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Sometimes, sleeping is difficult for my son. I know it all too well


There are moments when I look at my son, Nolan, and I see a not-so-mini version of myself from a time when I too had a thick head of hair and the foot-to-the-accelerator energy of Buddy the Elf running in circles in the revolving door until he tosses his cookies. These are the moments when I wish the apple not only had fallen far from the family tree, but it also had rolled down a hill, landed on a flatbed truck, and ended up three states away.


Take, for example, the fact Nolan can be a tad impatient, especially when he’s hungry – which, as is the case with teenagers, is often. The minute his stomach starts rumbling, he’s letting Cindy and me know via the communication program on his iPad that he wants sustenance – a bowl of soup, a glass of milk, a five-course meal – and he expects it tout suite. I remember being similarly antsy in my much younger years. My mother eventually learned to first accomplish what she needed to in a department store before letting me go where I wanted, lest I immediately grab the object I wanted to purchase and demand to split in the time it takes a NASCAR pit crew to execute a tire change.


(Thankfully, age and maturity have helped me become much more patient. By the way, dear, I know you just got home from work, but have you started dinner yet? I’m starving.).


There also is an insomnia gene buried somewhere deep in the Bey family DNA that I passed on to my son. It first showed up when Nolan was a baby, and before he was diagnosed with Autism when he was 2½ years old. Thankfully the early-morning wakeups and the “I’ll go to sleep when I’m damn good and ready” evenings aren’t as prevalent as they used to be. But the latter always seems to show up at inopportune times – like on a school night, for example.


Nolan went to bed close to 9 p.m. Sunday, but he had zero interest in sleeping even after taking a dose of ZzzQuil and an ample amount of melatonin. He laid in bed and yelled, and yelled, and yelled some more. There were moments of quiet, but just when Cindy and I thought Mister Sandman had vanquished Nolan, a jovial voice broke the silence in a tone that said, “Hey, mom and dad – I’m still going strong!”


I went to bed a little after 10 thinking we’d all be unconscious shortly and on our way toward being rested and ready for a new week. I woke up close to midnight to the sound of a still very much awake son. Even worse, I’d also awakened to a very exhausted and exasperated wife who’d just discovered both our son’s pajamas and bed were soaked because he’d chosen to go to the bathroom there instead of using the toilet.


While Cindy fixed Nolan what I think was his eighth bowl of soup in the last 16 hours, I grabbed a clean set of sheets from the hall closet and prepared his bed for what I knew would be the inevitable crash. And even then, we still could hear Nolan jabbering until about 12:45 when there was finally silence.


I have to admit to being just a bit on the ornery side Monday morning after sleeping about 4½ hours – Nolan’s attempt at an all-nighter followed a 2:50 a.m. wakeup call for us on Saturday – and wondering if Cindy might be open to the idea of investing in tranquilizer darts. But then I started thinking about a young man who, at times from elementary through high school, couldn’t say goodnight and sleep tight once the bedroom light switch was turned off.


Oh, I admit that like any kid, I’d look for excuses to bug my mother and father about getting to stay up just five, 10, 30 more minutes. I just had to know how a particular television show was going to end (“Do you think J.R. and Bobby are going to find their father after his helicopter crashed in South America?”). Or I had a sneaking suspicion that my parents were doing something enjoyable, like maybe savoring a bowl of popcorn after a long day, and gosh, they couldn’t expect their only child to try to sleep when he was still hungry, could they?


But in many instances, it was as though someone had flipped on a neon “OPEN ALL NIGHT!” sign in my brain when I knew I should be getting plenty of shuteye. My bedroom window faced north, and there were many evenings when, long after mom and dad had gone to sleep, I looked up into the sky, stared at the constellations – or if I was really lucky, a light show during a thunderstorm – and thought.


There were always things to think about. The upcoming assignment or test for which I felt woefully unprepared. The girl who was the object of my latest crush. The classroom knucklehead who had been giving me a hard time. The timeless “I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up!” and the ensuing panic because everyone else I knew had likely already charted their course in life. It became easier to fall and stay asleep as I grew older. But even now, there still are evenings when something wakes me up – my bladder, a bad dream, thinking about everything I have to accomplish the next day – and counting the number of sheep in Texas (740,000) can’t put me back under.


Nolan is nonverbal, so he has no way of telling Cindy and me why he was having so much trouble falling asleep Sunday evening. He went back to school last Wednesday after spending a week and a half in COVID exile, and I’m fairly confident that being out of his routine for so long had an adverse effect on him. But that’s only speculation on my part. Maybe he could feel the warm front that was heading toward the upper Midwest. Maybe my multiple reminders Sunday that he would be going to school and music therapy the next day gave him a jolt of adrenaline. Maybe there was another reason he stayed awake so late that I’ll never know.


Sometimes it’s very difficult to be sympathetic to a hyper, wide-awake teenager when tomorrow becomes today and my body and brain are begging me to go into shutdown mode immediately. I want so very badly to diagnose why Nolan can’t or won’t fall asleep and fix what’s ailing him so he can zonk out and wake up the next morning ready to do everything he needs to do. Sometimes that means stuffing his face with a little more food. Sometimes it means giving him additional sleep aides. Sometimes it means both.


But mostly, it means needing to be patient and realizing that sometimes it’s extremely difficult for my son to sleep. If anyone should recognize that, it’s me.

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