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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The secret magic of a father's shoulder

The other evening Zahava and I attended a Bat Mitzvah in a neighboring town and left our big kids to look after Yonah. 

Ari and Gili are more than up to this task and have fallen into a rotating division of labor when it comes to who will feed him, get him drinks, change his diapers, get him into his PJs and sing Sh'ma (a Biblical recitation that is said in the morning and evening) with him before bed.

Most of these tasks entail a certain amount of horse-trading ("I changed the last diaper... no, it's your turn!"), and there have been more than a few occasions when both kids developed a temporary visual and olfactory blindness to Yonah's excretory prowess ("Uh, guys... what's that smell... oh my G-d!!!... why does Yonah look like he's wearing an inflated beach ball instead of a diaper?!").  But for the most part the kid is relatively clean and well fed whenever he's left in his sibling's capable hands. 

However, there is also a logistical aspect to having the big kids babysit. 

You see, we live in a three-story townhouse.... what is call a 'cottage' over here.  The big kids each have their own bedrooms on the third floor and share a bathroom.  There is also a guest room with it's own bathroom up there.  The kitchen, dining room and living room are on the middle floor, and our master bedroom/bath, along with our office and Yonah's nursery, are on the first floor.

So, whenever the kids are babysitting for Yonah in the evening, one of them has to go to sleep in our bed in order to be able to be close enough to hear him if he wakes up. 

Unlike other responsibilities associated with taking care of their baby brother, sleeping in our bed (at least until we get home) is a privilege that both kids fight to claim ("No, you got to sleep downstairs last time... no you did... it's my turn!").

The funny thing is, I know instinctively what this bickering is about.  I can remember with perfect clarity the comforting smell and feel of my parent's bed.  No matter how freshly laundered the linens, there is a faint, pheromonal connection that irresistibly draws children to the safe warm place where their parents sleep.

There is also the inevitable rough intimacy of being evicted from the parental bed with gentle kisses and soft tickles when we finally get home... as well as the treat of being carried up to bed with a sleep-tousled head lolling drunkenly on my shoulder.

When we returned from the Bat Mitzvah, all was silent (always a good sign) so Zahava and I went about our unspoken routine of putting our home to sleep for the night; locking the doors... turning off a forgotten light here and there... putting an errant shoe with it's partner near the stairs... and finally going down to 'our' part of the house.

I poked my head into the nursery to make sure Yonah hadn't kicked off his covers in his sleep (he had), and when I came back into our bedroom Zahava was standing with her hands on her hips staring lovingly at Gilad nestled deep into the pillows on my side of the bed. 

The stark contrast between Yonah's soft cuddliness and Gilad's lean, angular build was accentuated by their sleeping proximity.  But despite the sharp athleticism of Gili's muscular arms and legs, a small soft place on his neck... just behind his left ear... demanded to be nuzzled and kissed.

In his slumber Gilad reacted exactly as Yonah does when I go 'hmmmmm' against that tender spot; leaning into the kiss and reaching up to return my embrace.  However as he came fully awake, Gilad's babiness fell away from him like a sleep-tossed blanket, and the precursor of the man he will become emerged from the tangled comforter standing up shockingly close to my own eye level.

There was a moment where his arms remained around my shoulders... and I half hoped he would hop up against my shoulder to be carried up to bed.  I could still do it... and I knew he would enjoy it.  But then he absent-mindedly rubbed the defined '4-pack' of his bare midriff and seemed to come to a silent decision. He simply kissed me on the corner of my mouth and shuffled off to his own bed.

Though he is only ten years old, that moment hit me as though he had already left for the army!  I'm not ready to admit that two of my three children no longer need to be carried off to bed. 

Carrying sleeping children to bed is one of a father's most cherished privileges and sacred duties.  It's a comforting touchstone... a carry-over from a time when tiny feet are innocent of callouses and pudgy little legs have yet to take a step.  But even though we fathers continue the charade of necessity long after walking has turned to running... we secretly pray the day will never come when a sleepy embrace is deliberately broken... rather than culminating in a soft toss onto a waiting shoulder.

