Wait Wait

Last week, I put together a super snarky post entitled “Destroying my Will to Live” in which I detailed just how much my small son hates me and never lets me sleep.

I wrote about how I have Insomnia which makes sleep so incredibly precious. In fact, when someone other than my active mind or restless body makes it so that I can’t sleep, I am filled with irrational hatred for that person. I want them to suffer as I do. I want their life to feel like the seventh circle of hell is actually quicksand where it is so difficult to move and your eyes constantly burn.

I give this hatred out indiscriminately and often my son is the recipient.

You see, he has sleep issues too. Most of them are nightmare-related (this kid got nightmares from The Fantastic Mr. Fox–our movie watching is limited to Disney’s Robin Hood, Mary Poppins, and anything with Shirley Temple in it) but sometimes they are just that he wakes up and is lonely. I try to be sensitive to the nightmares, I had wicked nightmares as a kid (sort of still do) and remember how my parents poo-pooed my fears so that a lot of my night-time memories are lying awake in a bed, too scared to move, thinking that there was no one around who would protect me. I swore that I wouldn’t do the same thing to my son.

In my parent’s defense, they probably would have let me come to their room for comfort if they’d understood my terror, but after being told “no” a few times, I was cowed. My littlest brother, on the other hand, slept in their bed with them almost nightly until he was in Jr. High despite my parent’s efforts to train him to his own. He was not put off by the word “no.”

Neither is my son. He’s learned that the quickest way to get into my bed is to cite “nightmare” as a reason and uses that strategy constantly.

Constantly. As in every night even when he hasn’t seen The Fantastic Mr. Fox. I’d say that 92% of the time, I am uber-nice mommy and gently walk him back to his room, tuck him in, place stuffed animals around him as guardians, and sing a little song. Then kiss, kiss, check the night light, and back to my bed–to lie awake for an hour or so. Sometimes that one occurrence is it. Some nights it’s wash, rinse, repeat until desperate for sleep, I haul him into my bed (how is it that kids know how to time it so perfectly that you are just back to sleep when they get up again?). And as everyone who has a parent knows, once you give in, you’ve totally reset the whole process and the kid will never stop.

But it’s hard to be consistent when it’s about something so needed as sleep. Most nights, I wake up the moment he sits up in bed (I am a very light sleeper–when my neighbor flushes his toilet, I wake up), and then I lie there for the next 30 seconds, readying myself for his entrance to my room, tracking his steps across the house. Usually since I’m awake anyway, I take him back to his bed.

However, he’s utterly relentless. Sometimes I’m just too exhausted to get up and walk him back to bed. Sometimes, I wake up in the morning and he’s in my bed, and I have no idea how he got there. Sometimes there’s legitimate moments when a little boy just needs to cuddle with mom. And most of the time, I am conned.

The problem is that I can’t know for sure when I am conned. But I do know that when I am at my wit’s end, I lose any scrap of discernment: nice mommy goes away and evil mommy comes out.

Last year, after consecutive nights of vague nightmares (“I don’t remember. I think there was a spider”), I lost it on him.

“You are a liar!” I hissed, my face inches away from him in the street-light punctuated dimness. “I have real nightmares and I know that you always remember what they are!” (this actually may not be true all the time, but I was very low on sleep and high on hatred).

He just stared at me, wide-eyed shock. This was not the nice mommy. This was a nightmare mommy.

“Now, get in bed and don’t get out again until the sun rises!” I finished. He went to bed without being tucked in, sung to, given guardian animals, or a kiss. And while I don’t think he slept, he did not get up until the sun rose.

This Halloween, I told him that I would continue wearing my skull paint to bed so that if he tried to wake me up that night, I would look like a skeleton ghost (I’m not proud of that one. He probably had legitimate nightmares from some of the stuff we saw trick-or-treating). He made sure he watched me wash my face when we got home. But he also didn’t wake me up that night.

Last week, I was so tired that one night I pretended to be sleeping while he relentlessly nudged me, “Mom? Mom? Can I sleep in your bed?”

The next night, I started crying, “Why do you hate me?” I wailed.

He hasn’t tried to wake me up since. Until last night.

Last night, I heard him sit up and tensed, waiting for the inevitable. “Mom, can I sleep in your bed? I don’t feel good.” (ah, yes, the I-don’t-feel-good ploy).

I was about to refuse when he said, “I think I’m going to throw up.”

We both sprinted to the bathroom, where he did indeed throw up. And so went our night: wash, rinse, repeat.

At one point, as we were cuddled together on the bathroom floor, he whispered, “Mom, I’m sorry. I was trying to stay in bed and not wake you up. But I was too sick.”

I opened my burning, quicksand-filled eyes and though of all the bile-filed words I had written before about his getting up. I looked at his pale, sweaty face with blond hairs clinging to his forehead and cheeks and felt amazing love for this sweet, considerate little boy.

The thing is, Jr. High isn’t that far away for us. And there will be a time in the all-too-near future when my son will stop seeking me for comfort and cuddles in the night. Sometimes, we get all too caught up in the mire that is everyday life, we forget to see the blessings in everyday annoyances. There can be blessing in a sleepless night when it comes from someone seeking you for love despite how hellish it may feel.

And while a part of me embraces the future when my son grows out of midnight wake-ups, another part of me is reminding scary mommy to appreciate the time I have. Because it will be short and there is no going back.

What’s the adage? Life is short; you can sleep when your kid is in college.

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