It wasn’t much of a dream, but I knew something intruded on it. At the edge of my hearing, something wanted my attention. At first, I had one of those moments where it felt like it was part of the dream, but as my brain slowly pushed through the haze of sleep, I realized what I’d heard.

My son was crying.

As I scrambled to get out of bed, my feet tangled in the sheet and I nearly hit the floor face first. I heard movement in my parents’ room and I knew DJ woke them too.

“I got him, Mom.”

It wouldn’t have mattered what I said at that point—Mom had already gotten out of bed and as sure as night followed day, she’d be in to check on her only grandchild. Living at home had been my lifeline, my only hope of surviving as a teenage dad, so it was hard to get mad at the offer to help. But sometimes, I felt like I lived under a microscope. That they analyzed everything I did where DJ was concerned.

I suppose I deserved the scrutiny. DJ – David Junior – was born two weeks before my eighteenth birthday. Hell, I still had three weeks to go before I graduated high school and parenting classes weren’t part of the normal course load.

Besides, my mom was the only mother DJ knew.

I pushed the door open and realized I had, yet again, left my room wearing only my boxers. After eighteen months and countless middle of the night wake up calls, you’d think I’d have learned to sleep in something more. Not that my mother ever said a word, but it still embarrassed me afterwards.

“Hey, Squidge.” When I called out his nickname, DJ didn’t stop crying. Instead he cried a bit louder, as if he knew he had an audience. “What’s wrong?”

I didn’t need to hear him say, “binky” to know DJ had woken up and couldn’t find his pacifier in the dark. Even though I knew DJ was fine, his tiny, pathetic wails made my chest seize.

By the time I reached the crib, Squidge had managed to stand up and grab hold of the railing. In his left hand, he clutched a soft blanket with a bear head on top that my best friend Elle had given him. Still calling for his binky, he released the rail and reached for me.

“C’mere.” As soon as I hoisted him over the bar, the crying stopped and a small hand pointed back to the mattress.

“Binky? Binky?”

Despite being the middle of the night, and knowing I had class in the morning, hearing his cute little question made being woken up worth it.

“You got it, little man.” I gave his cheek a kiss. Call me a sap, but I wanted to kiss him all the time. “We’ll find binky.”

The need to be a contortionist was something I never learned in any of the parenting books I read or classes I took. With my son in my left arm, I leaned to my right and searched the crib until I made contact with the cool plastic. Fortunately, even at almost eighteen months, DJ knew the drill and tucked his head against my bare shoulder to help me keep my balance.  When my hand emerged with “binky,” DJ perked up.

“Binky.” His almost squeal got a small chuckle from my mom who stood watching us from the doorway.

I held up the pacifier letting it get closer to his mouth, then, just before he could bite it, I snatched it back. DJ loved to play, even late at night. The second time I pulled it back, DJ giggled. Words don’t adequately describe those moments when your child’s happiness leave you knowing his needs are all that matter in life. Yeah, it had been hard, going to college, trying to raise a kid at eighteen, but seeing his chubby little face beam at me, none of that mattered.

The fourth time I brought it closer, I let him bite the nub. Then I tugged at the pacifier wedged between his tightly clenched teeth and pretended to be unable to pull it free. He laughed again, but never loosened his grip on his beloved binky.

After we played a bit more, DJ pointed to his bed. My son had trained me well, so I laid him down among his collection of stuffed animals. Once I turned on the video music player attached to the crib, DJ immediately focused on the image projected onto the ceiling. Everything was right again in his little world.

“Okay, Squidge. Time for sleep now. I’ll come get you in the morning.”

My mom stepped back to let me out and I quietly shut the door to the nursery. From the look Mom gave me, I knew she wanted to ask if I was okay. There was no way to avoid the conversation, but at that moment, I didn’t want to ‘talk’ so I spoke first.

“The case of the missing binky is solved, Mom. You can go back to sleep.”

At forty-seven, she was too young to be a grandmother, but a year and a half ago, her seventeen year old son had made her one anyway.

“You’re such a good dad, David.” She pushed a lock of light brown hair off my face. I could see the concern in her face, despite her words. “I’m always so proud of you when I see how you take care of him.”

Part of me wanted to tell her, I was merely doing what had to be done, but the situation went deeper. So much so that I never really told them what motivated me to give up any semblance of a life and care for my son. They pushed me to go out, socialize, make new friends, saying they’d watch DJ, but I couldn’t. Not yet.

“Thanks, Mom. He’s fine now, but I’ll stay with him to be sure. It’s late. You should go on back to bed.”

“I should be telling you that.” I saw her eyes tighten just enough that I knew she was struggling not to ‘pull rank’ on me. I still lived in their house and I was still their son, even if I was nineteen. But this was my son and they promised to respect my position as parent. Sometimes, however, Mom lost the fight.

“Go to sleep, David. You have a test tomorrow and you need your rest. I’ll watch Davey.”

She hated calling him DJ. I let it go since he was so small, but I knew a time would come when I’d have to insist.

Looking from her to the door and back again, my guilt surged at leaving someone else to watch over him. I knew I should say no, but then I remembered what my dad told me when DJ was only a few months old about how mom missed having a baby to care for.

“You sure?”

“Yes, dear. I’m off tomorrow anyway. Go get some rest.” As if I was still ten, she opened the door and turned her back on me. I’d been dismissed.

Even though she couldn’t see me, I shook my head and went to my room. Slipping under the sheets, I listened, wondering if DJ would cry. He didn’t, but that left me wide awake with nothing to occupy my thoughts.

At first, I used to wonder what Mom did in DJ’s room on these nights.  She never sang or talked to him.  Did she try to figure out where she and Dad went wrong to raise such a loser of a son? Did she hope to find insight to prevent me from making the same mistakes with DJ?

My parents never said it, but I could tell how disappointed in me they were when I told them Jules was pregnant.  They supported me and were a huge help, but every now and then I thought I caught a glimpse of regret in their eyes. Me being a teenage dad never factored into their plans.

Mine neither, but it still happened.

I never figured out what my mom really thought. Knowing DJ was safe, I stopped listening and fell into a deep sleep. The kind I needed before a big test.