Gilad probably doesn't realize it yet, but his days of being carried up to bed ended the other night the moment he kissed me and shuffled away.  Somewhere in his sub-conscious mind a decision was made... to set off on his own... or perhaps simply to spare my aging back.

I'm 44 years old now, but I have crystal clear recollections of the impossibly safe feeling and comforting smell of falling asleep in my parent's bed.  And if I close my eyes I can still feel the protective, gently rocking warmth of my father's shoulder as he carried me back to my own bed. 

The funny thing is, I had always secretly wondered if these memories were as strong for my father as for me.  How did I not realize the obvious answer to that question?

Even though a small part of our relationship changed the other night, I'm sure Gilad will still occasionally camp out in my bed.  And I'm certain the scent of my pillow will transport him... in his dreams at least... back into my arms.  I know this because each time I embrace my own father... kiss his neck and smell his secret paternal aroma... l am mentally swept up into his waiting arms and carried off to my own childhood bed... to be tucked in safe and sound.

This is the secret magic of a father's shoulder... and that magic never wears off.


Posted by David Bogner on March 7, 2006 | Permalink


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Beautiful. And I hope that a Mothers' shoulder will have the same impact on my daughter. It's a simple act of familial ritual and one that I'm not looking forward to letting go. (except for the strain it puts on my back!)

Posted by: Val | Mar 7, 2006 1:23:28 PM

I love it when the baby sleeps on me in the chair. You can kiss his big cheeks over and over and he doesn't wake up. Kids are the best.

Posted by: Alice | Mar 7, 2006 1:52:47 PM

awww...{wiping tears away}...that was such a sweet post. Thanks.

Posted by: Essie | Mar 7, 2006 1:55:19 PM

Yup- beautiful, David. Thanks for that. I think as we get older we sometimes take our parents for granted but I know whenever I go home, there's nothing I want to do more than just touch my parents- hold their hands, kiss their cheeks. I'm that little kid again. And I know it's the same for them as well...

Posted by: Regina Clare Jane | Mar 7, 2006 2:47:56 PM

I just took another look at your kid's pics and really, David- they are so cute! I can understand the need to snuggle them as long as you can!

Posted by: Regina Clare Jane | Mar 7, 2006 2:51:36 PM

I remember this with both of our kids. So many times I carried them from the car to the house, from our bed to theirs- and sometimes, with my son, from various places around the house back to his bed. Very luckily for me it happened with our son earlier than with our daughter - not that I wanted it to end... its just those last few trips were pretty tough(heavy). I have often wondered if he quietly realized it - and covered for me.

Posted by: lisa | Mar 7, 2006 3:04:03 PM

Oy - so sweet! My oldest is too tall for me to carry, but my husband can still carry him. And he loves it! We want them to grow up and be productive people, but we also want to bottle this time period!

Posted by: ezer knegdo | Mar 7, 2006 4:27:52 PM

Val... No offense to you or any other female parents. Just seeing the world through daddy-colored glasses these days. :-)

Alice... All of our children have been similarly 'attacked' while sleeping. :-)

Essie... I wrote that a couple of days ago and had no intention of publishing it. But then I read this last night and it made me decide not to hold back. you thought you were crying when you read my post... just wait 'til you read what's at the end of that link.

Regina Clare Jane... One of my favorite sayings (which is often attributed to Mark Twain) is "When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around.
But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."

Lisa... From what little I know of Ferris, I'd say he cut you some slack. :-

Ezer Knegdo... Funny you should say that. One of the things that set me off on this sappy jag was having 'Time in a Bottle' by Jim Croche come up on my iShuffle. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Mar 7, 2006 4:44:42 PM

Once I had my kids, I can no longer listen to that song w/o breaking out the kleenex. My kids think I'm soooo sappy. That song, and "I Hope You Dance" by some woman who's name I forget.

Posted by: ezer knegdo | Mar 7, 2006 4:58:27 PM

oh my g-d, I'm crying.

