These days it's hard enough to get my son out of bed without calling the paramedics. On any given school day, it takes two parents and a specially prepared set of ropes and pulleys to get him moving. This is what we've come to expect from our teenager: second dinners, and the ability to sleep through an artillery barrage. The need for sleep is pre-eminent, which might explain the blank looks we get at times when we are trying to break the spell that binds him to his various screens.
But that wasn't always the case. Back in the olden days, when he could still be carried about in the crook of one arm as I fumbled for various objects with the other, the need for sleep was squarely on his parents' account. He would wake up in the middle of the night and remain inconsolable for hours at a time. He was not a squalling infant, but he could work up a solid storm of tears when it came time to being convinced that it was time to close our collective eyes and wait for the morning to come.
It was on these dark nights that we walked through the house, looking out windows into the darkness. "All the birds have gone to sleep. All the squirrels too," I would say to him as I pointed out into the void. "All the cars are going home and parking in their garages. The trash trucks won't be moving until the sun comes up again." I was babbling, but I was babbling in the most soothing way I could. I knew that if I showed my desperation that he would immediately sense it and tense up, causing us to continue our pre-dawn meander out into the back yard, where we could look at the stars. I would tell thim that everyone was asleep on all the other planets too, even though I hoped that the thought of extraterrestrial life might not make him even more inconsolable.
And somewhere in there, he would drop off against my shoulder, and I would look off into the shadows of my late night, feeling his deep breaths against my chest. At this point I would slowly negotiate him back into his crib, careful not to make the last few inches onto the mattress be the thing that woke him back up. Then I would stand there, for a minute or two to make sure that sleep had come for him, savoring my comforting powers and thinking about how I might send myself back to slumberland when I found my way back to my own bed.
Today is my son's birthday. He is fourteen, and every so often he has trouble sleeping. The old tricks don't work for us anymore. He's far too clever for that. He knows what "nocturnal" and "insomnia" means. But I like to think that all the hours he spends these days with the covers pulled up over his head are left over from the spell I cast back in the olden days. When we were young.