Carrying Around Unconscious Toddlers

One moment, you are reading a book or looking at an emu enclosure with an animated little soul, and the next you are toting their sleeping body about like the corpse in Weekend At Bernies. Toddlers are falling asleep everywhere — while eating pizza, for example — and I'm frankly a bit jealous I can't likewise just up and leave situations I'm bored with.

My 2-year-old is in the golden age of napping haphazardly. On the way back from the zoo, during storytime, watching TV — we never know when he will depart the conversation, tumbling off into toddler dreamland. A 2-year-old is always very busy with an array of ridiculous concerns — showing you their nipples, making Play-Doh pizza, putting their belly on things, trying to sing "ɪ ʜᴀᴅ ᴀ ʟɪᴛᴛʟᴇ ᴛᴜʀᴛʟᴇ, ʜɪs ɴᴀᴍᴇ ᴡᴀs ᴛɪɴʏ ᴛɪᴍ, ᴡᴇ ᴘᴜᴛ ʜɪᴍ ɪɴ ᴛʜᴇ ʙᴀᴛʜᴛᴜʙ, ᴛᴏ sᴇᴇ ɪғ ʜᴇ ᴄᴏᴜʟᴅ sᴡɪᴍ" — such that the sudden descent into sleep is doubly profound. There is something so serious about the weight of a small body that has given out on you.

My daughter once fell asleep in the Ergo from a drunk (but charming) lady stroking her nose at a party, napping the way a flower might close at the end of the day. At 9 months old, carrying her about felt like toting a gigantic sea star. Now she is 4, and hauling her in from the car over my shoulder is not reminiscent of anything so much as pretending a dead person is alive and well and enjoying the party.

On a hot Brooklyn night it’s not uncommon to see dozens of parents hauling unconscious toddlers around on their shoulders at 11 p.m., as though a very casual zombie apocalypse has occurred. My husband and I will be sitting on the front stoop sharing a beer as they tromp by, giving a little wave with their free hand, the other wrapped around a little bum pointed at the sky. “I think that’s Robert,” one of us will say to the other, nodding toward the body.

I always loved The BFG for its greater theory on where we go when we sleep. The idea that dreams are being piped in our windows from far away. It's a book that suggests parents are beside the point when it comes to the interior lives of kids. You have to admit the staying power is good. What greater proof that we still don't understand it than a world where toddler are constantly falling into and out of consciousness?

There’s something ironic about the way we dedicate part of our soul over to crafting and perfecting The Bedtime Routine, an elaborate regime we hope will lull our children off to dreamland without the need for three extra bedtime poops or 25 additional books. We write these insane orders of ceremony down for babysitters and grandparents who, credit where credit is due, do a fairly good job of keeping a straight face through the explanation of the white-noise progression and bedtime script, which we have taped to the wall (“mommy loves you it’s time to sleep mommy loves you it's time to slee—“). After all that — after hundreds of dollars of sleep consultant fees — it turns out the best way to get a child to sleep is to deposit them in a stroller with poor neck support and trundle them around a noisy beer garden for an hour.

Where are they warging off to? It’s impossible to know, though I remember the satisfaction of nodding off in the car as a child after one of my parents’ interminable dinner parties, knowing I would be carried in and plopped into my bed. It’s the kind of security and nurturing you can’t ever obtain again in adulthood, unless you’re my friend Page, a 90-pound keto fanatic who regularly downed so much tequila in grad school she had to be carried home from the bar, her mouth finally quiet, a mermaid being rushed home to water.

My kids are, all in all, good sleepers thanks to an early dose of cry-it-out. We take their sleep for granted at this point in time, hanging on for that stretch of calm in the mid-evening where we can just sit on the couch, not fetching anything or cleaning or feeding anyone. It's then, our kids face-down in their beds, or zonked out in the car or slumped over my shoulder, right there but not, that suddenly I realize how much I miss them.

For more pieces like this, visit Shiny Happies, our collection of the best parts of raising those little people you love.