Things That Go Bump In The Night

I don’t remember being afraid of the dark.

I’m sure I was; I think all kids are afraid of the dark when they’re young. I know I had a night light in my room when I was little but I don’t remember when I stopped using it. I also don’t remember if the night light was for me or for my younger brother, with whom I shared a room (I’m going with my brother, since I was eight years old at that point). I do, however, remember being creeped out when my family spent a holiday at my aunt’s house and I slept by myself in the study. It wasn’t the dark that scared me; it was the print on the wall of the Mona Lisa with a monkey’s face instead of a woman’s. I was able to laugh at it the next morning when I saw it in the light but first seeing it in the dark had me feeling like it was watching me sleep. Not only that, I almost felt like the monkey was making fun of me with that goofy smile because I was scared of it.

Everything becomes different in the dark. Shadows twist common objects into fearsome creatures and threatening spirits. Kids hear the mundane clinks and whistles of a heater turning on or the creaks of a settling house and think burglars are breaking in. The darkest spaces of the room – under the bed and behind closet doors, for instance – suddenly become entry portals for monsters of all kinds.1 Disney even made a movie about this concept:

The fear of the unknown – even if it is actually “known” during the day – sends kids’ imaginations racing to conjure the scariest and most threatening images possible. We are so reliant on our sense of sight to show us what is real that, when that sense is taken away, our grip on reality is distorted.

I bring all this up because last night I ended up sleeping on the couch again. It’s not because we’re still trying to re-sleep-train Shayna; we stopped bothering with that because we’ll be out of town on vacation for Thanksgiving and Shayna’s sleep patterns are surely going to get thrown out of whack all over again. No, last night I started the night sleeping in my bed and had every intention of staying there until I had to get up for work in the morning.

I was interrupted around 1:30 AM, when Eitan came into our bedroom. He said he had heard a noise and he was “terrified.” He was clearly worked up and Trudy and I know that when Eitan has made up his mind about something, any hint at contradiction triggers a negative reaction. We didn’t want to take the chance that forcing him to go back to bed would result in him waking his sister so we let him stay in our bed. (It should also be noted that this was the third consecutive night he had come in because something had scared him.)

After dozing on and off for about an hour, I finally told Eitan he had to leave. We have a queen-size bed; it’s fine when Trudy and I are the only two people in the bed. It wasn’t even terrible for all three of us when Eitan was little. At some point, though, Eitan turned into a real person who takes up real space, so the three of us together in bed is no longer feasible.2 Eitan protested against going back to bed – he was apparently still “terrified” – but he agreed to my proposal that he and I would spend the rest of the night sleeping on the couch. I gave him a couch cushion for a pillow and took out two extra blankets from our closet. Then I brought my pillow and blanket over and we lay down with our heads near each other in the “L” of our sectional.

As comfortable as our couch is – as I mentioned in the other post about sleep training Shayna – last night’s on-the-spot solution is unsustainable. I’m hoping that the answer to Eitan staying in his room all night will be something simple. Maybe we will need to inspect Eitan’s bedroom with him to identify the shadows before the lights go off or spray his room with “Monster Spray” before he goes to sleep. It may involve teaching him some deep breathing techniques for him to use if he wakes up at night. We’re hesitant to put a night light back in the room because there is light from outside that comes through the window; plus, Shayna sleeps so much better when it’s darker and we definitely do not want to disrupt her sleep. We may have to try a number of different methods and just hope for the best.

Then again, Eitan asked me this morning if I remembered being at his school yesterday and punching a zombie in front of his kindergarten teacher. After assuring him that I had done no such thing, I realized that perhaps the reason for Eitan waking up is not actually because he has been hearing noises in his room or seeing shadows on his walls. It’s possible that our problems may be solved by a simple conversation about weird dreams.

1. Let’s also not forget the bedtime message, “Good night, sleep tight. Don’t let the bedbugs bite.

2. I thought that the name I chose for this blog would eventually become obsolete; clearly, that is not yet the case.

The Morning After: Revisited

Tuesday of this week was Election Day, which means that Tuesday was the day last year when Donald Trump was elected President.

I felt a twinge in my stomach as I was going through my Facebook memories that morning. I saw the picture my family took shortly after my wife and I had voted for Hillary. Three of our faces were lit up with the smiles of people who had executed their civic duty 1 and who had played a part in electing the first female Commander-In-Chief (it was only three smiling faces because Shayna just looked like she wanted to go back home).

I remembered feeling a sort of nervous excitement. It wasn’t just that I was part of something bigger than myself, a movement that was going to continue the progress that had been made over the previous eight years. It was the fact that I knew that our country was at a turning point at that moment. Election Day 2016 was going to mark a new chapter in our country’s relatively short lifespan and my family and I were a part of writing the new chapter. Both of my children were going to be able to point to our new leader and see a woman in the highest position of power in our country. My daughter was going to have a new concept of the possibilities available to her and my son was going to be able to understand that women need to be seen as leaders too in order for our country to truly succeed. In my vision, not only had a woman finally reached the “top,” she had done so against an opponent who was unapologetic about using racism and misogyny as core aspects of his political platform. It just couldn’t have gotten much better than that.

Of course, we know that’s not how things turned out.

I processed my feelings about the election results in a blog post the following morning. I wrote a letter to my children begging them not to give up hope about their futures and not to be scared if they saw adults having trouble handling the moment. I reminded them of the strengths they had already begun to demonstrate, even at their young ages, and the fact that they were poised to use those strengths to speak up for their values as they grew older.

