In the last month or so, we’ve noticed a strange and remarkable thing happening in the house. Alphonse has finally learned to sleep alone, away from us.
We’ve always had a family bed, as far as Alphonse was concerned. Alex started sleeping in his own bed around the time Alphonse was born (their age difference is only 19 months) but Alphonse never learned to sleep alone. When he was much younger, he was prone to night time wanderings and the only way we could keep track of him was to keep vigil over him all night. Co-sleeping made a lot of sense; at least, we could all get some shuteye that way.
When he grew older, co-sleeping became part of his calming, comfort routine. He would squeeze in between his dad and me and hold our hands until he would fall asleep. Some days, we would awaken to find him still clutching our hands. No matter how hard we tried to move him to his bed, he would quickly awaken and jump back into our bed. In the end, he claimed that part of the bed- the middle- as his and only his.
We started out in a double (or full-sized) bed, then changed sizes as Alphonse grew up. The double bed then became various queen sizes through the years as he wore them out through his jumping. After a time, we we stopped buying spring mattresses and shifted to made-to-order rubber foam. When he started sprouting in late childhood, we needed to upsize to a king-sized bed. In the last year or so, even the king-sized bed has become too small for the three of us.
It happened, just as suddenly, that over the holidays, Alphonse suddenly started sleeping away from us. Sure, he was still in the same room (we’re firm believers in saving electricity, heehee) but it was such an unexpected change after all those years of co-sleeping. Of course, at the start of his newfound independence, there were nights when he would accidentally awaken, and frightened by the dark, would suddenly jump back into our bed. After a few weeks. though, these episodes became less and less.
Last night, he went to bed at his usual time, and in his own bed. I went to bed two hours later, still engrossed in the eighth Lee Child novel I was reading in the same number of days. At 1:30 in the morning, I was awakened when the lights went on. I rubbed my eyes, still full of sleep, but was jolted wide awake when I saw Alphonse standing by the light switches. He smiled shyly at me and extended one hand, motioning for me to come with him. We went to the bathroom, holding hands, and he nudged me to go first so I could open lights for him. Alphonse, for all his size, is still afraid of the dark. 🙂
He used the toilet and then obediently went back to the bedroom. Inside the room, he seemed momentarily conflicted as he looked at his bed and glanced quickly at mine. When I told him that he should go back to sleep, he went to his own bed, gingerly adjusted the comforter over his body, and closed his eyes. I almost fainted.
I turned off the lights again and went back to my own bed. I strained my ears and listened quietly in the dark. My body tensed at the anticipation of any sudden movement though I might just as well have slept then and there. Fifteen minutes later, his soft snores and the quiet hum of our airconditioning were all I could hear.
We often think that our children, burdened by the many challenges they face in the most affected end of the spectrum, will never grow up. Their growth milestones come so few and far-between that it is easy to assume that they will be children for the rest of their lives.
As parents, we go through extra lengths to give our children all they need to flourish and grow, but too often, we do not give them time. Time, it seems, is what children with autism need the most.
Today gave me a glimpse into a far-away future I could hope for. No matter how slow or few these milestones come, they will come. It may take weeks or months, or as in the case of my son, years even, but when they do, they will surprise, confound, and delight even the most jaded of us all.