Did you mean "retaliation"? I don't know, iTunes — did I?
Oh, my Hell, if school doesn't start soon I am going to run amok. Although it's been a full summer — five different camps that I can think of right offhand — in the last week and a half until the kids go back, Charlie's been home all day. Oh, he's good-natured and not outrageously high maintenance, especially since we've temporarily relaxed any and all rules having to do with the use of electronics, up to and including the one about not making Ben bionic. But there is this unabated thereness that's kind of cramping my style. (Did you know this about having children? They are often around. And they want things. Food and company and love and my laptop so they can play Minecraft. Consider yourself warned; if this comes as some sort of shock, please get a cactus instead. And water it once in a while, you monster. And give it the wifi password, and a recent version of Java.)
He's hilarious, that kid, and cooperative, and game. The days wouldn't be a big problem if we didn't also have the nights. See, Charlie doesn't sleep. He's regularly awake past 10 PM, and often past 11; a few nights ago Paul and I each paid him a courtesy call — okay, spoke to him lovingly but sternly — okay, attempted to smother him with a pillow — at midnight and half-past. Almost eight years in, I have to conclude he's simply not wired for it. (It pains me to acknowledge this because there is nothing I love better than what Wodehouse called 8 h. of the dreamless, except maybe 10 ditto ditto, and I'm pretty sure he's supposed to be like me, or else I've grievously misread the point of this whole parenting gig.)
No sleep, and we've tried everything: an unvarying routine. Reading aloud. Reading silently. Music. White noise. Guided relaxation...
...yeah, hey, iTunes, thanks for the help.
Where was I? Ah: warm milk. Three good thoughts. Snack. Herbal tea. A warm bath. A verbal ritual. A viciously tight tuck-in. Massage. Melatonin. A higher dose and a lower dose of his stimulant meds. An additional dose, then minus a dose, then a different drug as a downer. Meds six ways from Sunday, to the point where I'm mouthing a silent apology to poor dead Judy Garland as I split a pill in half.
The kid just doesn't sleep. His racing mind can't slow down. ("I don't have anything to do," he protests from his darkened bedroom. "There's nothing you should be doing," we answer, "but lie there and wait for rest." And then:
I'm tempted to thunder, "Contemplate your sins," but I love him too much to fuck with him. I mean, in that one particular way.)
It's sad that Charlie can't sleep; it makes him anxious, because it makes us anxious. He can't help it, and I have a lot of sympathy, but to my shame, I also get mad. When I can, in the moment I cling to my mantra, a single lifesaving phrase I heard once from a wise friend: "He's not doing it to you; he's just doing it." And in fact, he's grown accustomed to being left to his own devices and stays in his room alone. He's usually not unruly; he's just...awake, and present, active in my consciousness, even if on the fringes. And at 10:30 at night, after a long day of, oh, just basically everything, the relentlessness of it leads me to a weird kind of outrage and impotent defeat. Like something important's been stolen, with no hope of getting it back.
So between the unstructured days and the unrelieved nights, I've been feeling a little hemmed in. I work at home, but I'm not especially disciplined, so when there's an interruption in my routine — kids leaving later than usual, someone home sick, the jarring sound of unauthorized breathing, child sidling in and draping himself across me like a sweaty human Slanket "juuuust to get a liiiiittle bit closer" — I struggle to recover lost focus and time. As a hardcore introvert, I need time to recharge alone, but that's been impossible; in these last five days without preschool, Ben has easily found every hiding place I know, which can mean only one thing: preschoolers can, in fact, smell fear.
I can't work well. I can't unwind. And forget about time with Paul. There is always someone around. I'm finding this all very stressful. It's bad enough that I struggle to get my job done, and that I've developed an elaborate series of tics that throws me into a spastic macarena every time I hear Ben call, "Maaaaaaamaaaaaaa." And forget an amicable nooner with my also-work-at-home husband — even a midnighter's tough knowing Charlie's lying there awake. All discouraging, no doubt, but what's bothering me most just now is this: There are two unwatched episodes of Breaking Bad on my DVR, and if these fantastic kids, these impossible miracles, these drippy little hearts walking around outside my body don't go to school soon, how will I find out once and for all whether making meth is wrong?
Tomorrow they'll both be off. I'll send them out in style, wearing matching shirts and shy smiles, holding up cute signs, backpacks slung on skinny shoulders; I'll snap an unforgettable picture or two, and I may even get a little teary as I reflect on how far they've come and yet how small they sti — Oh, come on, people: save that shit for Pinterest. Not me. No, I'm going to work all morning, possibly shag my husband, and then spend two whole hours watching TV about drugs, betrayal, arrogance, the corrosive power of thwarted genius, the fallibility of the human soul, and — wait, I know! — man's inhumanity to man (but mostly drugs), and I'm going to watch it loud so I don't miss a single swear. Maybe first, though, I'll go buy a cactus. You know, in case I get lonely.