Hamza went to bed first, under protest as usual, clomping up the stairs, followed by his father. He always wants Baba to take him to bed. Lil D was already upstairs, bouncing up and down on his bed, so I figured my husband would take care of his bedtime routine, too.
But Lil D came bounding downstairs into the family room, grabbed a big body pillow, and laid down on the floor. I glanced up at the clock. Only 8:30 p.m. He can have more time to wind down.
Amal and I sat at the dinner table, me with an edge to my voice, pushing her to finish her homework. I hate homework that remains undone after dinnertime. By that time, with dinner, baths, homework, office work, and housework mostly being done, I’m tired and let’s face it – eager for the kids to go to bed. But on Tuesdays, she takes a gymnastics class, so inevitably there is homework remaining, or some quiz to be studied for after dinnertime.
Send up Lil D, my husband called down to me a few minutes later. I popped my head over the sofa and gauged the situation to see if he was ready. Seems ready. Quiet. Head buried in the pillow.
Lil D, its nee-nee time, I told him. (That’s a made-up word, a riff on the Urdu word for sleeping or tired, “neend,” which has stuck since he was a baby.) Come on baby, let’s go.
He got up and docilely went up the stairs with me following him. As he walked up, he glanced back every two stairs with a sly grin on his face. I know what this means. It’s our game. He looked back with that smile, and I came up behind him and grabbed him, tickled him. Then, we got to the top of the stairs, and we wrapped our arms around each other tight. He buried his chin in my neck – this boy’s getting big!
My husband stood in the doorway of Hamza’s room, watching us. I think he wants you tonight, he told to me, as he turned and walked into Hamza’s room, closing the door behind him.
So I did the bedroom routine with Lil D. It started an hour and a half earlier, when he took his evening meds, one of which helps him with sleep. Sleep is a problematic, elusive thing for many autism spectrum disorder children, and we spent many years at the mercy of Lil D’s sleep issues. But for the past few years, with the exception of bad cycles, we have a good sleep routine going.
Bathroom, put pajamas on, washing hands and face, clean the teeth. Then he ran into his room and hopped in bed, cuddling his pillow. I got out his favorite heavy comforter from his closet, draped it over him, put on the noise machine, shut the lights, put on the closet light and left the door open just this much, closed the drapes, and kneeled by his bedside.
Khudahafiz, Lil D. I love you. I always say this to him, at bedtime, kissing him softly. I uttered my litany of silent prayers and quietly left the room, drawing the door shut behind me.
That’s our routine. Shukar Alhumdullilah, (Thanks be to God), this routine has been more or less working for a while now. He gets sleepy, we do the routine, we put him to bed, and he falls asleep by himself. It’s so much better than the years we had to sit with him for hours until he finally drifted off, only for him to wake up at 2, 3, or 4 a.m., ready for the day – sometimes waking up into a meltdown or anxious tears, sometimes waking up with weird laughter, sometimes quietly waking up.
I went back downstairs and finished cleaning up the kitchen and hustled Amal through the rest of her homework. Husband texted me – Hamza’s asleep (yes, we text each other in the house). I texted back – let’s go out after Amal goes to sleep. Need to run an errand. I sent Amal off to bed upstairs with her Baba, and waited downstairs.
Fifteen minutes later – 9:20 p.m. now – I heard cries from Lil D’s room. That was unusual. He is usually asleep before 9 p.m. I heard my husband go in. The cries continued. I grabbed my mug of chai and headed to his room.
It wasn’t a bad meltdown. It was more of the anxious crying, a signal to us that he needed us to stay with him. It’s all about understanding his signals. We’ve, especially me, have spent the better part of our parenting years figuring out Lil D’s cues while pushing him to use his words or an assistive communication device to express his needs (even when we know what they are).
I climbed into bed, positioning myself between him and the wall, and draped my arm over Lil D. Husband was knelt down next to him. We both patted him, and together began humming a little lullaby that we used to sing/hum for all our kids as babies. Lil D’s crying slowly calmed down. His bounces dissipated. He turned his head to me and brought his face close.
I felt his breath on me. His nose touching mine. His body relaxing, allowing my arm to stay over his back – something he generally doesn’t enjoy. We both drifted off to sleep.
A little while later, I woke and looked at him. He was asleep, breathing easy. I eased myself out of bed and went downstairs to join my husband on the couch.
That was weird. Hope everything’s ok. He hasn’t done that in a long time, I said.
I told you, my husband said. He wanted you tonight.