Tuesday, February 23, 2010

179 days to Bar Mitzvah: define "sanity"

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different outcome each time, what does it mean if I've been telling the Jawa to quit kicking that chair since 1999? That I'm insane?

It's not exactly the same chair. We got a new kitchen table three years ago. But it is a chair in the same spot, to his right and my left, and for a full decade, at least three times a week during dinner, I tell him to stop kicking the chair. I don't know if that makes me insane, but it is certainly driving me insane.

We do things like this all the time as parents, accepting situations we'd never give into in our "other" life. Would you continue dining with a co-worker who'd been kicking a chair for ten years, despite being told not to approximately (by my count) 1,500 times? How long would it take you to find another dining partner if that same co-worker also repeatedly loaded up his knife with globs of butter the size of Rubik's Cubes, despite being told every single time not to do it. Same action; same outcome. Who's crazy now?

I use these mundane examples to stand in for a phenomenon I felt this afternoon, when a very blase Jawa informed me that he'd gotten to sleep last night at "about one a.m." I hear that and immediately seize up with anxiety. Besides cutting into my very important late night decompression time, his weird aversion to sleep has begun impacting his school performance. More than once over the past month have we heard from teachers, expressing concern at our child's lack of zest in the classroom. "(Insert name of math teacher) told me that he put his head down on his desk today," we heard last week from his school advisor. "When she told him to pick it up, he didn't move."

If there were a way to control this behavior, you'd better believe I'd be doing it. And this is the chilling lesson of this episode: somewhere in the past year or so, we lost the ability to control most aspects of our child's behavior. Sure, every night one of us confronts him when he wanders out of his room at midnight on some bizarre errand -- he forgot to get his book out of his backpack, he suddenly needs to use the bathroom. The kid has the nocturnal habits of a 50 year-old man. When pressed, he offers up the most irrational, poorly-conceived explanations, then gets angry when we don't accept them.

Obviously, we are not approaching this correctly. Standing there browbeating the kid at midnight as he stands there in his boxers impersonating a rational adult doesn't do anything. Again, repeated actions equal repeated results. Which doesn't stop me one bit from lying in bed every night tensed up like a violin string, waiting for him to stroll out into the living room in search of some ghostly object.

These are the times you wish you could just get inside your kid's brain and move a few things around, to allow for more organized, rational thought. At least that's how we see it.

Instead, this; and even though I'm a walking thesaurus, I don't think I can accurately express how powerless it makes me feel. Hi there, son. I am the proud owner of two masters degrees and am known for my incredible powers of rational thinking. Despite this, and despite my greatest -- if somewhat misguided and rash -- efforts, you're going to go on doing whatever it is you've been doing as my voice fades into the background until I sound like Charlie Brown's teacher.

Our latest attempt to crack this increasingly enigmatic nut involves a trip to the doctor. If there's a physical reason why our child chooses to wander around in the middle of the night, we will find it out, though I can't imagine what that would be.

"A teenager who presents with an isolated complaint of insomnia may be found to have simultaneous bedtime resistance, poor sleep hygiene and delayed sleep phase." ("Treatement of Insomnia in Older Children and Adolescents," Timothy F. Hoban, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Michael S. Aldrich Sleep Laboratory)

What on earth is "poor sleep hygiene?"

The trouble with we Lockeian (sp?) thinkers is that we figure that if we stew on something long enough, if we apply enough logic and brain power, we will come up with a solution. The added trouble with we wordy types is that we also figure that all we have to do is keep rearranging the words; eventually, we'll come up with a foolproof method of persuasion. So instead of backing off and watching to see what happens, I keep diving in with a slightly different approach, convinced that this time the sheer power of my logic will overwhelm the hormones running indescriminatarilly rampant through my son's body and he will snap out of his teenage trance. He will come to his senses.

That's why it's so terrifying to realize that we're crossing over into a land where our influence is quickly waning, where time-honored practices, some of which no more carefully considered than a sharp "Because I told you so!" always yield results.

It's now eight o'clock. Three hours ago, my son bounded into our home after grabbing a ride home (without maybe pausing to think, “Gee, my dad said he’d come get me at 5. If I leave with someone else, he might not get the message in time and then arrive at school to find me already gone.”), laid down a few impressive dance moves between the living room and the kitchen, then disappeared into his room with the door closed.

Ten minutes later, I extracted him, put him in the car, and set off to pick up Sandra Bullock from work. By the time we hit the freeway, he was out. He slept all the way to South San Francisco, then drifted in and out until we got to Sears, where he ramped back up to full strength, randomly singing snippets of songs and climbing all over various fitness equipment while we shopped for exercise bikes.

In 90 minutes, our nightly ritual will begin. Hopefully, it will end tonight before midnight. Otherwise, you may see me applying classic 12-step program tenets to the difficult challenge of raising a child, quoting the serenity prayer as I ask a higher power to grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.

We'll start with sleeping. Maybe by high school graduation we can move on to kicking the chair.

1 comment:

Butter Goats said...

This "bedtime resistance" is not new - wasn't it a constant battle to keep him in his big boy bed too?