“Deborah, I'm coughing and my throat hurts.”
I should have and could have been sympathetic, but even on a night where I was aroused from a sound sleep by a sick and frightened child, I was indignant in the way that only mothers can be. Just when children expect sympathy they get a lecture. Lil Man was about to get the lecture of lifetime and one he would never forget.
“If you would zip up your coat at school you wouldn't be coughing. Are you serious?” Which was not an expression of incredulity the way it may have been at twelve noon rather than twelve midnight. I knew and he knew it was my way of asking was this a serious cough or just a plea for a mid-night and quite literally, scooping up my charging cell phone and glancing at the time, midnight, drink of water.
By way of answer he coughed again and it was the barking cough that I knew needed serious medicine and attention. And yes, if he had zipped up his coat, he would have been better off, but we'd switched his allergy medicine from morning to evening and there had been a haphazard and intermittent implementation of the switch. I stretched under the covers, not quite willing to accept that the one night I had planned for us to get a good night's sleep was not going to end that way at all.
“My throat hurts,” he said again and that was enough for me to clear the cobwebs and begin the business of leaving my covers behind. I shoved them back, the cool air of my room hitting my bare shoulders. The warm nest of my covers was so inviting I nearly went back to bed.
We'd had several nights like this lately. I, or my mother, would put the kids to bed after a long day, with the addendum of the weary slog between school dismissal and bedtime. Something would happen, someone would wail and whargarble, I'd be awake at 12am, 1 am, 3;30 am, 4:30am.
And I'd had enough. I'd waged several campaigns to ensure all-night sleep in this one week alone, to no avail. Every day saw me waking at least two to three hours or more before I intended. Sometimes I'd be able to go back to sleep. Sometimes I couldn't. Those nights I passed the time on social media until I'd finally and sleepily relinquish my cell phone for the few moments until 7 am, our start time for the days during the school week.
Everyone from Google to my cousin had advice on what I should do. Google suggested more concise bedtimes and bedtime routines.
“You need to give them kids some Melatonin,” was my cousin's advice. Five hundred Google searches later and despite all my trepidations, a sleepless night consisting of a bad dream, a wet baby and ending with Lil Man in the principal's office after an exhausted melt down at kindergarten led me to skulking through the aisles of Walgreen's, feeling like a criminal for looking at the various dosages of Melatonin and deciding which one would be the best for both kids. I must have looked like a criminal as well. As I walked back and forth between the baby aisle and the natural supplements aisle, exploring the various options of what folks use to get their kids to shut up and go to sleep, I heard the clerk over the loudspeaker sound the alarm for a potential shoplifter. It may or may not have been me, but my guilt wouldn't let me believe otherwise.
I could barely look the clerk in the eye as I made my purchase. I felt as resigned and conscience-stricken as an addict buying heroin in a shady alley. But the next day would be an exceptionally long one. I had planned a birthday party for the undeserving urchin who was now following me to the kitchen.
After our usual Friday pizza night, ubiquitous to household all over America, I had ostentatiously pulled the plastic Walgreen's bag out of my purse.
“Candy!” Lil Man shouted and Baby materialized at his side as fast his short toddler legs could carry him.
“Candy!” he echoed. They were both excited as I opened the bottle.
I couldn't bear the idea of complete deception and feebly stated, “It's not candy.”
“Candy!” they both repeated as the bottle opened and the scent of cherry wafted beneath their tiny noses. They each took the tablet I offered eagerly. When no one dropped dead instantaneously, I sent Lil Man to clear the pizza remains off the table in the kitchen and had Baby pick up a few toys before setting him on my bed for observation.
It was nearing 8:30 pm and I couldn't tell whether it was the tablet or the fact that it was their bedtime that had him showing signs of being sleepy.
“Bedtime!” I declared, ready for Phase 3 of this experiment. I'd also decided to participate in a control group of sorts. I had decided to take a single pill of Advil PM to relieve the post surgery aches of a recent procedure I'd had and, to be honest, a few aches I'd had before the surgery.
We were all going to be drugged tonight and to hell with the consequences because I needed a night of sleep.
Twenty minutes later they were sleeping like angels. I took my Advil PM and went to bed.
I later blamed Lil Man being naughty for the fact that I forgot to change the baby before bed but that was only partly true. I had simply been distracted by the Melatonin/ Advil experiment.
And considering it was my family, I was disheartened and oddly surprised when Lil Man appeared at my bedside.
I took him to the kitchen and gave him the forgotten allergy pill. I administered a dose of daytime cough medicine to soothe his throat and then sent him to bed while I looked for the Vick's salve, scolding him with a lecture the entire time.
“When your teacher tells you it's time to go what are you supposed to DO?” I hissed.
