I don’t know if you’ve ever considered this or not, but one of the first major rites of passage in every kid’s life is the graduation from the baby bed to the big kid’s bed. In fact, if you’re not a parent, you probably haven’t even really thought about it. At least not since you were a kid, and if you’re like almost everyone else I know you don’t remember how big of a deal it was.
Try and imagine what it must be like to be two years old and still sleeping in a baby bed. By this time, you’re aware that the world does not end at the edge of your line of sight. There are many amazing and wonderful things on the other side of that bedroom wall, just waiting for you to come and discover them and for heaven’s sake play with them. You have recently, to the great applause and admiration of all who gaze upon you, discovered the secrets of equilibrium and propulsion, and harnessed the power of your legs. You can climb, you can crawl, you can even walk. Sort of.
And yet here you are, trapped behind bars. The whole world just out of reach. They’re still expecting you to find fulfillment in wind-up lullabyes and of all things, a mobile hanging just over you and which by this time is missing at least one of the dangly pieces! You’ve spent your whole life lying on your back staring at this thing, and now that you know there’s more to life than flying shapes at your fingertips, you want to get out, see the world, expand your horizons!
When the day came for Josh, we went all out. I went to the store and bought a giant, fun, colorful, exciting Race Car Bed. I brought it home and put it together while he was kept preoccupied with other things. This was the bed I had longed for as a kid. It was full sized – grown up sized, mind you – and just teeming with excitement and energy. It had big sides and beautiful curves. It looked like it could just speed away at any given moment.
When the moment finally arrived and Josh got to try out his new bed, I realized what a huge deal it was. Somehow it was this event, more than any other, that marked the passage from being a baby to being a kid. This was more than just a place to sleep. It was a place to play. A place of refuge. This was different than being put into someone else’s prison of a baby bed – this was his own place, that he could get into and out of at will. A place of freedom. A big kid’s bed.
Of course, this new freedom changed some other dynamics as well. No longer could we put Josh to bed and walk away knowing that he was safe from falling out or getting up and getting into things. Before, we could put him to bed and then set our internal sensors for the sound of crying. Now we had to listen for footsteps, for toys, for doors or any other sound that shouldn’t be coming from a peacefully slumbering boy. As it turns out, freedom comes with some pretty big temptations. When you’re not really tired, and you know that all of your stuff is just right over there…it’s a lot to ask of a kid to just close his eyes and ignore it.
As a parent, you want him to enjoy his new bed and so you give him some time to adjust. But you also know that he needs to sleep so that he can grow and be healthy and not be crabby all day long (which doesn’t sit so well with the grandparents). And so before too long comes the institution of bedtime, and new bedtime rules like ‘it’s not play time anymore,’ and ‘When you get into your bed you need to stay in your bed,’ and ‘if I have to come back here again and tell you to go to sleep you’re going to get in trouble!’ All things which seem totally unreasonable and make absolutely no sense to a big kid in a big kid’s bed.
Finally, he settled into it. Things were going well. I would tuck him in and we’d tell stories and say prayers and then a goodnight kiss and then lights out. Usually he would stay awake for a while, telling his own stories and singing and easing himself into sleep. Sometimes I would stand just outside the door and listen to his stories while my heart danced. Every now and then I’d have to remind him that it was time to go to sleep. All in all, it was going well.
And then one night, well after bedtime, I was sitting on the couch watching tv and started to hear strange noises. Shuffle shuffle shuffle. Thump. Giggle. Silence. Shuffle shuffle shuffle. Thump. Giggle. Silence. This went on for quite a while. Hmm, curious.
“Josh, go to sleep, buddy!” followed by silence for a while. Then shuffle shuffle shuffle. Thump. Giggle. Silence. Shuffle shuffle shuffle. Thump. Giggle. Silence. And now I’m really curious. Really, really curious. Quiet as a whisper, I move down the hall to find out what’s going on. Shuffle shuffle shuffle. Thump. Giggle. silence. I peek around the corner.
Shuffle shuffle shuffle. He is standing on the side of the bed, back to the wall, moving carefully to the head of the bed as though he’s on the ledge of a forty story building. Once he’s in postion at the head of the bed, he pauses and then Thump! He leaps into the air, arms out and lands on the nice big mattress. Giggle. Silence. He is waiting to see if I have heard him. Little does he know that the Amazing Dad knows all and sees all. He begins the maneuver again, climbing onto the side of the bed with his back to the wall. Shuffle shuffle shuffle. He stops at the head of the bed, and I realize that each time he’s pausing ever so slightly to see if he’s been heard or not. This is a smart kid. He knows he’s supposed to be sleeping, and that this is a risk. But he’s got his freedom, and it’s a risk he’s willing to take. And just as he’s about to make his jump, I step into the room and flick on the light, freezing him. He stares at me for about a second, standing at the head of the bed, his back to the wall. The gears are turning. What will happen next?
“I love you, Daddy!” he says, with his sweetest smile and biggest eyes.
And standing there, having caught him in the act, I still know that he means it with all of his heart. And so I pick him up and hug him, and put our faces right together, eye to eye, forehead to forehead and say “I know you do, buddy, but right now it’s bedtime,” and he looks at me, knowing very well that he should be in trouble, and then hugs me back and lays down and kisses me again. And very soon he is sound asleep in his big kid’s bed.