The Good Kind of Sleeplessness

I’m drafting only a short post this evening.

I’m tired, you see.

I’m tired because I didn’t sleep well last night. I lay in bed awake for several hours, until 2:00 a.m. I woke when Martin clambered into my and Adrian’s bed, around 8:00 a.m.

Here’s the thing: Martin didn’t keep me up until 2:00 a.m. He didn’t wake at midnight and rustle for hours while I hovered nearby, iPad in hand. Nor was I anxious, thinking that he’d be up as soon as I closed my eyes, or pondering his future.

Incredibly, I wasn’t able to doze off because I wasn’t tired. Each of the previous several nights, I enjoyed eight or more hours’ sleep. My body, apparently, felt sprightly enough to play a few additional games of on-line Scrabble and then gaze two hours at a near-full moon.

Since Martin’s ASD diagnosis almost two years ago, and even before that (from age 14 months on, he had sleep troubles), and even on vacation (I worry a lot), I cannot recall a single night when sleep eluded me because I wasn’t tired. Between 16-hour days managing Martin’s recovery process, and worrying about whether we’ll succeed, and sitting up with him, I function in a state of permanent exhaustion, punctuated only by degrees. Most nights, I lose consciousness before I finish a 30-second prayer. The remaining nights, anxiety so clogs my mind that I give up trying to sleep and wander the apartment “getting things done” throughout the night.

We’re on vacation this week, in a rented seaside house that compels relaxation. Martin has been sleeping well. My mother-in-law is traveling with us; she wakes with Martin each morning and washes and dresses him before releasing him to me and Adrian. Despite the crap summer we’ve been having, I am sleeping.

I’m off to sleep more now.

Bad Day. My Bad

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.

The Tap

I’m middle-of-the-night posting again, via iPad from a chair in Martin’s room. He’s been up for three hours, since 1:00 a.m. I just fed him hazelnut butter on three-seed crackers (my mother makes these with her sunflour blend), in case he’s hungry, and also had him swallow a charcoal tablet, because he’s goofy and demonstrating detox symptoms.

Past middle-of-the-night posting events have sometimes reeked of aggravation and exhaustion. Not so much tonight. Sure I’m unhappy that I accomplished only 90 minutes’ sleep before Martin busted into our bedroom. Nevertheless, this marks the first bad night we’ve experienced since January 15, and only the second bad night since before the holidays. Because I’m not working anymore, I can deliver Martin to school whenever he wakes and has breakfast, then nap until I need to pick him up.

And there are two more mitigating factors. First, I think I can point to a cause of Martin’s nocturnal festivities: We just finished week two of a six-week herbal protocol designed to drive pathogens from his body, and it’s clearly working. His legs have a rash from secreting what his body does not need, and he is making daily progress in overcoming his ASD symptoms. Second—did I just mention this? —he’s doing really well. He is socializing regularly with his classmates and with a neighborhood friend; almost daily we get a report from his teacher detailing some new achievement; and even language (one of two great weaknesses remaining for Martin, along with joint attention in group settings) shows tiny movements in the right direction.

So instead of describing my aggravation or exhaustion (fascinating topics), I will middle-of-the-the-night post about our latest miracle.

Two nights ago, while Martin was eating dinner, I snuck up behind him and tapped his right shoulder.

Martin, in response, turned to look at me.

Ten minutes later, I tried the same exercise again. And Martin turned to look at me again.

Doesn’t sound monumental? Well, he’s never done it before. I suppose he just didn’t have the body awareness, or the consciousness of others and his surroundings, to sense a shoulder tap and realize that it had meaning. Now, apparently, he does.

I tapped his shoulder again at breakfast yesterday morning. No response. But at dinner tonight, I shifted from right shoulder to left and back again, tap-tap-tapping, and each time Martin craned his little neck to investigate. Good enough for me. Right now I don’t require absolute consistency, just evidence that Martin does possess the ability to engage in these neurotypical behaviors.

At Yale University, I’ve heard, undergraduates are invited to join exclusive secret societies via a “tap.” The chosen few are “tapped.”

I’m uncertain whether that means a literal tap on the shoulder. In any case, the events of these past couple days have made me confident that—should Martin choose to attend Yale, and then be selected for secret-society membership—he’ll be ready to respond to that tap.