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Saturday, October 13, 2012


Guest post by Jeff Stimpson
Down our bedroom hall, out of the darkness, looms his white T shirt. From the dining room comes a pad-pad-pad from where there should be only silence. "And here he comes," says my wife Jill. Alex appears in the night, clears the foot of our bed, brushes the laundry hamper, and bounds onto my abdomen at 1:04 a.m.
"Mommy. Daddy. Go sleep," says Alex, squirming between us and elbowing me in the stomach.
Ever since my typically developing two year-old Ned recently evicted him from his crib, Alex has been sleeping in a fold-out porta-crib. We know this isn't normal for a 4-year-old. We tried to get him to sleep in a bed last winter. I sat with him for hours on the mattress on school nights, rubbing his back and telling him to sleep on his bed, while he sucked his binkie and wormed his way over the railing to scoot for the toy shelf. On weekend nights, after we'd spent the day running him into the turf on playgrounds, Alex would actually fall asleep on his bed. Once, I think, he stayed there through the night. Most bed nights, however, we heard the pad-pad-pad and saw the gleam of the T in the small hours. Jill and I tried returning him to his bed a few times.
Then we hatched the idea of setting up the porta-crib before bed to have it ready in the middle of the night. We'd deposit him in the cage - three-foot-high walls of soft white mesh - give him a sip of a water and binkie, hand him one of my T shirts and a stuffed Elmo, and watch him burrow into the blankets. We meant to keep trying Alex and the bed. But somewhere in there, doctors and teachers started harping on his terrible attention span, and then we had to get through an endless Christmas vacation. Alex and the bed just fell from being a priority. "I would hate to see your energies go in that direction," said one of his preschool therapists, who had given us a long list of other things to pay attention to with Alex.
So, night after night I'd pull the porta-crib out from over near the oxygen tank, undo the big rubber bands we used to keep the crib collapsed during the day, and whip the thing together. I hated it for a time: the savage clicks of the locking rails, the way they wouldn't lock unless you had the floor mat positioned perfectly. I hated it and blamed it for Alex, almost four, still not sleeping in a bed. Then gradually the clicks of the locking rails came to signify the end of another day. The final moments before a glass of Pinot Grigio, "Seinfeld," our own dinner, slumber almost never disturbed by the boys for 12 hours unless one was sick. By the time we'd cleared the dessert dishes, night after night, we'd step into the boys' room and find them both out. Alex would be sprawled in the bottom of the porta-crib; I'd reach down and pull him straight if his head seemed cocked at an uncomfortable angle. He's getting tall, I'd think. Wonder when he's going to climb out of there?
He climbs out of there one sudden night, and our energies cascade toward putting Alex first in the porta-crib, then in the bed, then back in the porta-crib. Finally, Jill pulls the door of their bedroom closed. "That sends a message," she says.
I hear the knob rattling, followed soon by the cries of the prisoner. I open the door. "Alex," I say, "back to bed!" Back he goes, bouncing up on the mattress, burying his face in the blanket, clamping his eyes shut in an elaborate pantomime of drifting off that will evaporate as soon as I close the door again behind me. (Ned, incidentally, can't believe he's scored front-row seats to this. Sensing something new was unfolding in his household and that soon it might involve him, he bounces on his rump, rattles the crib springs, and drinks himself into a stupor on water and Rice Dream.)
Out I go. Rattle rattle rattle. In I go, and place Alex in the porta-crib. He hoists one leg over the side. "Alex, put your leg down," I say, careful to not touch him. "I know. You've got this new freedom and it's exciting. You're growing up, Alex. You're getting bigger. But it's time for sleep." I set the ottoman beside the porta-crib, as if I were handing a shovel to a POW. (Jill and I have both seen him get out, by the way, and he always lands straight and on both feet.)
Times have changed, I tell Jill. There's another, real bedtime to consider in this house now, announced by the rattle of the knob. "He's out of his cage," I say.
"It's not a cage," Jill says.
"It is a cage," I say, and we were the ones in it.
Jeff Stimpson is a native of Bangor, Maine, and lives in New York with his wife Jill and two sons. He is the author of Alex: The Fathering of a Preemie and Alex the Boy: Episodes From a Family’s Life With Autism(both available on Amazon). He maintains a blog about his family at jeffslife.tripod.com/alextheboy, and is a frequent contributor to various sites and publications on special-needs parenting, such as Autism-Asperger’s DigestAutism Spectrum News, the Lostandtired blog, The Autism Society news blog, and An Anthology of Disability Literature (available on Amazon). He is on LinkedIn under “Jeff Stimpson” and Twitter under “Jeffslife.”
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