The Cat’s Bed

June 19, 2006 at 7:59 pm (Uncategorized)

Andrew does not go gently into that good night.  No, my little two-year old fights sleep with every muscle fiber, bone, and tendon in small body.  When he does finally fall asleep after squirming, chatting, singing, and sometimes even slapping himself in the face, he always climbs out of his bed at some point in the night and tries to crawl into our bed.

Lately, he has developed an aversion to his own bed.  He says he’d rather sleep on the floor than in bed, and has curled up on the pine boards to prove his point.  It’s hard to see your only child sleeping on the floor, his small frame curled into a comma.  So, we’d take him to bed with us and then ferry him back into his room after he drifted off.  But he’d resurface in our room minutes or hours later.  It was all starting to feel a mite sisyphusian.

We’ve tried to figure out why he has started to hate his once prized “big boy bed.”  We asked him if he was afraid; we asked him if he had fallen out bed and bonked his head; we asked him if he had bad dreams.  All he told us was, “I don’t like it.”  He even asked us to reassemble his crib.
This called for drastic measures.  We tried a brighter wattage night light, and then we bought him a bedside lamp with a timer so that he could read on his own in bed.  We played soothing music in the background to drown out the creaks of the house and the roar of cars driving down the road past his window.  We sang to him.  We made up stories about a boy named Lou who hated falling asleep until he figured out that he could lay in bed and think of all the good things in his life.  Then we encouraged Andrew, like Lou, to dwell on the positive.  “I like my tool set,” Andrew would say, “and my cars and trucks.”  And then he would refuse to stay in his bed, preferring, it seemed, to catalogue the things he liked either in our bed or on the floor.

Finally, three days ago I had a brilliant idea.  We would buy him new sheets – ones that he picked out – and we would place them on his bed with much pomp and circumstance.  My thought was that this would allow Andrew to symbolically reclaim his bed as his own.  Since I’ve been really sick, Jay and Andrew went to the store together and came home with a set of Thomas the Tank Engine sheets and a red fire engine pillow.  Andrew was ecstatic.  He helped wash the sheets and then named all the creepy railroad characters on the sheets: Thomas, Percy, and James.  (I hate Thomas the Tank Engine, and I don’t know why.  There is just something very disturbing about these grinning railroad engines all happily doing their jobs, eager for a bit of praise – “You’re a really useful engine” – from the baldheaded and spongy Sir Topham Hatt.  But Andrew, like every other boy in this nation, is smitten with the personified trains.)

Before bedtime the night before last, we gathered in his room and put the new sheets on his bed.  Jay and I oohed and ahed.  “Boy, I’d really like to sleep in this bed,” I said, trying to stir up some enthusiasm from my son.  “This is your bed, Mommy,” Andrew said back to me.  “And I’ll sleep here.”  Here was the small, round cat bed that Andrew had carried into his bedroom and had been messing with while Jay and I whipped ourselves into a tizzy about the new sheets.  He then proceeded to stuff his almost 40-pound body into the bed that fits our five pound cat; he looked like a plump yogi.

I’m usually pretty good at going with flow with Andrew.  I’m used to spending time in the kitchen making his favorite food, say, potato pancakes, only to have him turn up his nose and hoover down frozen peas instead.  I’ve bought plenty of toys I was sure he would love, but instead, watched as he tossed them aside to play instead with a toilet paper tube, or better yet, a stick.  But the sheets caught me off guard. I knew he would love them, dammit.  It was a brilliant idea.

Jay kept his cool while Andrew dragged the cat bed out onto the little balcony adjoining his bedroom, but I guess he could see the my blood pressure was rising.  I’m not stupid.  I know just how much Thomas the Tank Engine crappy merchandise costs.  Even worse, Andrew was ruining my totally brilliant idea.  “I’ll sleep here,” Andrew said again, folding himself back into the faux-sheepskin bed.  “It’s fine,” Jay whispered to me.  I honestly felt like locking Andrew out on the balcony in his underwear with his precious cat bed and going away.  “See how much you like sleeping out there now,” I would say, as I watched TV downstairs.  It is at moments like these that you realize how truly lucky you are not to be a single parent.

Andrew came back into his room in a few minutes and went downstairs to play with Jay while I stalked off to bed.  A little later, Andrew fell asleep in his own bed, tucked between his branded sheets, and did not show up in our room until seven the next morning.  But by then I had lost the thrill of my incredible genius at coming up with a solution to his bed phobia.  Now all I could think of was how angry I had become that Andrew had not responded to his new sheets in the manner I had expected.  The sheets shamed me more than they pleased me.  That he had actually fallen asleep in his own bed was irrelevant.

I can only imagine how many times I will re-learn this lesson as a parent.  Children do not always conform to their parents’ expectations.  (Lord only knows how much I didn’t.)  You expect them to be decent, polite, and pliant little creatures. Instead, they are actual human beings with their own needs, interests, moods, preferences, and desires.  Andrew might join a fraternity, hate reading, refuse to eat vegetables, play golf – even though my hopes for  him are the exact opposite.  How do you coexist with someone who so clearly has not met your expectations?  I know that I will always love him unconditionally, but I’d be dishonest to say that I don’t want him to grow up to have certain political, intellectual, and social leanings that conform to my own.  We’d all be liars if we didn’t acknowledge the myriad ways we’ve let our parents down and the equally manifold ways our parents remind us of our failures.

I’m sure I’ve spun the drama of the Thomas the Tank Engine sheets far out of proportion.  Perhaps it’s because I’ve been thinking quite a bit about expectations, particularly those I harbor for my own life.  Sometimes having a chronic illness feels eerily like having a toddler.  Both conditions mess with my autonomy, as well as my expectations.  Never once, when I envisioned my life in the future, did I see myself as chronically sick, chronically tired, chronically unable to live up to my expectations of myself.  For instance, yesterday was Father’s Day, but I am still very ill with pneumonia.  So, Jay made me a lovely breakfast of waffles and rhubarb compote, and Jay and Andrew went off kayaking in the sun, while I stayed in bed coughing and feverish.  This was not what I expected from life when I was 34.

I’m beginning to believe that perhaps the single most difficult lesson in life is letting go of expectations that no longer fit.  You simply can’t go around all day long being disappointed in yourself or in others.  It’s hard, though, because so often my expectations bump right up against my dreams.

For now, I’m focusing on mellowing a bit on my concerns for Andrew’s sleeping habits.  We’ve done everything our pediatrician, parents and the book “experts” have counseled us to do, and he’s still a horrible sleeper.  If the Thomas sheets don’t work, I suppose we could always toss him out in the yard in a cat bed.  Otherwise, we’ll just have to take it one night at a time.

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