THAT NIGHT the parents tell their children they can stay up until nine, an hour past bedtime, but no more. It is a school night, after all, and the children must get up at six tomorrow morning. But this is no ordinary Tuesday night, the parents know, and the children have been begging to stay up later.
Please, the children say. Let us watch it, too. We won’t be tired. We promise!
Well . . . , the parents say.
We’ve stayed up late before, the children insist, sensing their advantage. The examples the children give are mostly of non-school-night events, but the parents are in no mood to argue. Plus the results from North Carolina are just about to be announced. So the parents do what they normally do when forced to make a decision on the fly: They hedge. They waver. They compromise.
Listen, they tell the children. You still have to go bed at nine, but . . . Stop sulking and listen to this next part, OK? When the results are announced, we’ll wake you up and let you watch the victory speech.
All of it? the children ask.
We’ll see, the parents say.
Promise you’ll wake us up, the children say.
We promise, the parents say.
But at nine o’clock North Carolina still has not been called, and Florida is showing major signs of a disappointment. The parents dutifully march the children to bed, failing to hide their unease: they kiss the children too hastily and neglect to tickle their way out of bear hugs, a nightly ritual. The parents hurry back to the television in the family room, where they’ve logged many hours these past months, watching more televised news than they’ve watched since that long-ago era before children; before bedtimes; before lunchboxes, report cards, and parent-teacher meetings. They return to the television without quite acknowledging it somehow. The two of them glance up only occasionally from behind laptops and tablets, as if they aren’t really watching. Who could watch this?
At ten o’clock the mother says she can’t take it anymore; she’s going to bed. The father says she’s overreacting, even though this moment, when she stands up from the sofa and leaves her tablet behind, will be the moment he thinks about more than any other from that night: the moment he was suddenly alone in the family room with the television. She is being ridiculous, he thinks, not quite believing it. To counter his disbelief, the father makes a decision: When the results are announced and everything is fine, he will wake the mother and the children and shepherd them to the television, bleary-eyed but happy. Relieved. Joyful. They’ll thank him for waking them, and then everyone will sleep at last.
But the father doesn’t go to bed until 1 AM, and even then he cannot sleep. His mind is trying to grasp what’s happening. It’s like . . . He reaches for a metaphor, but there’s nothing there. It is like . . . It is like . . . His ceiling fan whispers, turning in the darkness.
THAT MORNING the father wakes the mother. What will they tell the children? What should they say? The children will be up any minute. They will head to the bathroom to perform their morning ablutions and then trudge downstairs to eat breakfast, find backpacks, retrieve shoes from wherever they’ve left them this time. The parents cannot let the children go downstairs alone. They have to say something after the children are done in the bathroom. The parents can hear them in there now, the sink running full blast, the way the parents have asked them not to leave it. In a moment the children will open the bathroom door. They’ll expect the parents to be there, ready to select their clothes for the day, ready to remind them to brush their hair.
So the parents wait outside the bathroom door, and do not mind when the children run the sink too long, and do not wish for the sink to stop running, and do not wish for the door to open, and are still in fact figuring out what to say when the sink stops running and the door opens and they must tell the children the news.