Posted by: Naomi | Mar 7, 2006 5:48:57 PM

Trep, you triggered a memory with bittersweet connotations. Unfortunately because of a terrorist attack a woman on our yishuv with eight children, the youngest 3, was widowed. After a year and a half she remarried. Soon after the wedding, we celebrated Yom HaAtzmaut. After the ceremonies in the evening, I saw her new husband, with her youngest son sleeping on his shoulder. I remember thinking to myself - they're ok now.

Posted by: westbankmama | Mar 7, 2006 5:54:37 PM

David - I read that "Modern Love" piece in the NY Times magazine (that you referenced) and sobbed. Tragic, but well written.

Posted by: Val | Mar 7, 2006 6:03:06 PM


You are so right. I love carrying my children to bed.

When they lay their head down upon my shoulder it just melts me.

Sometimes I'll wait for a few minutes to put them down as I cannot do enough to soak up these moments.

Posted by: Jack | Mar 7, 2006 6:29:43 PM

sup Mr B? havent commmented in a while, but still here, dont worry.

i am predicting a "best post award" for this post right here. it WILL win next year's award.

Posted by: Tonny | Mar 7, 2006 7:24:17 PM

As a kid, I would love to a) pretend I was asleep so I would be carried into bed, and b) deny that I was asleep when I actually had been sleeping.

Now my kids do the same, and while occasionally I need to "confront them with the truth" - I still like preserving their innoncence, and let them think I've been fooled.

Posted by: Dave | Mar 7, 2006 7:44:40 PM

Ah, you just made me nostalgic. I only hopped into my parents bed in the mornings on weekends... and sometimes fell asleep there, so they just let me be. But even now, whenever I feel like taking a nap in the middle of the afternoon, I like to invade and occupy my parents' bed, rather than my own, despite the fact that mine isn't any less comfortable. However, I wake up on my own and scurry away long before the eviction notice comes in! : )

Posted by: Irina | Mar 7, 2006 8:24:47 PM

wow. yes, a real tear-jerker, then to add tears to tears, the link to the other. wow.

I think I needed a cry today, thank you! Beautiful post.

Posted by: EmahS | Mar 7, 2006 9:40:53 PM

That really was a beautiful post. Your children are very lucky...

Posted by: zemirah | Mar 7, 2006 11:25:07 PM

Awww, this was so sweet. I remember how I loved sleeping in my parents' bed, esp. when I was sick or had nightmares and would nuzzle between them.

Time passes so quickly. Why can't they stay young longer?

Posted by: Stacey | Mar 8, 2006 12:32:19 AM

aww...I totally see what you're saying, from both perspectives. Just one question- is one of the three floors of the house below ground level? Or rather, onto which floor do you enter when you come into the house?

Posted by: tnspr569 | Mar 8, 2006 3:39:42 AM

Yes! And thank you for reminding me of some very sweet moments.

Posted by: Delmar Bogner | Mar 8, 2006 4:07:40 AM

You need to post a tissue box warning b/f emotional posts. This is a definte 2 -3 box post. Sniff, sniff.

BTW, that's why some of us keep having more!!

Posted by: Marjorie | Mar 8, 2006 5:45:26 AM

David, that post was simply beautiful.

Not only is it a lovely glimpse of life through a father's eyes, but it also shows a very different side of Gili than the rest of us get to see.

Posted by: Cara | Mar 8, 2006 1:25:28 PM

I think the tissue-box rating of your posts would be a wise move to accommodate readers who are sitting at work!

I know my kids will make that step (my daughter in not too long, being six-going-on-fourteen), but I'm not ready for it yet. My back is still hurting from our daughter's trip down to our bed last night (she is NOT a calm sleeper), but I let her stay, snuggled inbetween the two of us, knowing it was the safest feeling in the world for her to be there, and wanting her to have that feeling for as long as possible...

Posted by: nrg | Mar 8, 2006 1:27:03 PM

With both of my daughters grown and out of the house, these kiddie-carrying days are behind me - until the grandkids come, anyway...but the sweet taste still lingers. Thanks, David.

