I come home from my job pretty late at night. I work security at various music venues. Bars in Oregon close at 2:30am, so sometimes I’ll get home at 3:30am after closing. I call this the middle of the damned night. People who have been up are usually in bed by now, and people who have to wake up early for work usually are not yet awake. On my drive home I primarily see first responders doing their thing. Police vehicles, ambulances, and fire trucks are all out taking care of people.
When I get home I quietly press the code and 8 beeps notify the dogs that I’m home. My fiancé and my two step-kids are always asleep when I come home. I step quietly in the house and check on everybody. Everybody has their own rooms, but tonight I noticed 4 little feet poking out of the blankets on the couch in the living room. Sometimes one child will still be out there after watching shows with their Mom. I think she intentionally leaves them out there sometimes, knowing that I’ll gently pick them up and tuck them in their beds.
But tonight was the first night that both kids were still out in the living room asleep on the couch. Looking at the Netflix queue I can gather that they were alternating between Naruto anime that I got them hooked on, and another cartoon series called Trollhunters. Then my fiancé watched some West Wing once they were asleep.
I often come home smelling like the smoke from a fog machine, or beer, or sweat (mine or others). This is my surreal life, and it never fails to make me smile.
“Is that a new cologne you have on?”
“No, that’s just the fog machine.”
So tonight I gently wake up the 8 year old girl and say, “Hey, grab on to me and hug me, I’ll carry you to bed.” She wraps her arms around my neck and I stand up, lifting her up off the ground. Her legs dangle down with her feet still over a foot off the ground. Or sometimes she wraps herself around me like a koala bear. I can smell the shampoo in her hair as I walk carefully to her room. I carefully step over the toy figurines of horses, and piles of books, and gently lower her into her bed. “Goodnight, sweetie.” Her face looks a little like a sleepy turtle.
Then I go back and gently wake up the 10 year old boy. “My dude, give me a hug so I can carry you to your bed.” He is a substantially heavier than the girl. But he wraps his arms around me and hugs me the same way. Legs dangling a foot off the floor as I carry him down the hall to his room. I have to slowly walk over the minefield of matchbox cars on his floor. Those little hunks of metal can really dig into the soles of my feet. And since his head is nestled right next to mine, I can’t cuss in pain if I crush a die-cast Bat-mobile car. I cover him up with a blanket and tousle his hair. “Goodnight, young man.”
When I leave for work , they both ask me to wake them up when I get home. Or sometimes they claim that they will wait up for me to get there. I tell them I would never wake anybody up at 3:30am intentionally, and they are always zonked out when I get in, as they should be. But it’s cute to think they fell asleep on the couch, knowing that I’m going to pick them up and carry them to bed in the wee hours of the night.
I spend most of my shift at work keeping people safe. Or trying to. When I come home I am reminded why. I spend many hours at work dealing with drunk or rude people trying to do things that I am not allowing them to do. Then I get to come home and keep these two little ones safe. They don’t understand or care about bars where people go to drink alcohol and flirt and see a music concert. All of this is still many years off for them. Once I showed them how I use a UV flashlight to show the hidden hologram on Oregon state IDs to see if they are real. They thought that was really cool.
Whatever problems I had to deal with at work always melt away when I come into my house. I’ll often replay interactions or situations or incidents that happened at work while I’m driving home. I’ll often be shaking my head at the behavior of a patron that I had to intervene with. I’ll be thinking of ways I could have handled that situation differently. Mostly I just think about how some people simply shouldn’t drink alcohol. But I am always humbled by coming home after thinking my problems are oh so important. I happily take care of our two dogs and two kids and I am reminded what is important. Taking care of everybody you consider family. Making sure everybody is loved and safe. These little moments that may or may not even register consciously for the kids. But when they wake up in the morning, they’ll remember that they fell asleep on the couch and are now on their beds. Maybe they won’t have any nightmares because I pulled their blankets up around them and told them I loved them.
I’m also painfully aware that these moments have an expiration date on them. In a few short years they are going to enter into puberty and will be teenagers. They are also going to get bigger and heavier. All of this means I’m not going to get to pick them up and carry them to bed to be tucked in for too much longer.
These two aren’t my biological kids. But I feel like they are mine nonetheless. Like they belong to me, as I belong to them. Family should never be determined by blood alone. You can choose your family. And they are mine.
I’ve got the night shift. And I’ll watch over you while you’re asleep. Sleep well.