It’s 6:35 p.m. Early for your bedtime, but you’re tired. You gave a big yawn while Mama was feeding you. You’re rubbing your eyes and acting sluggishly, so Mama tried to lull you to sleep by holding and rocking you on the bed while giving you lechita from a bottle but you stubbornly shook it off. She got frustrated. I offered to take you for a walk. After strapping you in the stroller, you and me head out the door.
It’s August so the sun is still bright. We circle the block around your abuelitos’ house but you keep sitting forward in your seat; I can tell by feeling the weight shift in the stroller, by peeking through the canopy’s ventilation window. I stop and kneel next to you. I look into your eyes and gently push you back and caress your forehead. Relax, I say to you in Spanish, and we continue on. Not a minute later, you begin to lean forward again, peering out at the suburban neighborhood. As we turn the corner back onto the street your abuelitos live on, I sigh with frustration.
I keep walking down a side street until it dead ends. As we approach the end of the sidewalk, I see you lean back in your stroller. We’re ten minutes into our walk. I was hopeful that the first leg of our walk would be a preface to sleep, like clearing one’s throat before launching into a speech but once we turn back toward the main street you lean forward again. I stop. I kneel beside you. Sit down, I say and push you back. Just relax. We’re a week and a half into a time when you’re fighting sleep off on a nightly basis, oftentimes making your mama try for a good hour or two when you’re so clearly tired. Our frustration has grown.
We take a right on the main street then a right on a side street that forks off to either a long or short loop. You keep leaning forward in your stroller to look at any noise or object that captures your curiosity. I know you’re going to fight it hard so I take the longer loop.
The side street is quieter than the main street your abuelitos live on. Fewer cars pass by. This might help you fall asleep. When you were an infant the droning sound of passing cars seemed to help you fall asleep, but during this I’m-gonna-fight-off-sleep-with-everything-I’ve-got! phase a passing car—or any type of vehicle, really—seems to spark your curiosity. Your mama and I love that you’re observant and wondering about the world around us, but not when we’re trying to get you to sleep.
The street is tranquil quiet. All we can hear is the sound of my sneakers as they take step after step upon the sidewalk, the whirring sound of the stroller’s wheels. I walk at a steady clip. I even try to make a cadence from the wheels rolling over the cracks in the sidewalk figuring that might help to lull you to sleep. But alas, you keep leaning forward in your stroller so you can peer out, you stubborn little boy.
Before long, we are twenty minutes into our walk. I’ve probably already covered a mile and you don’t seem the least bit tired. I’m getting frustrated and failing to conceal it because I reach beneath the canopy and push you back into a seating position. That is futile. You just continue to lean forward.
Further down the street, a cacophony of drilling and hammering looms ahead. This deters me from continuing on so I double back onto another street. I stop at a corner. I pull the canopy back figuring if I allow you to easily glance to the left or right you might just lean back in your seat and eventually fall asleep. Then a cat slowly prowls along a lawn. Even though the canopy is no longer obstructing your view you lean forward to stare at it. You make an ummmm sound—the type of sound you make when you notice something of interest. We round the corner and you continue to sit forward. I snicker and pull the canopy back down to help block out the sunlight from your eyes.
The last part of this side street has a slightly bumpy sidewalk before it meets the street your abuelitos live on. I push the stroller over its cracks and bumps. You lean back in your seat. We’re about a half hour into our walk. You remain seated as we approach the main thruway. I can sense you are on the precipice of sleep so I pull a U-turn on a driveway in order to roll the stroller back over the bumpy part of the sidewalk. You are still leaning back in your seat. You stare ahead with this far-off look you give before your head sags to a side as your eyes close. I feel relieved. You are finally falling asleep.
I walk us onto the main street. Your abuelitos’ house is in sight. And then, an old woman ambles down the driveway we are approaching. It’s Tuesday. Fuck me, I had forgotten: it’s garbage pick-up day. As my insides twist up, I helplessly watch her head right straight toward the trash can along the curb. Even if I whip us around to retreat it is too late to avoid the loud dragging sound of the trash can’s wheels as she drags it up the driveway. You groan and sit up. I sigh as she pulls the trash can up the driveway. I push the stroller onto the street so we can safely cross to the other side away from the loud-ass noise she is making. I hang my head. I curse aloud. You were just about to fall asleep.
I turn back onto the side street that loops around your abuelitos’ house. It will be a five- to seven-minute walk. Might be just enough to lull you back to sleep. A car passes by. You lean forward to look at it. I sigh loudly again and continue on. Before I know it, you are laying back in your seat. I take a breath. Sweet mercy this could be it. I press on, beads of sweat trickling down my back. About a third of the way down the street I see a Siamese cat stalk out onto the sidewalk. Fuck, I whisper. If you see it, you’re liable to perk up to watch it. The cat continues past the sidewalk onto the street. I peer down at you. Phew, you’re still sitting back. Your head is bent to the side. I beg the toddler sleep angels that you won’t notice the cat.
As we approach the corner, two turns from the homestretch to your abuelitos’ house, I know without a doubt you are falling asleep. I pick up my pace. I just have to get you home. But then, across the street, three Asian kids are hoofing away from the elementary school and one is bouncing a basketball. Fuck, I whisper again. You know the sound of a bouncing basketball. We have one at home. You love it. I hide it in my closet because you like grabbing and tossing it around our living room. I peer down at you. You have not sat up. I push on. We round the corner without having the bouncing basketball wake you but then, on the other side of the tall fence we’re passing, I hear a loud whirring sound from a power drill. Then I remember their dog. They have a big fucking dog. Looks like an old, beat-down version of the Hound of the Baskervilles. I look through the slits in the fence we pass. Like an image in a zoetrope, I see the dog stalk toward us. Oh god, please, please don’t notice us. Please don’t bark at us because you’ll wake my son and I’ve been walking for over forty minutes trying to get him to sleep and I’m just a few minutes from getting him home. I swiftly push us on. The dog doesn’t bark at us. I take a breath. As I exhale, I can feel my shoulders knot up as we round the corner to go home.
Off in the near distance, past our suburban neighborhood, I hear a siren. Oh god no I say aloud (or perhaps just to myself). I hang my head and begin to trot down the sidewalk, a measly minute from your abuelitos’ house. The fire engine’s siren grows louder. Back then, you disliked blaring sirens from fire trucks and passing ambulances—and who could blame you? Sometimes they made you whimper when we were home, two long blocks from the downtown fire station.
The siren continues to grow. I peer down at you. You’re still asleep. Soon we approach your abuelitos’ house. I race us up the driveway. I fling the screen door open and shut the front door without making much sound. Your mama meets us in the hallway. I bend my head in exhaustion and take a deep breath. I hope this is just a phase for you—this whole I-ain’t-falling-asleep deal. I really fucking do. The whole world is out there and I can’t control what they’re doing.