Posted by: Elisson | Mar 8, 2006 2:22:23 PM

Ezer Knegdo... Yeah, there are a bunch of songs like that for me too.

Naomi... I hope they're good tears.

Westbankmama... Wow, that's a powerful story. Nobody is ever really OK after something like that... but it's good to hear about people getting on with their lives.

Val... Yeah... I think there must have been a lot of dust and pollen in the air when I read it because my eyes were a little runny. It's allergy season you know. :-)

Jack... I do that too... but then my back tells me to just put the kid down already! :-

Tonny... Thanks for the vote of confidence, but it's not even clear if I'll even be in the JIBs next year. A lot of people expressed a reasonable opinion that some of the better known blogs and journals should step aside and let the newer ones have their recognition. The idea has its merits.

Dave... Yeah, I'll 'fess up to faking sleep a few times to get carried off to bed by my dad. And I'm sure he knew it. :-)

Irina... I knew this was a fairly common occurrence, but I'm really pleased to hear so many people tell me how close this was to their own experiences.

EmahS... I promise I don't set out to make people cry! Really!

Zemirah... Someone's lucky here... but I think it's me. :-)

Stacey... because we'd have to kill them with out bare hands if they stayed young for too long! :-)

tnspr569... The house is built into the side of a hill and you enter on the second floor.

Dad... Like you really needed reminding. :-) And now you have a bunch of grand-kids to carry at bed time. Enjoy.

Marjorie... Good idea. See today's post.

Cara... Yes, he's actually quite sweet when asleep! ;-)

nrg... Funny you should say that. Yonah woke up a few times in the middle of the night last night and I brought him into bed with us. I love snuggling with him but he too is an 'active' sleeper.

I'm trying to picture Elder daughter and the Mistress of Sarcasm being small enough to carry. Perhaps you can post some pics.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Mar 8, 2006 3:30:14 PM

Hurry up and get that tissue icon Trepp...boy, I could have used that for this post...how beautiful...you made my heart cry.

Posted by: Randi(cruisin-mom) | Mar 8, 2006 7:15:43 PM

I hope you didn't take my previous comment to mean that I don't think that Gili is sweet!!

The last time I was in the company of such a sweet, warm and friendly 10 year old boy, I was 7...and the 10 year old was my own brother.

Posted by: Cara | Mar 8, 2006 9:21:37 PM

I hope you realize how blessed you are David. That you can even conceptualize and express such sentiments puts you in the very rare air of the highest percentile of high consciousness.

I can only fantasize about what you are talking about. I can grasp it but only in my imagination. I think back to the dozens of boys I was close to in High School ... I don't think any of them experienced this sort of love and openess with their fathers. It would have been so evident as to be lit up in neon in midwestern America in the 60s. It was't there.

I've done some research on this subject. It has haunted and intrigued me for many years. If you read the biographies of great men and women you will find that the single most prominent factor in the lives of highly successful AND BALANCED people ... is an unusually wholesome and loving relationship with their father.

Somebody wrote a great comparrison biography of the two great Roosevelt famillies. Teddy's and Franklin's. I've read it and I think I have it in storage somewhere but can't put my hand on it nor remember the author. It was powerfully illuminating.

Posted by: Scott | Mar 9, 2006 6:45:31 AM

Randi... I'm glad you enjoyed it. I've noticed over the years there are an equal number of mommy and daddy bloggers out there... but that many of the daddy bloggers tend to hold back about the way everyday events and interactions make them feel. My wife can tell you that I don't often talk about my feelings, but I feel like it's important to write some of them down here where my kids can come back one day and see what was on my mind.

Cara... Of course I knew that. I was just making a funny (or perhaps a 'not-so-funny') :-)

Scott... You only get to see what I share here. My kids are going to be so ready for the couch when they leave home I feel like I should be saving for the 'shrink' bills... not college. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Mar 9, 2006 4:12:09 PM

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