Last Sunday—a week ago now; perhaps the trauma has kept me from posting this confession?—was a bad day for me and Martin. The fault was mine.
Looking back, I suppose the stage was set on Saturday.
No, wait. It was Friday. The bad day that was last Sunday actually began on Friday.
Samara put Martin to bed Friday evening, 7:00 pm, without incident. Adrian was traveling, and I was dining with friends who’ve recently relocated to New York. I’ll call them, à la Martin, “Uncle Donny” and “Uncle Brian.”
I arrived home around 11:00 pm Friday, hoping for a good night’s sleep. With Adrian out of town, I’d made plans for a day trip on Saturday; Uncle Donny and Uncle Brian were to accompany me and Martin to Stuart Family Farms and then to lunch in Connecticut. At midnight I snuck into Martin’s room for a detox therapy, managed it without waking him, and dozed off in my bed.
I slept a pleasant hour before the night tanked. Martin woke at 1:40 am and could not close his eyes again until 6:00 am. At 8:00 am I did detox therapy again, almost hoping to wake him. We had planned to leave at 9:00 am for Connecticut; that hour passed with only snores from Martin. I decided to pack a breakfast and most of Martin’s morning supplement routine in a to-go cooler, along with the lunch I’d assembled Friday. At 9:30 I called Uncle Brian and declared that, come hell or high water, Martin and I would be on the road in 20 minutes. Then I woke and dressed Martin, pushed the most crucial morning supplements into his mouth, and hustled him to the car.
Would that be the dawn of the worst day ever? Hardly. There’s a pattern I’ve noticed: When Martin has a bad night—and in all honesty, we’ve seen a lot of bad nights lately, more than we used to—the next day does not reflect his sleeplessness. He’ll be drowsy, maybe mellower than usual, but sharp and agreeable.
And so it was on Saturday. Uncle Donny sat next to Martin’s car seat and helped Martin devour the to-go breakfast and supplements, which Martin gamely accepted. En route to Bridgewater Martin chatted; at the farm he delighted in chickens and pretended to water some grass; at the lunchtime diner he played quietly in our booth, then accompanied Uncle Donny to check out the fish tank.
Predictably, though, on the way home he fell asleep for almost an hour. From clapping to singing to insisting we’d soon hit the RFK Bridge (his favorite), nothing would rouse him. And an hour’s nap in the car makes bedtime a nightmare, so that instead of sleeping at 7:00-ish, Martin needed until 9:30 pm to doze off. And a late bedtime invariably prompts an early wake-up, so that instead of achieving his preferred eleven-and-a-half-to-twelve hours, Martin sprang up at 6:30 am, after just nine hours.
And then there’s the fact that, no matter what, Martin’s second day after a sleepless night is worse than the first. Martin didn’t sleep Friday night. Sunday was bound to suck.
We were late for church. Despite being up since 6:30 am, somehow we couldn’t get out the door before 11:00 am. (“Somehow” in this context means, roughly, “Martin refused to eat breakfast, dawdled with his supplements, cried for half an hour, seized dirty silverware from the dishwasher, and complained when I tried to shower.”) Martin threw a minor after-service tantrum when it was time to quit fooling around with the piano, and again when I made him sit on the potty. I didn’t leave the church feeling spiritual. I left feeling exasperated. Possibly murderous.
When our afternoon plan, hanging at the playground with a friend, fell through, I decided to call it quits and head home. I figured Martin could enjoy quiet activities and I could get some housework done.
Therein lay my error. We were home by 1:30 pm. Between our arrival and Martin’s bedtime, 6:30 pm, spanned five hours. Five hours, I soon discovered, is more than adequate time for a three-year-old to suffer extreme cabin fever and then, compounded by his sleeplessness, to morph into a fiend. By evening Martin had dumped toys twelve feet from our second-floor loft space, emptied the cats’ water fountain onto the hardwood floor, opened the valve on our Berkey countertop purifier to flood the kitchen, unfurled half a roll of toilet paper into the toilet, climbed the cat tree, refused to complete even a single HANDLE or RDI exercise, and pitched multiple crying fits.
Amidst this naughtiness Martin was also attacked by autism symptoms, the kind we used to see constantly but that now strike only at tired, stressful moments. He ran back and forth. He lost coordination and eye contact. He repeated my words, if they provoked any response at all.
I found myself—and this is not easy to admit—in the most deplorable parental state I know: counting the minutes until Martin’s bedtime, and annoyed by behaviors I know he cannot control.
It was not a satisfying day for either of us. Martin was frustrated by boredom and fatigue, and I by my hapless responses to his conduct. I spent the afternoon saying no!, enforcing time-outs, and wanting to ostrich my head.
Martin slept well Sunday night. I planned an after-school activity for Monday, and by Tuesday we were back on track.
But the memory of Sunday haunted me, and so I assembled a list of lessons learned. I must prepare for days when I know sleeplessness will be a problem. Preparation means a plan, and a back-up plan, and a last-ditch plan. If I wouldn’t expect Martin to spend an afternoon doing nothing on a good day, I’m a fool to expect it on a bad day. When I saw his behavior hitting bottom, I should have cut my losses, taken him out of the house, and headed for the nearest playground. Or at least in his stroller for a walk. Maybe for a green juice at the organic restaurant, or any treat. I cannot let my own fatigue ruin a precious afternoon with my son.
The bad day was my bad. I own it. I’m grateful that there’s always tomorrow.