My son, who’s in the later half of his third year of life, is pretty good about sleeping through the night in his own room at this point. Most nights, I don’t hear anything from him till the sun comes up, and he usually comes to wake us up for water or bathroom or if he’s really hot or cold in his room or something like that.
Last night was an exception.
He kept waking up crying, and my wife went to see him and would come back frustrated, she couldn’t make out what he was saying or why he was up. This happened two or three times, and eventually her patience broke. The next time he woke up, I went to see him – it was about midnight, and he was crying a bit.
Some pointed questioning and interrogation ensued and he eventually settled on complaining about his night-time water cup. “It’s too small,” he said, as if the reason was self-evident, and I was the child that needed to be educated on the matter. There are fights worth having and this wasn’t one of them. Rather than argue about the value of various cup sizes and the importance of a closed top versus an open one, I shrugged and swapped the small cup out with a larger one that we use during dinner, and he was content with it after a long drink.
Since he was already awake and sleep didn’t sleep likely to come anytime soon, I hung out with him. We were both sitting on his bed, and he kept talking to me about the kinds of stuff that three-year-olds find interesting. The alphabet, whether he was still thirsty or not, what he’d be doing this weekend, the imminent arrival of his baby brother, what was that sound, could I keep the cat out of room somehow, and I listened to him and answered what questions I could between yawns.
Among the exchanges, I had a moment when I realized I was hanging out with my son and we were talking, and I wasn’t mad about being up, and he wasn’t being cranky and sleepless, he just wanted to hang out with me. We chatted for about 15 – 20 minutes and then I asked him if he ready to sleep. After a bit of tossing and turning, he found a comfortable spot (he’s still getting used to his new bunk bed) and I patted his back for a while before heading to my room.
It reminded me of when he was very young, less than 6 months, and one night he just couldn’t fall asleep. He kept crying, and my wife gave up eventually. I went in to hold and rock him to sleep, and he was just so uncomfortable, or cranky from being tired, or whatever it was, that he just squeezed his little eyes shut and wept and wept and wept. But a half hour of rocking and walking and singing later, he quieted, put his head down, and eventually fell asleep.
Another 15 minutes later, I put him down in his crib and sneaked out. I’ll never forget that night, something about it just really shook me up, and I kept tearing up afterward, as if I had never felt quite so much emotion before. The powerlessness of the situation combined with the desire to help him get to sleep made for an incredible cocktail of emotion.
I’m sure all parents have had a moment like that, over something simple like this, or seeing their kid sick and feeling so helpless and useless, when the most you can do is hold them and give them medicine and comfort them through their pain.
But this was a different kind of interaction, it would have been easy to go in, tell him to go back to bed and leave no room for discussion. There are nights where I have done exactly that, if I thought he was just being a brat. But last night, I think he wasn’t being a brat. He was just… confused and tired and and maybe he just wanted a friend for a little while to chat with to help him get back to sleep.
It was the kind of interaction I’d never had with my dad. He was very distant and aloof. When I had my kid, I was worried I’d be like that. I’m also the primary disciplinarian in our home, so he sees me as a sort of ogre sometimes, and is quick to obey me but is definitely his mother’s son.
Sharing a moment like this meant so much to me in more ways than just connecting with my son. It gave me hope that maybe I’m not a terrible dad, and maybe I’ll have a better relationship with him than I had with my own dad.
Of course, we got hit with a major thunderstorm last night with bright sheet-lightning and booming thunder, so he wound up in our room anyway, but that’s neither here nor there.