I’ve been sleeping with my son for about three months or so now, and there have been some nice moments. The night when he whispered “Dad?” and then, before I answered — he had startled me from a deep sleep — he nestled next to me and said, “I love you, Daddy,” was pretty sweet.
Last night, not so much. My slumbering body had created one of those wonderful sleep pools in the blankets, a nest of body heat and comfort and soft exhales, everything just right. When I handed Felix my glass of water — and I always hand him my glass when he awakes thirsty in the middle of the night, being too lazy to step out of bed and grab his small plastic cup on the dresser — I figured I’d turn back over in a minute and be fast asleep again. But no, instead of carefully handing me the glass he sort of tossed it back in this cavalier manner, and before my fingers could find purchase the glass upended between us, soaking the sheets, our pajama bottoms, and both of our blankets. It managed to wet everything, really.
“Jesus!” I said. And then something else, unprintable in the light of day.
Felix flapped his arms for a moment, and let out a cry through tight lips, a sound a cat might make. “I’m sorry, Da-da,” he said, “It was an accident.”
Then the cry came again, and I could feel him trying to hold his upset inside. This is a kid who, though fierce in his independence and often defiant in the face of rules, hates when mommy or daddy become displeased with him. “Are you happy, Da-da?” he’ll ask when I’m tired, or down, or frustrated. “Stop doing that. Be happy!”
So, though it was the middle of the night and I was now wide awake, I didn’t linger on my anger, and instead told him it was ok, just an accident, but now we needed to strip the bed. We did that, and then, thankfully, my wife appeared at the door to help me toss a dry sheet over the matress so that I could settle back down. (This was in her best interest. My first impulse was that Felix and I should jump into bed with her, which would’ve meant no more sleep for anyone, really. We don’t do well in the family bed.)
There are plenty of times when anger feels like an appropriate response to a child’s actions, or part of the appropriate response. You set rules that are clear and correct — no running up to strangers on the playground and pulling their hair, for example — and when those rules are deliberately broken, anger seems a natural part of the response, and one that, if directed properly, adds a certain helpful urgency to how you react.
But there are many other places when your child just makes mistakes. Mistakes that cost you in clean-up and routine. Milk spills all over the dining room table in the middle of dinner. You’re flying a new kite and the string gets irrevocably tangled. You think the day is going to go one way and then— Whoops! — it goes another.
Carelessness plays a factor in these acts. So does bad hand-eye coordination. And not-so-hot judgement. And lack of attention. Maybe even silliness too. All things that are part of our kids just being kids. The personality that wants to run around the house dressed in a spiderman costume and spin somersaults onto the couch is probably also going to make some mistakes because he’s going too fast and not being mindful of where his body is in space. You can’t have the fun enthusiasm without a bit of chaos, really. They’re too sides of the same coin. It’s not deliberateness on the child’s part, these accidental messes and incidental conundrums.
So last night, after we switched out the sheets and everyone was ready to settle back down to bed, I gave Felix a hug. “You ok, kid?” I asked.
“Yeah. I just thought you were going to be mad at me.”
“I was. But it was just an accident. They happen.”
“Yeah. I’m sorry.”
“It’s cool, kid,” I said.
What can a parent do but be patient sometimes? With their child, and with themselves too.