Monday, January 11, 2010

Eight months and ten days to Bar Mitzvah: a matter of sleep.

They say that the pre-teen years are challenging. They speak the truth.

Among the many challenges we face as we roll up on eight months and ten days until bar mitzvah is what has evolved as an entirely new nighttime routine. It's shaken my world to its foundation.

Some background first: I am and have always been a night time guy. In college, I took a nine o' clock class once. I attended sporadically and received for my efforts my usual grade, a gentleman's C.

There was a period in 1990 when I stopped paying attention to the time constraints of normal adult life. I was working at a comedy club and didn't have to be anywhere before five p.m. Each night I went to bed later and later. Eventually, it got to the point where I would hear the pre-dawn birds chirping before finally going to sleep. Even when I was a high school teacher, I managed to get an open first period. I would roll into school at around 8:45, dodging jogging gym classes as I pulled into the parking lot.

The wife knows this. She doesn't sympathize, as she is cheerfully awake each morning at 6 a.m., but she at least pretends to understand. She indulges me, and has now for almost 20 years. After a short stretch of demanding I wake up early with the baby, too, she backed off. I now enjoy post-adolescent-style Saturday and Sunday mornings, waking up at 9, 9:30, blissfully ignorant of whatever my wife and child have been doing for the past two or three hours.

It did backfire on me one morning. I awoke at 10 on a Sunday to find that my bride, the ever-vigilant Sandra Bullock, had dismantled the downstairs bathroom while I slept. She did this in her pajamas and slippers. I found her down there, surrounded by drywall shards, the bathroom's cheap plastic shower liner in tatters.

Later -- too late, in fact -- we learned that it would be foolish to do the downstairs bathroom before doing the upstairs bathroom. So it sits. Years later it is still eerily unfinished, shunned by all who visit, nicknamed "the skeleton bathroom" by my older sister.

And it was all working out fine until this week, when our 12-year-old prepubescent Jawa suddenly decided that he, too, was a night owl.

I loved my late nights alone. I'd sit and watch TV, or surf the web, standing silent watch as my loved ones slept. Some nights I'd lie on the living room floor and do crossword puzzles while quietly listening to music on my ipod. It was an unwritten contract and everyone was on board.

Until this week. The Jawa, who'd been pushing and prodding for a later bedtime, suddenly became unable to fall asleep before midnight. Six out of seven nights, rather than wind down with a late night beer, a crossword puzzle, a post-prime time airing of "Coal Miner's Daughter," instead I spent doing silent battle with my child.

Insomnia is a loner's business. At its best, it is a self-contained state. You are silently alone, unwittingly given a key to a nighttime world of shadows and Sportscenter re-showings.

What you don't do is spend four hours walking into your parents bedroom, suddenly needing to use the bathroom, fretting about a picture of a guy wearing a scary mask you saw on someone's phone, suddenly calling out things like, "Dad? Are you still awake?"

We are San Franciscans and we live in a very small house. The Jawa's bedroom is adjacent to ours. We sleep with the doors open, which suddenly seems like a bad idea.

Today, I took the child aside. "Look," I told him. "If you're determined to be a late night guy, there's something you should know."

"What's that?" he said, half-listening, half being the sum total of attention available when you'd really rather be playing DJ Hero.

"I'd rather you went to bed early, but if you're going to stay up late, you've got to understand that it's a solo act. No supporting roles are necessary."


"Stop calling out to me every half-hour. It's driving me crazy."

I think this is a big step and an important line of demarcation. Insomnia is a big boy's game. You stay up late clinging to the safety net of your parents, everyone ends up miserable. These mornings, let me tell you, have not been pretty. Everyone wakes up angry, except for Sandra Bullock, whose DNA doesn't not allow her to feel anger or pain before sundown.

I suppose I should be proud, and I'll admit to a little twinge when he slept until ten on Sunday, after the big Bar Mitzvah kept him up until one a.m. Still, I'll never stop missing my midnight quiet time.

On Mondays at Brandeis Hillel Day School, the seventh-graders all get together and relive the past weekend's Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Today, the Jawa reported, the consensus was that Josh K.'s was "the best Bar Mitzvah so far." Was this because of K.'s expert grasp of the Hebrew language? His heartfelt speech, which included several exhortations to seek progressive solutions to the world's problems? His mother's overtime work to procure Patrick the DJ, whose reputation is among the city's finest?

No. It was the food. "This was the first Bar Mitzvah that had kids' food," explained the patient Jawa. "Even the appetizers. They had kid-friendly appetizers: chicken strips." By the time August 21 gets here, we will have spent thousands of man-hours planning our Bar Mitzvah. Note to self: chicken strips.

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