Simone with Gandalf
When my daughter was born, she was gray. Incompetent doctors and nurses had worked together to give my wife pain medication that should not be given when a child is minutes from being born. Hours earlier it would have been fine, but given at the time it was, my daughter came out not breathing. I do not know how long it took them to revive her. I know it was more than five seconds and less than an hour. I was watching in horror as they flopped her little body around. I was trying not to show my horror. I was trying to keep Cate looking at me. I was telling her what a good job she’d done. I didn’t want her to turn her head. I didn’t want her to look over there and see what I was seeing.
She didn’t. Simone sprang to life. She screamed like babies are supposed to scream. She turned pink with life.
At some point that day, new grandparents strolling in and out and dressing and undressing her like a doll, I fell asleep on the hospital sofa in our room. It was only a couple of hours, but I hadn’t slept at all the night before. That night, it was Simone’s turn. She didn’t want to sleep in the plastic bin they provide. I realize now that it was probably her reflux. She had terrible reflux as a baby. I picked her up and started singing to her. One of the songs I sang was “Waltzing’s for Dreamers” by Richard Thompson. I don’t know why I picked that song. It’s not lyrically appropriate. It starts, “Oh play me a blues song and fade down the lights/I’m sad as a proud man can be sad tonight,” and ends, just as cheerily, “Waltzing’s for dreamers and losers in love.” It’s a sad song, but it does sound like a lullaby with its lilting melody and gentle waltz rhythm, and that’s probably why I landed on it.
So I sang it to her and I remember her falling asleep to it. She wouldn’t let me lay her down though, and the nurses wouldn’t let her sleep in Cate’s narrow hospital bed. The sofa I was sleeping on pulled out to a double bed, and so I finally lay down on it with her. I slept lightly that night, scared the way new parents are scared of unseen disasters, my arm around her, checking every so often that she was swaddled and warm.
There were many periods in her first few years, when I sang her to sleep nightly. For one long stretch, she would only go to sleep if I sang to her while she held my hand, gingerly tugging it away when she drifted off. I went to “Waltzing’s for Dreamers” night after night. It didn’t always work, but it worked more than anything else.
Today, my daughter turned five. She had the much written about hobbit birthday and it was a smashing success. We spent the first half of the day building Bag End from Legos (which is still only about half complete, I’m sure we’ll finish the rest tomorrow), then she watched the old animated movie (another present) while her brother napped and we prepared for her party. Her friends came over and her grandparents and everyone had a wonderful time. Her cake had hobbit stuff on it. There was a dragon piñata that she named, of course, Smaug. The kids ran around batting balloons and blowing bubbles. Her Gandalf figure accompanied her for most of the day (Gandalf is her favorite, much to my pleasure and through no prompting on my part). It was the kind of day all of us want to give our kids from time to time. I don’t know, but I think she’ll remember it forever.
Of course, the party wound down, friends went home, and it was eventually time to get ready for bed. She had her final hobbit meal (cereal with strawberries on top) and we read book and she lay down in bed and I was about to go and she was resisting because she was too tired. Then, just as I was shutting the door, she said, “Daddy, will you sing ‘Play me a blue song,'” getting the words just a little wrong as children will.
And so, I came back in, and I sat down on her brother’s bed where she could see me and I sang to her and she watched me and smiled at me, and I came out thinking that this is something else she will always remember and that I don’t sing her to sleep every night anymore and that one day, I will sing her that song for the last time and neither of us will know it.