Thursday, October 27, 2011


"How blessed are some people, whose lives have no fears, no dreads, to whom sleep is a blessing that comes nightly, and brings nothing but sweet dreams." - Bram Stoker, Dracula

For two weeks and two days, I hadn't slept in the same bed as my husband. For sixteen nights, sleeping in my own room was not an option. It had nothing to do with the state of our marriage, but rather the very unique situation of living with a 26-year-old intellectually disabled son who was afraid to sleep in his own bedroom. I had no earthly idea why. Nor did I know what to do about it.
The first night, Ken was away on business and I thought Cliff had simply had a bad dream or perhaps missed his dad. So I allowed him to stay with me and he drifted off nightmare-free. But the next night, he refused to leave my room. My tired husband, arriving home at 2 a.m., observed the kid in the bed and resignedly made his way to the couch downstairs.
Each night after that brought its own set of challenges, none of which led to an end to the standoff. At first, Cliff would not even go near his room. Coming out of the bathroom after brushing his teeth, his body turned left instead of right. It walked him right into my room, no matter what I said. We were firm. ("Cliff, it's time to sleep in your room tonight.") We threatened. (Mommy is going to be mad if you don't sleep in your own bed!") We pleaded and cajoled. ("Could you please, please just try to stay in your room?") He would give me a baleful look, eyebrows furrowed, at once sweet and stubborn. Bedtime had become a battle, and I suddenly seemed to have a 5-foot toddler. His "No!" answer to every, single, solitary thing I said had the tone of someone who was responding to a request to eat an earthworm. Sometimes I said nothing, using sign language (Time. Bed. Sleep.) with the same results.
One night, about a week after the standoff started, he agreed to go into his room. He sat on the bed, his eyes darting fearfully around the room. Undaunted, I started out softly speaking about sweet dreams and how everyone has to sleep in his own bed and boy,oh boy, mommy missed her bed and (as he slowly began scooting off the bed) Hey, where are you GOING? THIS IS RIDICULOUS, CLIFF! YOU'RE 26 YEARS OLD! DO YOU SEE MAX OR OLIVIA SLEEPING IN MOMMY AND DADDY'S ROOM FOR GOD'S SAKE?" He looked at me, temporarily suspending his progress and gave a frustrated huff.  Sighing, I decided to lie down at the foot of the bed, hoping he'd drift off and remember how wonderful sleeping in his own room could be. Instead, I drifted off and before I knew it the scooting was complete and he was off and running.
At the core of this new and concerning behavior was fear.  Knowing this, I wanted desperately to understand his refusal to go to bed in the room he's had to himself for the last 12 years. I was frustrated to be sure, but imagine how frustrated he was! Imagine having the language but not the speech to say what you are thinking! While I understand his thinking most of the time, other times he's like a lidded box with a padlock and I don't have the key.
This isn't the first time his behavior has defied explanation. When he was 18 or 19, he refused to eat solid food. He would push his plate away and leave the table. The dentist found no cavity or mouth sore. The doctor was stymied. For three months, Cliff would eat only soft foods and liquids. Then one day, he simply started eating normally. Damned if I know why.
More recently was the phase during which he couldn't walk unaided, always taking someone's arm to walk across a room or across the driveway to get onto his van. At Special Olympics, the only way he would run his practice races was by holding onto my arm or the hand of one of the coaches. His fear of what I assumed was one of falling, prompted a trip to the eye doctor. Peripheral vision failure? Then we were off to the podiatrist for an evaluation of his feet and gait. All checked out fine.  After a year and a half, whatever fear he was grappling with gradually dissipated until he was walking, jumping, running without hesitation.
So, I had resigned myself to sleeping in Cliff's room, pinning my hopes, based on his history, on this too being a phase; we just had to wait it out. There are worse things, I suppose, than having a comfortable bed all to myself.
Then, one night, after Cliff had gotten settled in my room and had dozed off, I went downstairs for awhile. (A glass of my favorite cabernet had become one of my coping mechanisms.) When I came up an hour later, I found Cliff in his room, asleep.
And just like that, with no explanation and after 16 puzzling nights, my son had decided it was time to sleep in his own room again. In the morning, he awakened to see me standing there. We smiled at each other and I sang a silly song. All was, once again, right with the world.
This is life with Cliff. Puzzling, and at times frustrating. Ken likes to call Cliff a mystery wrapped in an enigma. What can I say? Cliff's a quirky guy. This is also life with Cliff: amidst  the odd phases and the stubbornness there exists an exuberance for life, an absolute appreciation for the simple things of the world, a willingness to love deeply and purely without reservation or condition, and always forgiveness of my failures to understand. Love, magnified.