The ritual itself consists typically of the following steps:
- Step 1: Potty and Toothbrushing. The potty step sometimes drags out ridiculously long because, unlike every other potty break of the day, she wants to stay on the potty. Although the nightly ritual ends gently and quietly, with eyelids gently closed, it begins with near-mortal combat, the goal of which is directed at putting off bed time until the absolute last minute. Like most kids, I suppose.
- Step 2: Climbing into bed, and picking a story. This step can drag on too, Lily will slump to the floor bonelessly, dragging her feet in floppy protest to the prospect of bedclimbinginto-ery. Coaxing and cajoling often occurs. Sometimes raised voices and fingers pointed rigidly in stern command occur. We call it a draw if I have to pick her up and place her bodily under her covers. Sometimes she picks a story, sometimes, when she's being particularly reticent, a story is selected for her.
- Step 3: Story time. The story is a process all unto itself. Lily loves books and will invariably ask (perseveratively) if she can hold the book. The reading of the story often involves holding it at arms length (her arms are always longer than I think they are regardless of my nightly adjustment) and interspersing "No, Lily, Daddy holds the book." between story fragments.
- Step 3a: Often the end of the story involves a return trip to the potty. Not always, but because Lily is still potty training, when she says, "I have to go potty" we almost always honor it no matter how many times she tricks us and gathers five more minutes of bed free time.
- Step 4: Cue the music and lights. My favorite part of the ritual. I disentangle from her and the covers, put her book back in the book shelf, turn on a dim 7 watt lamp, turn off the overhead light, turn on some quiet music* and climb into bed with Lily.
Last night I turned out the lights and rearranged the covers. Lily's night time thrashings often throw her covers into some disarray, and there are always a few last kicks and fidgets before we settle in. I slid in beside her and said, "Time to say our prayers."
"I no want prayers," she said.
"We always say our prayers at night, Lily."
"No. I no want prayers," she replied. I chuckled and began anyway.
"Dear god," I said slowly, "Bless. . . " (pregnant pause)
"Mommy. . . " she supplied.
"And?" I prompted.
"Daddy," she said, after a moment's hesitation.
"And?" I prompted again, drawing the word out and allowing her time to fill in the blanks. She didn't respond at once, considering her answer. "Emma" would be her typical next response.
I've been noticing lately that she perseverates over school and daycare, "I no want daycare, I no want kindergarten." or "I no like daycare, I no like kindergarten." I attribute this primarily to anxiety over the big transition from daycare to kindergarten, or from being able to stay at home with grandparents to having to go to daycare, where expectations for her behavior, for good or ill, are higher. To that end I've been making her a social story, thinking that if I can run through her schedule with her every morning, perhaps the anxiety she's feeling over the looming specters of daycare and kindergarten will be a little less unnerving.
"And?" I prompted again.
"Ingrams," she said. That's her kindergarten teacher (name changed). It was so cute and so unexpected and seemed to me to be almost a softening of the anxiousness that she usually expresses, it actually made me feel a lessening of the stress of sending her off to kindergarten, though it's very possible I read too much into it. It's been four weeks so far. Is she adjusting?
"Yes, Lily, god bless Mrs. Ingrams," I said, laughing softly, "And?"
"Emma and Lily amen!" she finished enthusiastically.
"Good girl, Lily, " I said, gently stroking her hair. She was fresh from a bath and her hair was soft and smooth and smelled sweetly of the "Pomegranate Splash" shampoo I used in it. Sometimes she fights this gentle stroking; one last ditch effort to stave off the sleep that I can very easily see approaching in the rubbed eyes, open-mouthed yawns, and drooping eyelids. When she's sleepiest, she fights it most.
She was a little calmer than usual, I think; a little quieter in her movements. She looked at me with her big dark brown eyes and I whispered, "I love you, Lily." Then I said, "I'm proud of you, Lily." Then I finished with "I believe in you Lily." That's the last of the ritual. Every night. I love you, I'm proud of you, I believe in you.
Lily replied, "I wub you," quietly, and I stopped stroking her hair and put my head down on the pillow, lying down next to her and shutting my eyes.
A few moments passed in silence before Lily said, "I want more." I lay in confusion. More what? More quiet music? Another book?
I sat up on my elbow and looked at her. "More what, sweetie?" I asked softly.
"More dat." (more of that)
I was silent for a moment. More stroking her hair? Never has she asked for more 'dat'.
"You want me to rub your hair some more?" I asked, stroking it lightly again. Silence in response. I continued to lightly stroke her hair, brushing it back from her eyes, smoothing it over her ears. Her eyelids fluttered closed, then opened wide again before closing for the evening. She was not quite asleep, but very close.
I waited a little longer. I thought she might be asleep, but whispered close to her ear again, "I love you" and she mumbled "I wub you too," blearily back at me.
I left her a few minutes later, her face relaxed in sleep; her blanket, the same blanket we wrapped her in as a newborn, clutched loosely in her fist and pressed comfortingly to the side of her face.
She slept all night, as she often does, a rare blessing for an autistic child as I understand it. It was a good night.