The weight of fear, in chocolate

IMG_3551It has been a season of new fears for Jay: He’s clung to Caroline the last few times she’s brought him to school; he hates, suddenly, to be left alone in a room; he’s waking up at night and begging us to help him get back to sleep.

I’m somewhat sympathetic to these fears.  Except for the last one.  It’s really hard for me to marshall sympathy in the middle of the night.  “There’s nothing to be afraid of, go back to sleep,” I say to Jay, first in a soothing voice, then in a growl, as he looks up at me from his mattress, his eyes beseeching and moist.

His night waking started on the road after Christmas and continued when we got home.  After a couple weeks of this, Caroline and I were at a loss.  Jay was devastating our sleep and we hadn’t been able to find a quick way to console him.  So finally we resorted to chocolate.

“You can have a Hershey’s Kiss, in the morning, for breakfast,” I told Jay one evening last week before bed, “If you go all night without calling to me or Mama.”  We closed his door and didn’t hear from him again until just past 7am, when he emerged to claim his prize.  Refreshed and rested, I gave it to him gladly.

Jay made it quietly through the night each of the next four nights.  I was happy but perplexed.  His fears had seemed so urgent that I couldn’t believe he was capable of swallowing them for a measly piece of chocolate.

A few nights ago Caroline and I talked about this in bed.  I told her I was confused about how Jay had managed to subjugate his fears in an instant.  She theorized that the chocolate was short-circuiting the bad rhythm he’d gotten into.  He was still probably waking up at night, but maybe now, while still groggy, he was thinking about the chocolate and dipping right back into sleep before he could get fully worked up.

This past Saturday Caroline’s theory was put to the test.  Sometime after midnight Jay woke up in a coughing fit.  Caroline and I lay in bed for five minutes, then ten minutes, listening to him hack, waiting for him to call out to us.  Finally, I decided we needed to do something to help him stop.  I got out of bed and went to his room to fill his vaporizer.

As soon as I stepped into his room, Jay called out, “Noooo…” As in, “No, don’t come into my room because then I won’t get a chocolate.”

I was floored. There he was, lying wide awake in the middle of the night, coughing hard, in the throes of the exact conditions that usually make him plead for us to comfort him.  Yet now he was telling me to get out because he wanted a piece of candy.

Quickly, I told him that I was just going to fill his vaporizer and that he could still have a Kiss in the morning; my voice was full of more sympathy and admiration than I’d ever managed to muster for him at this hour of the day.

Back in bed, I told Caroline what had happened.  I really couldn’t believe it.  What exactly is the calculation in that little boy’s head?  Was he ever really afraid in the first place?  Or does he just love chocolate more than anything else in the world?  I still have no idea how to answer any of these questions, but now, having slept well for a week straight, it barely matters.

Whatever you’re thinking at night, Jay, please keep thinking it.

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