I used to sit with my mom on our ratty blue velour couch and watch Tiger baseball all summer. This was in the Lou Whitaker era. Lance Parrish. Willie Hernandez. Alan Trammell. Chet Lemon. Kirk Gibson, whom my mom, with one eyebrow cocked, referred to as "Gibby."
As the mugginess of a July dusk washed over us from the outside, we heard cars rattling by in the rutted dirt road as George Kell called the play-by-play on WDIV-TV. My mom in her summer robe and I, damp-haired from the bath, cheered as Lemon dove for a catch in center field or joined the crowd in chanting "Louuuuuu" as Whitaker entered the box. The humid air seeped through the screen door of our front porch as we shared a big vat of popcorn soaked in butter and watched, with silent admiration, the athletic grace of the boys of summer.
Back then, we kept that screen door and the windows wide open on those sultry summer evenings. A box fan, set up high on a chair or compressed between the wooden frame and sill of the window, drew the cooler night air into the house, scrubbing the scent of fried chicken and green beans bubbling in bacon grease out of the curtains.
The sweat was a constant in a July mid-Michigan.
When I went to sleep, I was awash in dampness. The cracked window rarely delivered on its promise of a cool breeze. And as I lay there, suffering, moaning about the heat, I longed for the coolness of an air conditioner like they had at church. I yearned for that frigid crispness to relieve the damp solitude in which I was bathed for the entirety of a summer.
But, since I was a child, I was slowly lulled to sleep by the chirring of crickets and the muted rumblings of cars sliding past, their drivers pushing bottles of cold brews to their lips, or swaying to music foreign to ears that were tuned to the harmonies of gospel.
* * * * *
"Did you set the alarm?" I ask my husband as I dry off my face. I hang up the hand towel, close the bathroom door against the ambient streetlight, then climb sleepily into bed. The dog, our little rescue pup, is already snoring softly in her crate, one ear cocked for intruders, but otherwise, unperturbed. She's not afraid to expose her vulnerable belly.
"Yeah," Matt says quietly as he enters our bedroom, closes the door gently, and settles in beside me. He kisses my lips, then turns to his side.
I count, like I do every night, three….two….one….
And he's gone.
I sigh. His ability to fall asleep on command is enviable. It takes me at least thirty minutes to drift off, sometimes even an hour or more. But for now, I'm relishing the downy soft sheets against my bare legs, the feathery heaviness of the duvet pressed against my shoulder. It's a secure feeling. Just like the alarm. I ask him every night if he's set it, and every night, he says he has. I can't go to asleep without asking. I guess, I just want to be sure.
For, muttering and tossing around in their sleep on the other side of the house, are three little boys. They're nine. And seven. And three. And setting the alarm is, for me, a way of keeping my eye on them when it's closed in slumber. It's a way to relieve the constant daily pressure of keeping them safe, warm, and protected. That alarm gives me reassurance and, within thirty minutes to an hour, rest.
As I lay there before the sandman hits, I wonder what I'm protecting them from.
When I was a kid, in the Tiger baseball days, that first-floor bedroom with its summertime cracked window was a safe haven, despite my humble neighborhood. We were working class. We lived across a small, dirty creek from a set of housing projects from which, in the still night air, I could sometimes hear gun shots.
Now, my family of five lives far away from evening gun fire, so, I wonder as I'm snugly ensconced in my warm bedroom with the buttery drapes and gleaming hardwood floors, what it is I'm protecting them from. Is it from thieves, who will sneak in their rooms to find treasure, and after discovering little collections of rocks and Pokémon cards and Nerf bullets, will strangle them in rage? Or kidnappers, who will steal them away from my arms and sell them into a world that wrenches my gut in half? Or, arsonists intent on their evil deeds, who will set their bedrooms aflame, and I'll have to tear through the infernos, rescuing them from great tongues of licking fire?
Yes, those are my fears, and I realize how unfounded they probably are. Most home thefts occur between 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM, not in the middle of the night. And of the approximately 115 children taken per year by strangers, only 16% of those were stolen away from their homes. Yet, those nightmares knock on the door of my mind, like solicitors who show up on the front mat with cunning smiles and outstretched palms. You kinda wanna buy.
But I wonder, as I lie here next to a snoring dog and a snoring man, whether closing all the windows and sealing the house up tight robs them of something I had as a child. That while I'm locking them away from intruders, I'm robbing them from inside the fortress. Maybe I'm the thief in the night.
For, they'll never feel that damp breeze against their cheeks or listen to the croak of toads beneath their windows as they wrestle around in their sheets. They'll never hear the throaty rumble of a motorcycle easing slowly down the street or crickets chirring under the stars as they drift off in the safety of their blue bedrooms, box fans whirring to whiten any noise.
They'll never experience waking up to a bird at the window, whistling with the promise and hope of a new day.
Am I, with my air conditioning and alarm and motherly trepidation, inoculating them against something as innocuous as the breeze? How much protection is just…too much?
As the mama bear, I'm fierce in my fortifications. I line their vitamins up on the counter at the end of the night like little soldiers ready to wage war against the viruses they've picked up throughout the day. I hide carrots in their cookies and steam spinach into sauces. I guard their eyes from violence on YouTube, and guard their hearts when conversations get too deep. I swat away dangers from every side, every day and I wonder, as I lie here, the periphery of my eyes blurring with impending sleep, how much swatting is too much, and when does protection cross the line into over-protection?
I don’t know. I wonder if my mother lay awake at night, contemplating these very questions, thinking about her daughter two bedrooms away, with just a screen between her and the potential perils of nightfall under a full moon.
But for now, it's a question I have to let lie. For, it's been a while since I lay my head down, and finally – FINALLY – I feel sleep beckoning me from the great blue beyond. And I've got dreams to dream…
* * * * *
"Hello again, everyone, and welcome to Detroit. I'm George Kell along with Al Kaline, and these two ball clubs are just about ready to go in the first of two here, tonight. It's a bright day here on the field, and the sunshine is stretched just past the pitcher's mound. It's gonna be a great day for baseball. A great day…"