During the NWA Ice Storm of 2009, we stayed in two different hotels for four nights before being persuaded to stay with friends in Bentonville. It was on the fifth night of not being able to sleep in his own bed that The Boy couldn’t get to sleep on a borrowed sofa bed.
After a half hour or so of hearing him toss around, I went in to check on him. He was very upset. He said, “Daddy, why can’t I sleep in my bed tonight?”
His bed was at our house where there was no electricity, no heat, and a clogged sewer line that couldn’t be cleared until the power was restored. And it was getting down into the 20s at night. I reassured him that we’d be able to go home soon and he could get back to his routine.
So as I lay there and comforted my son who had held up for the first four nights like a champ, I nearly lost it, too. I had been trying to balance work (in the news business where we were busy covering the storms aftermath with something more like obsession and overkill than completeness) with making sure my family was safe and warm and my house was getting repaired and services restored. It had definitely taken a toll on me as well.
So I rubbed his back and sang the usual bedtime songs to help him get to sleep so that I could get some rest, too. But he piped up with a twist, “I want you to sing me a new song.”
I was surprised and a little nervous. I’m not a singer, and I just don’t know the words to that many songs — at least not ones appropriate for singing a 6-year-old to sleep. Bit it was late and we were both physically and mentally exhausted, so I sang him a new song: R.E.M.’s “Driver 8,” which is one of my absolute favorite songs and the first one I learned to play on my guitar close to 20 years ago and — most importantly — one of the few songs I know most of the words to.
“Driver 8” is a great song, but not really a lullaby from any direction you approach it. It could be about a deranged train engineer, a long ago failed relationship, just pastoral scenes from the South, or lots of other things. Michael Stipe’s lyrics in the the early days were often obscure and difficult to understand even when you could decipher which words he was singing.
So, I sang this great but possibly inappropriate song to a tired and frustrated little boy who was trying to fall asleep in a strange bed for the fifth night in a row.
And he loved it.
It didn’t really put him to sleep, but we had a long talk about “floaters” and why they would be on powerlines, which lead to a conversation about cropdusters (and trains, of course).
We got to go back to our re-electrified home a couple of nights later, and things returned more or less to normal, including the same old couple of bedtime songs.
But when he’s really tired or maybe not feeling great, he asks for “Driver 8” and it seems to help him get to sleep. It’s even more my favorite song than ever now.