One expects a certain amount of nighttime tumult from an infant, but a three-year-old can supply you with a considerable amount of sleep deprivation as well. The difference is that the older child should be able to explain his trouble to you. He should be able to, but he can’t.
Your three-year-old is half asleep when he presents you with his nighttime calamity. He knows he’s out of bed and crying, but he can’t really explain why. He can’t choose words very well in his semi-slumber. Also, he doesn’t have the first clue as to why he is crying.
Yes, he may know that he wants a drink of water. But when it comes down to why he is crying about it, he is just as much in the dark as you are. Maybe it’s that things always seem more dramatic with the lights out. Why do you groan so much more about having to get him a drink at 3 a.m. than at 3 p.m.?
It’s not worth asking him why he’s crying. The only thing he can tell you is that he doesn’t know. But since he is crying, and half asleep, it comes out in that spine-jabbing whine, “I-I-I-I do-o-o-on’t kno-o-o-ow.” Save yourself the cringe and just give the kid his water. You can investigate why it was a life-or-death situation at first light.
There are nights, sad to say, when you must try to communicate with the child. The other night, my son came to ask for water because his mouth hurt. I assumed he meant that his mouth was dry so I helped him get a drink. I was already mentally back in bed, when he started crying and said his mouth still hurt.
I asked him why his mouth hurt. He said he’d hurt it with his spoon when he had eaten some yogurt.
Aside: Imagine the Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan scene where Captain Kirk clenches his fists, looks up, and yells, “Khaaaaaan!” Only, it’s me clenching my fists, looking at the bathroom ceiling, and yelling, “Yooooo-guuuuurt!” Yogurt seems to be on course to become the bane of my existence. That night, the problem yogurt was not the one the boy begged me to buy and then wouldn’t eat, it was the one that both vexes and addicts his mother.
“I want you to get it out of my mouth,” he said between sobs.
“Get what out of your mouth?”
“Is there something in your mouth that doesn’t belong there?”
“What is it?”
“What do you expect me to do about that?”
“Get it out.”
I got my flashlight. I really just wanted to dump him back into bed, but the delinquent parent headlines were already nagging me:
Yogurt Shard Lodges In Toddler’s Throat After Parent Ignores Child’s Plea
Doctors Forced to Amputate Yogurt Boy’s Uvula
Officials Say Yogurt Tragedy Completely Avoidable
I mean, what if there really were something lodged in his mouth – something that didn’t seem worth mentioning to me when I’d brushed his teeth and put him to bed many hours ago?
I shined my light. His mouth was pink and perfect. Nothing was in there that shouldn’t have been, except a bright light at 3 a.m.
“Can you get it out?” he sobbed.
“There’s nothing in there. What do you want me to get out?”
I can only assume that hurt-stain is a concept manufactured by a sleepy and distressed preschool consciousness. If you know what it is, please tell me. And then let me know if it should be hyphenated; I like to represent these ideas accurately.
I may not know exactly what a hurt-stain is, but I do know what it means to me. It means it’s time for everybody to get back into bed and sleep off whatever ails them.
The next day, when people at work commented that I looked very tired, I told them I just had a little hurt-stain on my eyelids. They said no more about it.