The Wild Thing

23 10 2009

There was a time would E would sleep through the night, 12, 14 hours, without so much as a rustle. We knew we were lucky, lucky to have a baby that would let us have the night to ourselves, undisturbed.

That changed when E started climbing out of his crib. I think it must have been around month 20, in the summer. He’d start awake from a nightmare, climb out of his crib, and seek us out for consolation. What were we to do? The kid just had a nightmare. You’ve got to let him sleep with you.

Pretty soon it was every night. We changed out the guard rails for a set that had an opening in them because there was no point in pretending that nothing was stopping him from just hopping over them any time he wanted to. We’d put him to bed and sneak out when he fell asleep, but at one or two in the morning, when we ourselves were sure to be in bed, he’d climb out of his crib, march down the hallway with his favorite blanket, and claw at our bed.

The Chinese have a nickname for their little ones. They call them Little Emperors. E is almost two now. He is eagerly testing out newfound powers of refusal, of demand, of whiny attrition. He is our Little Emperor.

And Dana just gives in. She’s ragged from all the school work and stress and doesn’t have it in her to deal with wet eyes and screaming sirens of protest. But I’m the Dad. I’m the man of the house; I’m the law. The buck stops with me, buddy.

So one night, when Dana is away, I decide to take the opportunity to put my foot down. I give E his bath, put him in his pajamas, and turn out the lights. I fish around for the Mighty Brite reading light and read him Goodnight Moon. He’s yawning. Good sign. We say our prayers, and I lift him in my arms and set him in his crib. As I do so, I say, “I’m leaving, E, and I want you to stay in your crib. I don’t want you to leave this room tonight.”

He rocks his head back and forth and ever so faintly says, “No. No.”

“Yes, E. Stay in your crib. I am closing the door,” and I latch the door shut.

Then I go down the hall, get in bed, and wait.

And, indeed, ten minutes later I hear him get out of his crib. I hear him run his hand across the door. What is this? The door’s never been shut before. How am I supposed to get out? I can hear him scratch at the groove between the door and the frame.

And then I hear him go nuts. He starts to whine. And then bawl. And then I hear him stomp around the room blindly. He starts opening all his drawers and flinging out all his clothes. I almost get out of bed when he starts throwing his toys. HeĀ  starts banging against the door, first with his shoulder, then with his head. He presses all the buttons on the toys attached to his bed. And then it sounds like he’s ripping pages out of one of his books.

I hear a thud, thud, thud, and then I realize he’s tipping over the rocking chair.

I’m sitting up now, but it’s suddenly gone silent. I sit uneasily for five minutes, ten minutes. What’s happened? Is he hurt — trapped, perhaps, under the rocking chair? Is he lying on the floor, exhausted? Is he back in bed?

I think I see a flash of light underneath the door. No… how can…?

And then, dumbfounded, I hear the doorknob being rattled. Chk-chk. Chk-chk.

Is my son seriously…? Chk-chk. Chk-chk.

And before I could answer my question, the door flings open, and E comes howling like a banshee down the hall, waving the Mighty Brite wand so that I see white flashes of his wrathful, grimacing face racing towards me like an avenging spirit.

I was literally flat on my back in fright. I almost fell out of the bed and found myself scampering away from him as he came to the side of the bed and started clawing up. When I got him to settle down and nestle into bed — my bed — sweetly asleep, I could still hear my heart thumping, and I had to laugh out loud, nervously, to force myself to exhale and calm down.

Needless to say, he still sleeps in our bed every night.

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