“Put on my coat and hat and gloves,” he recited dutifully.
“AND?” I said with the aplomb of a lawyer grilling a client on the stand.
“Zip up my coat.”
“You're damned right you need to zip up your coat. Every day, your teacher begs you and I beg you and now here you are sick. From now on you do WHAT?”
“I'll zip up my coat, I promise. I'm thirsty,” Lil Man said hopefully.
My earlier suspicion that this was just a quest for a midnight drink of water reared it's ugly head but I let it go. I had to give him some water to take the allergy pill anyhow. After the pill and the water, I briefly considered the evil bottle of the children's night time cough medicine but decided on daytime since I'd already given him the Melatonin. Whether he went back to sleep or not, I couldn't double up on something intended to make him sleep.
I sent him to bed while I tried to think of the last place I'd seen the Vick's salve.
“Go get in bed. I'll be there in a second.”
On his way to his room, he threw back over his shoulder, “Baby bit me.”
“What do you mean Baby bit you?”
“That's what woke me up.”
I was immediately ready to strangle Baby, who at two, isn't a baby but is the youngest person in the house. He had entered the much vaunted Terrible Two's with a vengeance, being fairly mild mannered during the day but had frequently been the source of our night awakenings, sometimes merely out of a desire to play with the loudest toys he could find.
I knew with a certainty I couldn't explain that the Vick's was not in my room in the temporary box of random medicine that made it's permanent home on my desk. I looked in the place the Vick's should have and could have been, the actual medicine cabinet in the bathroom but of course it wasn't there.
I tried my mother's room. I knocked but she didn't answer so I went in anyway. Dozing in her chair she awakened immediately and reached for a slice of pizza. She had no idea where the Vick's was but she was amiable and sympathized as I relayed the events of everything that had happened since we'd all supposedly gone to bed for the evening.
“Poor thing, you need to get some sleep.”
At that moment I spotted the Vick's box on the bookshelf behind her chair, just beyond her head. A sparkly headband had landed on top and I knew, with the same earlier, unerring certainty that the actual jar would be inside the box and it was.
My mother bid me good luck and a cheerful goodnight. I retrieved a clean washrag from the linen closet and headed to Lil Man's room with an idea that I could return to my bed as soon as I put the
Vick's and a fresh pair of socks on his feet.
As soon as I walked in the door, Lil Man, the perpetually hot and sweaty said, “I'm cold.” This was not a good sign. I'd intentionally put his bed near the window because I could never find the cold air humidifier filters anyhow and he seemed to like and thrive in the mild cool air. What usually worked in his favor was making him miserable since he didn't feel well. I began stripping off his covers to make his bed in the opposite direction.
“Why is this sheet wet?”
“Baby peed in his bed and my bed. Then he bit my finger to wake me up.”
At that moment I'd had it but a measure of calm stole over me. I changed Lil Man's bed and dragged a sleepy but awake and interested Baby out of his bed for a diaper change and fresh clothes. He'd been lying there with his eyes screwed shut but listening to every word that was said, as was his way.
As I set about changing Baby's bed, Lil Man piped up.
“I'm sorry I woke you up, Deborah,” he said.
“I'm not,” I said in a deadly quiet voice that got his attention. “When you're sick or you have an emergency, I want you to come to me.
“But everything that led up to this could have been avoided if you would just listen to me and your teacher and behave.
“If you would zip up your coat, you woudn't be sick. If you hadn't have been so naughty earlier after dinner, I wouldn't have forgotten to change Baby before bed. If you all hadn't jumped on the beds they wouldn't be so messy and you woudn't have been cold.”
“Do I have to zip up my coat all the way?”
“Yes, all the way. Put your head up and zip the coat.”
He nodded. All kids learn the hard way to put their head up before zipping their coats near their neck.
“Zipping my coat up all the way makes my neck itchy,” he said thoughtfully.
“Would you rather be sick?”
He shook his head, No, quite seriously, possibly, for the first time in his five years, truly considering unintended consequences beyond pushing his cup back on the table so his elbow didn't knock it over. But that's what life is.
Seeing a new understanding in his eyes, I underlined my point.
“I love you. If you need me, I'm here. But I'd appreciate if you'd be there for me too. I don't need you to be sorry for waking me up if you're sick. I need you to be sorry for all the things that led to this in the first place. Now go to bed,” I added mildly and he put his head down on his pillow.
I finished changing Baby's bed and put him in it. He was nearly asleep when his head hit the pillow but he'd heard my lecture and in his own baby way, he understood it too.
“Me too, Deborah,” he said sleepily and drifted off before I'd covered him with the last blanket.
I stayed up to write this because I never want to forget and also because it gave me time to make sure those midgets were really asleep. One last check and then I'm going to bed.