A Bed to Sleep On


Yesterday turned out to be achingly sad—and as always, in ways I could neither anticipate nor prepare for. María had it rough at school. Again. Part of the problem is the school’s plan for managing her behavior. Despite our best efforts to share what we know works for her, there is an astounding amount of condescension toward her behavior support team from ARC/BARC and us. There’s also the fact that a couple of weeks ago, it was announced that Sunset is closing. Won’t even bother to go into the details of that whole drama, but faculty, staff and students are up in arms and my daughter feasts on drama. The reasons go on. But the bottom line was the same. We couldn’t see her. She spent time in isolation time out. The chaos that is so addictive and so toxic to her won the day.

I thought it fortunate that we had some work to do around the house that would keep me busy–that is, until it became its own archeological dig that reached way down deep to the places of pain I try to forget about. If this were a movie, the scene would shimmer and fade and we would find ourselves standing in María’s room in 2001. When she first arrived, I had fixed up the brass bed I slept in as a little girl. It was funny and winsome, and represented all those hopes and illusions mediated to a person like me about bringing home a daughter. It didn’t take long to realize that arrangement would just not work. María hated sleeping alone and I was still operating from the school that says puppies and children are allowed to cry themselves to sleep because that’s the only way to train them to do right. A very Nordic approach, that. In psychological parlance, this is called “allowing a child to learn how to self-soothe”. It made sense. But it was totally wrong for our child.

The next attempt was to bring the twin mattress from her bed into our room. During the day, we’d slide it under Sherod’s and my bed. At night it would come out and María would sleep at the foot of our bed. That only worked for a short time. Desperate for sleep, beginning to understand the enormity of the shadows we were moving under, we disassembled the bed that Sherod and I had shared since early in our marriage, a bed I simply loved. We got a frame and a decent king sized mattress and box springs. It was utilitarian but it gave María room to sleep with us.

I was horrified to watch myself allow that to happen. But night after night, in those first months, I would wake up to find this tiny little waif of a girl lying on top of me, clinging to me, even in her sleep, like her life depended on it. Over time, she learned to sleep in the middle and Sherod and I simply accepted the reality that this was the only thing that worked. In fact, a couple of her therapists along the way were complimentary of our willingness to do this for her. Occasionally, we’d try to move her out. We took down my childhood bed and set up our bed, the one I loved, instead. It is a four poster and we strung little twinkling lights on the canopy frame. Her room looked magical at night and for a while it worked. Until it didn’t and she was back in bed with us.

Finally, in 2009, when Carol E. came into our life, we had the help we needed to break out of this pattern. But to get her in her room took purchasing yet another bed, this one a loft bed that she called her “Condo”. This time the move was permanent. Then in late 2010, when her behavior was actually as good as it had ever been and we were able to remove her timeout isolation space from her room, she asked to get the four poster bed back. One more bed was disassembled, the other rearranged. In the days and months after she moved to BARC, I would go by her room, or even sit in the room, grieving. The empty bed was a reminder of such enormous losses, for Sherod, for María, for me. Back when we first took that bed apart and put it away to make room for our girl, we lost so much.

A few weeks ago Sherod and I started talking about moving our old bed back into our room. As things worked out, we were getting a new mattress set today and we had to get the bed moved back into our room yesterday evening. A lot has changed since that was Sherod’s and my bed. I remember when we bought it. Sherod was always incredibly competent at guy kind of things. I think I pretty much got in his way, twittering and tweeting all around him as he put the bed together in Memphis all those years ago. When the bed was finally made, I dove into it and lay looking up at the ceiling, grinning from ear to ear.

Last night, I had to do a really big chunk of the work. Sherod’s back hurt too much for him to do the things I would always have expected of him. There was some small satisfaction in knowing that I could step in, but, really? I wanted to push back time. It was late and what we had was a job to do. Yes, there were some new sheets and our beloved bed was back, but there was also the ache that it was María’s “Gotcha Day” and we had not seen her. I couldn’t stop thinking that time passes, our bodies become frail, the limits of what we are capable of stares back unblinking, even with a relatively simple task like this. I kept it all together until the very end. We had been keeping the loft-bed mattress under the four-poster in María room. I pulled it into our room and got ready to shove it back under the bed. In an eyeblink, I had gone back in time—the motions, the light, everything was almost identical to what it would have been like getting María ready for bed 12 years ago. I finally slumped down on the floor and just wept.

It is the truth of grace for me that there is always, always that paradox of harshness and breath-taking tenderness in moments like this. Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, I woke up and the man who I have loved just about all my adult life was lying right next to me, his warmth my warmth. In the king sized bed, in the time when we were struggling so hard to do right by María, I often felt so lost from him. Last night, he was right there. I could cling to him, like I needed to, until I fell asleep again.

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