January 05, 2006

Kids and Sleeping

I've heard that children "look innocent when they sleep."

Not in my house, they don't.

Nathaniel, six, sleeps hard, his body retaining whatever contorted pose it was in when it hit the mattress. If you pull up his blanket, he frowns, in his sleep, at being disturbed. He winces when he hears the door open, and he rolls over and grunts in disgust if the light comes on. His bed is his own, and he wants his slumber respected.

He sweats fiercely, regardless of the room's temperature. Putting him to bed, I can't shake the feeling that I've just inserted a battery into its charger: crackling and hot, his little dozing shape is already working up fresh havoc for sunrise.

My five-year old, Jessica, rests serenely, but not sweetly. She sleeps with her tongue out, always. This results in a constant trickle of drool.

Once when we changed the sheets, Jessica, who was about three, crawled into her bed and grew agitated right away. "Where's my Scratchy?" she asked. My wife and I failed to understand, and since three-year olds don't excel at clarification, she just repeated, with increasing vehemence, "Where's my Scratchy?—-I need it to sleep with."

This was a mystery. Jessica sleeps with a rag that was once a doll, suitably named "Dolly." Nathaniel sleeps with his stuffed animals: "Lamby" the lamb and "Herder" the sheepdog. (We don't put a lot of work into naming our plush toys.) But Scratchy was a new member of the menagerie. Our parenthood had reached one of those moments that should really stay where they belong—-in horror movies.

Who was the enigmatic "Scratchy"? Could it be a reference to "Old Scratch"? You don't like to think your family requires an exorcist, but strange ideas cross your mind when your toddler is frantic over being unable to go to bed with someone you don't know.

After a half hour of hypotheses disproved by experimentation (We: "Did you say 'flashlight'?" She, bawling: "No!!!") we learned that her "Scratchy" referred to the part of her sheet where her head always rested. There the cotton actually got stiff from repeated nightly applications of drool, so it scratched her face. Without our knowing, she had given it a name.

Now Jessica delights in having her sheets washed. "Tonight I'm going to make a new Scratchy," she says on laundry day, with precisely the sort of pride, determination, and relish with which she does not say, "Now I'm going to make a letter 'G.'"

I said that Nathaniel sleeps in whatever awkward position he happened to be in when he hit the sheets. This is not an exaggeration. We've peeked at him in the middle of the night to find his butt in the air and his knees bent, all his weight on his chest. We've found him lying sideways across the bed, on his back, with his head hanging upside down over the side. We've found him with one leg in his pajamas, zombie-like, asleep and standing with only his head resting on the bed.

It used to be worse. I once went to check on him and couldn't open the door. My first instinct was to push hard against whatever was blocking it. This wasn't wise as the obstruction turned out to be my son's head. Why he had crawled out of bed and fallen asleep against the door we've never known.

I've known parents who have taken their children on drives just to help them fall asleep. Something about the ambient sound and the gentle vibration of an automobile has a soporific effect on babies.

Not on ours. When my son was still taking two naps per day, we decided to undertake the drive from New Hampshire to Chicago in sixteen hours, stopping only for gas and fast food. Nathaniel was alert, vociferous, and cranky for all sixteen.

Once my wife and I slept with the kids. We're not one of those progressive couples who do this for developmental reasons—-it was just a special treat. A one-time treat, as it turns out. I learned that Nathaniel occasionally yells in his sleep. My wife reports that Jessica pinches.

This morning my son inexplicably popped out of his charger before 5:00 am. We watched Arthur together, and when Nathaniel got on the floor beside me, I put my head on his belly and teased, "Just what I need, a nice warm pillow." Naturally, he started giggling and wriggling, and I tried to pin him to the floor while my wife shook her head with that mixture of pride and disgust she feels when she sees that I relate better to seven-year olds than adults.

Jessica decided to rescue her brother. She jumped onto my back (knees first), saying "Now I have a nice warm pillow—and it's Daddy!"

Before I could get away she added, "And I can make a Scratchy on you."

1 comment:

Spunky said...

Thanks for the laugh and stopping by my blog. Keep on keeping on.