When it’s good, it’s very good: a solid twelve hours. When it’s bad, well, it’s pretty awful. Sleep, that is. Last year there was a four-month period that I didn’t think I’d survive. When you’re struggling, it’s hard to imagine that it will ever get better — that it does.
Last summer, when the boys turned three, we decided to try transitioning Sam out of his crib and into a big boy bed. At the time, there was no way that John was ready and we wanted to see whether the bed we chose would even work.
Their birthday seemed the perfect occasion (Let’s make a big fuss! You’re THREE!, See all the presents? — LOOK, you have a new BED!) Sam grinned ear to ear and immediately just got it. At the appointed hour, he jumped under the sheets and shouted out instructions:
“Turn off lights!”
“Turn on music!”
“John in crib!”
“Mommy, Daddy: Kitchen!”
We never expected that he would go right to sleep (he did) or that he would wait for us to get him the next morning (he did).
After two weeks of this arrangement, I started to feel guilty. Poor John, still being plopped into his crib! So not fair! We went out and got the second bed, set it up, and got ready to move him into it. Look John! Your own big boy bed! We crossed our fingers and prayed it would be easy.
The first crash was followed by loud racing and happy talk. For the first three nights, we decided we’d let him explore, let him enjoy this new freedom. Before retiring, I would go in and scoop up his sleeping body off the floor and deposit him back in his bed. Not easy, not Sam certainly, but we were getting there, right?
Well on the fourth night, Sam revolted: when John got up, so did he. The running, the diapers strewn all over the floor, the drawers upended. Then the sobbing began, the tearful wails for Mommy and Daddy, which is how we got sucked into the No One Will Be Sleeping In This House Tonight vortex. Nobody handled it well — I’m pretty sure I yelled. A lot. Routine is the law for kids with autism. Routine is the law for exhausted parents of kids with autism.
So John returned to his crib and everyone — especially Sam — was relieved. He was once again able to fall asleep. John, for the most part, seemed content to return to his too-cozy crib as I squashed my feelings of guilt. Several months have passed and I’ve watched how tall he’s become — 41 inches! — he so clearly has outgrown it. There’s no doubt he needs to move to a bed, but how? God help me, I really don’t have the energy.
Well, John had his own timetable.
Last week he had a night terror. I tried to calm him but he bucked and screamed and was wide-eyed with fear — I’ve never seen him so agitated. Every time I tried to put him back in the crib, he’d arch his back and scream. Finally, out of exhaustion and because Sam was now awake, I lay down with him on his big boy bed, the one that’s been waiting for him, all made up in a room made small by two beds and the lingering crib. I lay there with him and slowly, at last, he fell asleep.
The next morning, I held my breath as I went in to get them up for school. John was sitting in his bed, smiling. If a smile could light up a room, this smile was sunshine itself.
We didn’t want to lose this opportunity, so the next night we put them both to sleep in their big boy beds. I told John, very sternly, You must stay in your bed, John, okay? You’re a big boy now and we stay in our beds until morning. I was prepared to go in a maximum of three times before giving up and returning him to the crib.
I didn’t go in even once.
He slept through without a peep. He doesn’t have many words and isn’t able to verbally express himself yet, but the look of utter happiness and pride on his face the next morning made me cry.
Six straight nights.
When it’s good, it’s very good.