Why Do I Have To Go To Bed Now?
M loves to sleep. I joke about her being born asleep. She needed some persuading to leave my womb, and when she did, she announced her arrival with a few seconds of a piercing cry. Put beside me, she looked straight at me with those huge black eyes, and went to sleep.
I spent most of my pregnancy reading books on newborn babies, and I was a voracious reader. I knew that a newborn baby would wake up several times during the night. They were hungry. They needed their diapers changed. And my biggest fear was they had no reason other than needing to cry endlessly. I was very well prepared. I knew exactly what to do. After all, I had read what the experts had to say, American, British and Japanese experts.
M came home, and she slept through the night! I would breastfeed her while watching the nine o’clock news, Asahi Television’s News Station with Hiroshi Kume. I would put her in her crib at ten, and I would climb into bed myself.
We lived in a two-bedroom apartment in Matsudo, Chiba, and to save on the heating bill, M’s crib was in our bedroom. And it was a small bedroom. Her crib was a couple of steps from my side of the bed. The slightest whimper, and she would be in my arms in a matter of seconds. But M slept from ten at night to four in the morning. Every single day.
At four, I would breastfeed her, change her diaper, and she would go back to sleep. Until ten in the morning. And I would be having my morning tea, and reading the papers while breastfeeding her. The books never said anything about a newborn baby giving you quiet and peaceful days.
M loved to sleep. When we moved to New York City, I was warned about the difficulty of making a child go to sleep during the summers when it was still daylight at eight in the evening. But M slept from seven to seven, winter or summer.
M went to bed when I told her it was time. Until one day in fifth grade. By then, we were back in Tokyo, and she was attending the American School in Japan. M got hooked on Japanese television dramas, the so-called trendy drama. And I encouraged the addiction because it was a connection to the Japanese language. The only problem was that the trendy dramas started at 9 or 10. And she also wanted to read before going to bed. And she wanted to read until she finished the book. And she wanted to go to bed when she felt like she was ready, and not when mommy told her.
M: Do I have to go to bed now?
Mommy: Yes, you do because you have school tomorrow.
M: Why can’t I stay up as late as I want to? Just like the adults.
Mommy: Because you are not an adult, and you need nine or ten hours of sleep. And you will not be able to get out of bed in time for school.
M: Yes, I can. I will jump out of bed as soon as you wake me up. I can do it.
It was late, and I was tired. And I wanted to tell her that she should go to bed when I said so because I am Mother. But I promised myself that I was never going to do that. I was always going to be patient, and reason things out with her. The temptation to blurt out, “Just do as you’re told,” was enormous.
Mommy: All right, do as you please. But if you can’t get up when I come to wake you, and you are late for school, I will not be writing an excuse letter. You will have to deal with Mr. Murphy yourself.
I was amazed at what I said!
M: You promise to wake me up?
Mommy: Yes, I do, but I am not going to do anything different. I am not going to rock you awake.
M: You won’t need to. I will be up.
And so, M was elated. She got to watch two trendy dramas, read as much as she wanted, and enjoyed the freedom to stay up late…into the wee hours of the morning. She went to bed long after I had said good night. But I was only pretending to be asleep. I knew that she finally turned off the lights at two.
Just as I promised, I went to wake M at 6:30.
Mommy: M, time to get up.
Mommy: M, you will be late for school.
Three times. I tried to wake her three times. More than fair, I thought.
And so M slept. She loves to sleep. She needs a lot of sleep.
She finally woke up at three in the afternoon, the time that school ends at ASIJ.
M: What time is it?
Mommy: Three in the afternoon. I think school has just ended.
M: Did you wake me up?
Mommy: Three times.
Mommy: Would you like to eat your breakfast?
And M ate her breakfast at three in the afternoon.
That night, she went to bed when I told her it was time. No plea. No discussion. Nothing.
Just the usual.
M: Good night, Mommy. I love you very much.
The following morning, as I drove her to school,
Mommy: No, M. I did not write an excuse letter for you.
M: I know…
M had to explain her absence to Mr. Murphy. And he must have been satisfied because he never called me for an excuse letter.
Why do I have to go to bed now?
She never asked me that question again.