjoyed this, especially the last line, as I had to chisel quite a bit to work that into the piece.

  5. This is a foreign land to me. I’m only awake in the middle of the night in the crazy land of midnight worry. I both admire, and despair at, the madness of parents. Nicely done.

  6. Again I am amazed at how you take me into the moment, thru it I was pacing with you, counting with you, feeling the baby heart beating against mine. I am so glad Nadia introduced me to your blog.

  7. Philip:
    Parenthood’s a tough sell! Thanks for your comment.

    dia El Shafie:
    Thanks so much. Very happy to have you as a reader to these pages.

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