I could probably fill this entire page with excuses my 9-year-old daughter uses to get out of bed after lights out each night.
It never fails. An hour or so after we think she has fallen fast asleep, she suddenly escapes the covers for the hallway, ready to deliver one or two of the following lines in deep distress mixed with faux sleepiness:
“My throat hurts.”
“My head hurts.”
“I’m not tired.”
“It’s too loud.”
“It’s too soft.”
“What was that noise?”
“What time can I get up?”
“I can’t stop thinking about that weird cat video I saw on YouTube.”
I could go on, but trust that you get the idea.
This process can be hopelessly irritating. She has been given a task (“Go to sleep!”) and she refuses to comply. In the world of parenting, this is about as black and white as it gets. But there is a part of me that can’t help but cut her some slack.
First, I remember when this used to be me. There are stories and pictures of me as a child sacked out and snoring at the top of the stairs in our old two-story house. From the tip-top of the long corridor, I could make out the shadows the TV was casting from the den and hear the low murmur of my parents in their end-of-day conversation. There was the smell of late-night popcorn wafting up the steps. To this day, when I try to remember true child-like contentment and comfort, I am taken back to those last few sleepy, yawn-filled minutes of pajama-footed spy work I would do right before curling into a ball like a boy-sized cat and fading off into the kind of slumber only possible when you have no idea that anything bad exists in the world.
The second reason I can’t be too hard on my daughter in these moments is that as much as I know she needs sleep (and it is a fundamental duty for me as her father to make sure she gets it), I helplessly admire her obsession with life.
Remember when you used to NOT want to sleep? Remember when the world was SO interesting you just couldn’t stop trying to stick your hands in it? Remember when mud puddles were challenges and snow days were gifts from God?
Somewhere we lose that. At some point, we start equating maturity with waking up thinking about the next time we can fall asleep.
Are we all just overtired? Have we gotten jaded? Do we know all the mysteries of the world or just not care to figure them out anymore? Who convinced us that “adulthood” means cashing in your sense of wonder for a Sleep Number bed and a Breathe Right strip?
So when Sadie sneaks out of bed these days, I try to take a deep breath of my own and stifle a smile and give her a hug. I smell her hair and kiss her forehead and tell her that if she is going to change the world tomorrow she is going to have to get some sleep tonight.
“Can you give me a math problem or a brain teaser?” she asks as I tuck her back in. “I like to have something interesting to think about as I fall asleep.”
Maybe tonight I won’t turn on the TV after I flip off the lamp. Instead, I will work for awhile on falling back in love with life.