Kneaded Rest: A Father’s Gift of Touch

Issue 123, March/April 2004

It happens at least a few times a week. It’s bedtime. We brush our teeth, get into pajamas, and settle into the biggest bed in the world to read a story or two. The baby happily crawls from daddy to me, clambering over her three-year-old sister. Our five year old cuddles close and listens intently to the story.

Then it’s lights out, and time for everyone to nurse to sleep. Our children are very tired, but their bodies seem unable to loosen their grip on wakefulness. Our five year old pulls up the covers and patiently waits for her snuggles, thank goodness. The baby is crying, impatient to be at my breast. And the three year old, who can sometimes wait with a serenity beyond her years, absolutely cannot do so tonight. She hangs over my side, unhappy with the arrangement but content to be nursing at least.

The baby has decided that this dark quiet is ideal for “yoga-nana” in her favorite asana, Down Dog: head down, bottom in the air. She squirms this way, she flops that way—two children ago, I would never have believed that my nipple was capable of so much flexibility. The three year old can’t get to sleep; how could she, with Cirque de Soleil going on just across my chest?

I’m about ready to burst. All day long, I feed, nurse, tend them. Why can’t they just settle down and go to sleep? I can’t stand it. I’m about to issue one of my famous late-night directives: “Everyone stop moving and go to sleep . . . RIGHT NOW!” Very effective for small children with less than complete control over their sleep patterns—and sure to produce two insomniac adults as well. But what can I do? It’s been a long day and I am out of patience.

Then there is movement from the side of the bed: a rustle and a roll. And there are hands caressing, stroking, rubbing . . . my foot. It’s heaven, pure heaven. My husband has flipped around on the bed, and though tired from a long day of his own, he is gently massaging my feet. I focus my whole mind on the delicious sensation. Warmth spreads upward from my feet into my body, and calm seeps into my mind. When he ventures upward to stroke my calf, a sigh escapes my mouth. I can feel the tension melting away from my whole body.

The weird and miraculous part is that, as he soothes my body, our children, who moments before could not settle into comfortable positions, are soothed as well. I can feel my three year old settle a little more heavily onto my side. The baby stops her gymnastics and seems to gently collapse next to me. Both babies are still eagerly sucking, but their bodies are getting heavier, heavier. Their breathing slows and evens out. Even the five year old, already quiet as a mouse, seems to relax as the tension passes out of the room.

My husband and I have often pondered what really goes on during these late-night massages. Does the rubbing help to release my milk, and the milk itself then soothes them to sleep? Maybe some relaxation hormone is triggered by his touch and gets into the milk as well. Maybe it’s not my children but I who can’t settle down. They are the outward manifestations of my own sleeplessness and anxiety, and as I relax, they relax. Is it possible that we’re connected in that deep a symbiosis?

No matter—we know that when my husband massages me, he also massages them. We discovered this after the birth of our second daughter, when I was first learning to tandem-nurse. I often wonder what it must be like to be him at these times, watching us: a mass of bodies, wriggling and angular. Does he watch us soften and melt into one another? How does it feel to be the master of this process? Does he understand the power he wields, the gift he gives?

At some point he begins working on my other foot, his hands drawing the tension from my body. The girls drift off and release my nipples—first the three year old, then the baby, who has some trouble falling into a deep sleep; she jerks awake suddenly and searches out my breast once more. My husband patiently moves up to work on my hands. Soon she drifts off again, and this time stays asleep. I feel relaxed and sleepy, but refreshed and ready to face the night, which may entail a few wakings from baby, and possibly from the three year old. But for now we drift off, snug in our bed. My husband has massaged us all to sleep. His love for us is palpable.

Adele Carson lives with her loving husband, Stacy, and their wonderful daughters, Saffy (5), Dilly (3), and Vivvy (1), in Glendale, California. Among many other things, Adele is a childbirth educator and homeschooling mom.

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