As I look backward through the smudged glass of my memory, I see very clearly that bedtime has always been a problem. For a while there were night terrors; countless hours where I sat with my back against his bedroom door, crying silent tears as I watched him wander his room aimlessly, screaming and crying for no apparent reason.
As he grew, we went through a phase where he ended up in our bedroom every single night, usually sometime between midnight and 5am. And always, always he appeared at my side of the bed, inches from my face, with an exceptionally loud, creepy whisper, “Mommy. Moooooommy!” Sitting bolt upright in panic, I would scoot over to make room for him in the bed. Fearing I would eventually have a heart attack during one of his middle-of-the-night creeper episodes, we helped him transition to having his very own Buzz Lightyear sleeping bag in the corner of our room, where he could come in quietly during the night and bed down.
Recently I realized that he’d not been in to sleep in our room for almost two years. Somewhere along the way we slipped into a normal, stable sleeping pattern. Things were humming along and life was slightly less complicated for a while.
But now Connor is approaching the age of 10, and things have changed again at bedtime. Sure, I could blame the autism or the ADHD. I mean, I’m sure those things don’t help to make bedtime easier. But somehow I think this has more to do with the slow, steady progress toward becoming a pre-teen, and I’m feeling my sanity start to wither and shrink, like an old prune.
It should be a fairly simple routine. At about 8:15 p.m., either my husband or I tell Connor that it’s time to brush his teeth and get ready for bed. In response, we generally get a very sullen “okay.” But then…he continues playing on the iPad, or on his computer, or watching a TV show. I stand there and watch, and watch, and watch…
And then we tell him again. And again.
He ambles off to chew on his toothbrush as he dances around in front of the mirror, flexing imaginary muscles and making faces at himself. The Husband and I are distracted with bills or laundry or kitchen clean-up. Eventually we notice that the boy never came back out. I go off to look for him and find him on my bed, watching TV.
“What are you doing?!”
Did I really expect a different answer?
“I told you to go brush and get ready for bed. Why are you watching TV? I am SO mad!”
“Wait, why are you mad? I’m just watching The Amazing World of Gumball?”
“Because you’re supposed to go to BED.”
“Oh. Can I have just a few more minutes?”
“NO! You just took a few more minutes! Let’s go right now.”
If I don’t grab the remote and turn off the TV, I can be assured that I will stand there for at least 3 minutes while he fondles it slowly, turning it over, looking around leisurely for the off button, dragging out the seconds so he can see what marvelous shenanigans that stupid blue rabbit gets himself into.
So I turn it off and usher him out of my room and toward his room. But he stops, saying “Wait, I forgot something!” And he runs off to grab his paper ninja star, or his Diary of a Wimpy Kid book, or a football.
“You don’t need that for bed,” I tell him. And I somehow get him into his own room.
As I collapse on the couch, I hear his door open. “Don’t mind me, I just need another drink of water.”
“Get your water and GO.”
But, you see, it takes a few minutes to jump up and sit on the counter, sift through all the cups to find just the right one, and then get the water out and pour it, ever so slowly, into the cup. During the filling of the cup, I’m certain that three more hairs have gone gray and I’m close to having an embolism.
I begin the litany of threats regarding the future availability of electronic devices and he starts walking toward his room, tossing over his shoulder that I’m “mean” and “not fair.”
Since I can’t stop myself from daydreaming about running away and living in the wilderness, enveloped by peace and quiet and filth, I turn on Mick Dodge. My soul needs to be soothed by visions of the rainforest.
Then I hear noises coming from the boy’s room. I open the door to find him playing with trains on the track he has just constructed across his bedroom floor. I can tell by the screaming in my head that I’m beaten. He has squashed any authority or parenting ability I ever thought I had. His stamina is truly a wonder to behold. Finally I stammer, “You don’t have to sleep, but you have to stay in your room. Do not come out.”
Twenty minutes later I’m wondering how Mick will find out who’s been stealing his tree stashes, when the boy appears before me again.
“Mom, I got my Newton’s cradle all tangled up, can you fix it?” He holds up the cradle which is, indeed, tangled into a jumble of string and silver balls.
Please God, strike me with lightening right now. Do it. End this farce.
“I’m not fixing anything tonight. You are supposed to be in bed, not playing with that. I will deal with it tomorrow because right now I don’t give a hot damn about fixing it!”
“Ummmmmm, you said ‘damn’! And why did you say ‘hot’? Why is it a ‘hot’ damn?”
I narrow my eyes to a slit and hiss, “Get. Out. Now.”
He storms off, slams his door, and then begins wailing about the Newton’s cradle.
“I NEED IT FIXED! SANTA GAVE IT TO ME FOR CHRISTMAS, IT MUST BE FIXED. WHY WON’T YOU JUST FIX IT?!”
My left eye is twitching, I can feel it. There’s an underlying panic inside that I barely keep at bay, but it threatens to rear up and take over. If I can’t get an almost-ten-year-old to bed, what the hell am I going to do when he’s a teenager?
Maybe Mick Dodge will let me have a little space in the rainforest, far away from Newton’s goddamn cradle and the sounds of a growing boy railing against the injustice of bedtime.
But probably I’ll still be here, with a full head of gray hair and a constant eye twitch. Oh yeah, and a tangled mess of string and metal balls, too.