On Wednesday, the day after this year’s election, I felt like that hope from 2016 had been justified. It was an off-year election this year, so there weren’t as many major races to watch. I focused mostly on the governors races in Virginia and New Jersey; one state was finishing out the tenure of Chris Christie, the governor who could not have fallen lower in public opinion, and the other had a Republican candidate running on a platform of xenophobia similar to Donald Trump’s from 2016. The Democrats won each election, though, as well as a number of other races where progressive candidates beat opponents trying to push the same agendas of racism and sexism that Trump ran on last year.

Let’s be clear: I’m fully aware that the election results earlier this week will have a relatively small impact with regard to the rest of the country. Democratic governors in two states, one of which has already had a Democratic governor for the past few years, are not going to have much influence on whether or not the federal government decides to slash Medicaid funding as part of a new healthcare bill. They won’t be able to stop a bill that forces middle- and lower-class families to give the government more money in order to replace enormous tax cuts for the wealthiest businessmen and corporations in America. What they will be able to do, however, is ensure that their states continue to move with the times by vetoing bills that discriminate against their citizens or by working to ensure that undocumented Dreamers can remain in the country under DACA.

This year’s election may not have the same wide-ranging influence as the national elections for president or seats in Congress but it was never supposed to. This election was all about the nation’s response to the first year of the Trump presidency. It was about people choosing to speak out against the rhetoric of hate that Trump used to get elected and demonstrating that we are better than that. It was about citizens saying that they were unhappy with the choices that were made last year and that they were not going to allow the same mistakes to be made again.

Last year, I wrote that my children should be hopeful and ready to fight. This year, I get to tell them we took the first steps back in the right direction.

1. The memories also included this exchange:
Me: We did it! We fulfilled our civic duty.
Eitan: Hahaha, Daddy said doody!

Featured image credit: CC0 Creative Commons

Parents Plan and Kids Laugh

I had it all planned out.

I had a great post in mind for this week. It was about how I use logic whenever I can to make decisions and how usually those decisions work out well for me. They sometimes don’t, obviously, because the world is not always a logical place.1 But, most of the time, logic steers me in the right direction.

I was going to write about how parents of young children don’t always get the opportunity to use logic to make decisions. There are certain areas where logic always applies, like keeping toys with little pieces away from babies so they don’t wind up choking or changing one’s approach to a teen in order to create more positive interactions. But there are so many times in parenting – when you find that your son has taken it upon himself to unlock the front door and take his sister trick or treating without telling anyone, for instance – where logic seems to just fly out the window.

I had a perfect scenario to write about too. Eitan had been misbehaving in the morning when he was supposed to be getting ready for school and he had started doing so somewhat frequently. It was fairly typical behavior for his age; Eitan wanted to watch television or he didn’t want to stop playing or he wanted to tie his pants around his head like a bandanna. It was attention-seeking behavior and Eitan was making sure he got what he was looking for, even if it meant he got negative attention instead of positive.

Here’s a quick lesson about the three kinds of attention. Positive attention is just what it sounds like: showing your child that you love them by complimenting them, spending time with them and being affectionate. Negative attention comes up when parents are angry with their children and have to discipline them. The last kind – the worst kind for children – is no attention. Kids need attention in order to feel valued and to develop their identities, just as adults do. If kids feel ignored or neglected, they’re going to start acting out until someone starts paying attention, which is just what Eitan was doing. He was sending me the message that he wanted me to spend less time emptying the dishwasher and preparing his lunch and more time playing with him.

The logical response, as I had planned to write in the original post, was to start making sure that the tasks I had been completing in the morning were done the night before. I started taking showers at night instead of the morning and Trudy and I began preparing Eitan’s lunch every evening, among other things. They were small tasks, of course, but they added up to a significant chunk of time that I was then able to shift from busywork to reading or playing with Eitan.

I was going to write about how well it had worked. I was going to say how nice it was that implementing a logical solution to a problem had yielded immediate results. It was like a light switch had flipped; Eitan suddenly started getting himself together much more quickly in the morning and the arguments seemed to occur much less frequently. On some mornings when I hadn’t finished everything the night before, we saw Eitan’s behavior start to revert back to his previous antics.

I keep referring to what I would have written because today didn’t fit the pattern. I showered last night and my work bag was all together. Trudy got Eitan’s lunch together last night and we ran the dishwasher in advance so I could empty it before bed instead of in the morning. When the kids and I were up this morning, I sat with Eitan for a half hour. We read some of his books and played with a sticker book. The plan had worked to perfection, as I had plenty of time to sit with Eitan and give him positive attention and still get breakfast together before school.

Except it wasn’t perfect. Eitan started goofing off after breakfast; he threw his pajamas up in the air instead of putting them in the laundry and getting dressed. He started taking out toys instead of putting his backpack in the stroller. A request for Eitan to go to the bathroom before leaving for school sent him into hysterics.  The time that could have been spent relaxing together before it was time to leave was instead spent arguing about the fact that we were now running late.

I’m not really angry, of course;2 most of what Eitan was doing was pretty typical behavior for a five-year-old. Kids goof off and they don’t have the same concepts of time or urgency as adults do. At their cores, kids just want to play and be acknowledged and validated; again, just like adults. The frustrating part was that Trudy and I implemented a plan that had worked in the past and executed it pretty well in this instance and it still didn’t work.

It reminded me of the saying that the day a parent becomes an expert at parenting a five-year-old is the day before the child’s sixth birthday. Kids’ personalities are changing every day; they learn so much so quickly that parents just have to do their best to keep up. Parents can – and should – learn from their mistakes and change their approaches as much as they can but it is still difficult to predict results with any sort of accuracy. Unfortunately, Murphy’s Law tends to hold true, especially with young children. If there is any opportunity for children to get into mischief, they are going to find it. Neither Eitan nor Shayna are old enough to pitch yet, but they still manage to throw curveballs at us every day.


1. I’m not going to give you examples. You know what I’m talking about.

2. Not anymore, at least. I was pretty annoyed at the time, though.