Monday, September 2, 2013

A Cuddle in the Dead of Night

It must have been 3:30 in the morning. The thunder was loud, and I rolled over in bed and heard a voice.

Ethan was standing there looking at me.

"There's a lot of thunder and lightning," he said, his eyes big.

"Do you want to come in bed with us for a little while?" I asked. He crawled up.

It's no secret to most people I know that I've had sleep issues for years -- really since before Ethan was born. I'm a light sleeper. I fall asleep and then wake up with a start in the middle of the night and start thinking about everything I need to do the next day. I tend to fall asleep again around 4 a.m. only to be woken up not much later by the kids or by my own sense of needing to get things done, since I'm a morning person and function best then.

When Anna was little, she had a knack for padding into our bedroom on those nights when I was finally, actually, truly in the middle of a deep sleep, and waking me up because she'd had a bad dream, or was thirsty, or couldn't find something. This is part of parenting, I know. And I had no problem comforting her. But after awhile, we began to realize that some of Anna's so-called nightmares seemed a bit...fabricated. And she wasn't all that scared -- just a good actress. She sometimes was actually just looking for someone to chat with at say, 3 a.m.

So by the time she was about 6 or 7 we put our feet down and said she couldn't wake us up unless there was truly a problem. She's been good ever since.

We had a storm in the night back in the beginning of the summer. In the morning, Ethan announced, "I didn't like that storm. I hid under my pillow the whole time because I was scared."

"You heard all of that?" I asked him, surprised. We hadn't had a clue. A few weeks later, it happened again.

"I was scared last night of the lighting so I hid under my blanket," he told me.

I thought of him there, huddled and shivering while the lightning flashed and thunder roared. I realized something. Ethan was 5 1/2 years old and not once had ever come into our room to tell us he was scared, or thirsty, or anything.

I thought of so many stories, so many children on the autism spectrum who don't express their fears, and their parents wondering, "Is he okay? I don't know when he's scared. He never tells me. How will I know?" I read the blogs; the essays. Their words, the pain parents of who want to help but don't know how, because their children won't or can't tell them how, cut me to the heart.

"Ethan," I told him. "You know, you can come to us in the night if you're scared about something." He didn't answer. "You can tell us and we will give you hugs and try to help you feel better," I continued.

That was two months before. Now he was huddled next to me in the bed, taking all the pillow space, pulling at the blankets.

Two hours later, when Ethan has still not fallen asleep and is back in his room with the light on, playing with his air conditioner and fan and blasting the CD player, I will be in annoyed-mode once more. I will remember my ongoing battle with insomnia and know I have opened up a dangerous can of worms.

But in that moment, with cold little feet pressed against me as the storm rages, I could only think:

He came to us.

He'll be six years old before we know it, and he finally crawled out of his bed to tell us when he was afraid.

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