By Dave Brewster
Scene 1: Stall Tactics
It's 8:23 p.m. on a cool summer night. I'd like to be in front of the television with the remote in one hand and my beer in the other. Instead, I have confined myself to a chair in my 8-year-old's room waiting for him to sink just deeply enough into sleep that I can slip out without him rousing to the sound of the springs in this squeaky chair or the humid creak of the door hinges.
I can hear the constant chirp of frogs and crickets out the small window over my shoulder. There's a low distant hum of cars on the town's main street half a mile away. But that all pales in comparison to the performance that I witness nightly on the double-bed stage that lies a mere 5 feet before me in the dim glow of a night light.
I've seen this one-man show a thousand times. As the curtain falls, our leading man immediately interrupts with a call for intermission. Despite the fact that I have preemptively announced, "Listen up, boys! If you need to need to go to the bathroom, get a drink, blow your nose, burp, fart or anything else, do it now "cause it's time: Lights out!"
Of course nobody needs anything until I flip the switch, and then I hear it..
"Can I have a drink of water?"
"Seriously?! Didn't I just ... I'm not playing games with you right now. It's time for bed. If you want water, go get it yourself."
After another dawdling trip down the hall, he's back in bed, again. "My legs ache," he complains. "Can you scratch my back?" "I'm hot." "Can I have a snack?" and inevitably, "Will you stay with me?" are just a handful of their predictable stall tactics on the way to La-La Land.
Scene 2: Young and Restless
A general restlessness hangs in the air as our leading man thrashes about under the covers. The pillow is tossed about, the sheets are twisted, and the blanket is already on the floor. He can't get comfortable. His eyes are open. "Close your eyes," I say softly, and he does for a moment. But then the restlessness kicks back in like some sort of mutation of the REM cycle has seeped out one of his optic nerves and infected his entire body with rapid motion twitching, contortions, shifting and wriggling. His eyes are wide again and vacantly stare in the direction of the nightlight. That's when I bring out the big gun: "Do you want a cool cloth?"
As a kid, I would roll a damp facecloth and drape it over my eyes at bedtime. It was the best relief I found during hot, humid summer nights in the sweltering bedroom of the old farmhouse where I grew up. It wasn't much, but at least it felt refreshing as I lay there in the draft from a fan wedged in the open window.
The trick to making a cool cloth is in the execution. First, I grab a fresh dry one from the closet. Can't give 'em one from the bathtub or the one used to wash your face because their little noses are part bloodhound. They can smell the shaving cream or the hint of toothpaste impregnated in the cotton after it's been used to wipe the minty gobs from in and around the sink. I can barely get them to brush their teeth as it is. If I expect this to work, I can't put a toothpaste-laden rag on his face.
Next, wet the cloth with cool water. Don't use cold water because it'll uncomfortably chill those little eyeballs right in their sockets like a couple of odd Jell-O shots.
Finally, wring out the wet cloth real good. It should be damp, not wet. You don't want water dripping down their faces or tickling little ears. Those distractions will be counterproductive. More importantly though, that little nocturnal blindfold isn't going to stay in place very long as he begins to toss and turn through the night and you don't want them to wake up to the feeling of a wet spot on the sheets.
Scene 3: Final Submission
Now I've passed the secret of the Cool Cloth to my boys. It calms them when they are restless. Its medicinal power seems to cure what ails them. As if the hypnotic suggestion of cranial staples has pinned his head to the pillow, he can't move lest it falls off. Laid across his eyes, only his arms and legs remain free to twitch like a bug, but quickly succumb.
It's like pediatric chloroform, effective at subduing the most restless child. Readily available and totally legal, it's the hand's-free attendant for my little ones, and here's the real beauty of this prescription: They can self-medicate. I'm just the dealer.
After I hand him his fix, I just settle into my chair and wait as he skillfully places it over his tiring eyes. His little mind must head on to grand adventures or so I hope while sitting here in the dark corner of his room for another show. "Sleep well, sweet Prince."
Almost on cue I hear the older brother calling "Dad? ... Dad? ... Dad? ..." from the other side of the wall. I slip out this door and peer into the darkness of his room. "Shhhhhhh ... What do you need?"
"I can't sleep."
"OK, well you don't have to sleep. Just close your eyes and relax."
"Can you get me a cool cloth?"
"Yah, OK. You settle down," I say firmly. "I'll hook you up" ...
"Junkies!" I think to myself as I prepare the next fix ...
Performances nightly (like it or not).
Dave Brewster is a stay-home-dad being raised by three young boys in Groton. Find more at adadisborn.com.