Our oldest son has never been a good sleeper. I used to laugh when people told me that I should “nap when the baby naps.” That would have been a perfect solution to my exhaustion if I hadn’t had to drive him around just to get him to go down for a nap and keep him asleep for that hour. Luckily, our youngest is a better sleeper than his brother. Last night, however, he was restless. By 10 Joe was asleep, but still Luke was not. Hubby asked me if I would go in and say goodnight to him again because that might be just what he needed. So, I did.
I walked into the boys bunk room and, sure enough, Luke was in bed but wide awake. I told him I knew exactly what he needed and traipsed off to their play room to retrieve Luke’s most favorite stuffed animal, a grey Webkinz horse named Motty-O. (Don’t ask me. He was 4 when he named it.) Our creative Luke has a series of stories about this horse, whom he has informed us is from Kentucky and sleeps standing up. We know this horse’s entire back story, a fact I’ve perpetually found charming. When I handed Motty-O to Luke, Luke smiled and hugged him. He stroked his tail thoughtfully and suddenly looked quite sad.
“What’s the matter, Luke?” I asked, worried by the face that usually proceeds his tears.
“Nothing,” he said, still stroking the horse’s tail.
“Are you worried about his tail, sweetie?” I inquired “You know, the more you love on an animal, the more threadbare they begin to look. That’s not a bad thing at all. It’s a sign that you love him the most.”
“I know,” he said with tears welling up in his eyes.
I’m not the only one who has had a long and rough week. Although he’s been taking it like a trooper, Luke was the one who received the dyslexia diagnosis and began tutoring for his disability. He’s the one who has to think about switching schools and feeling different. I started to wonder if his tears had less to do with his horse than with other things he must certainly be grappling with at this time.
“You know, Luke, sometimes if you’ve got something on your mind it’s better to talk about it. Maybe if you tell me what’s making you sad you’ll be able to fall asleep better?”
“Nope. I’m fine,” he replied even as he opened his eyes wider and looked up at the bottom of his brother’s top bunk to keep the tears from falling down. Just like his mother, Luke likes to believe he can handle anything without any additional help.
I sat on the bed with him and stroked his hair, hoping he would open up but he didn’t. Finally, he asked me to leave. It was around 11:30 when he at last surrendered to sleep.
Tonight, I finally pried from him the reason why he was so sad last night. It wasn’t that he was worried about the dyslexia or the tutoring or the idea of switching schools or even the idea of possibly having to move. It was something I never saw coming.
“I was sad about Motty-O,” he reluctantly admitted.
“Sad about his tail falling out a bit?” I guessed.
“No. It’s something else.”
Having been something of a stuffed animal freak myself, I dug deeper into the stuffed-animal-lover psyche to try to extract the thing that might make him sad. Then it came to me.
“Are you sad because you won’t always have him with you?” I asked.
“Uh huh,” he said, tears once again pooling beneath his sweet, green-hazel eyes.
“You will always have Motty-O, Luke. I still have my most precious stuffed animals,” I said. “You know my orange dog, Drooper? I’ve had him since I was 9 years old. I’ve had him with me for 35 years. He went to college with me. He’s traveled with me. I will have him forever. And, you will have Motty-O for your whole life too.”
At this point, a couple tears leaked down his cheek.
“I won’t have him when I die,” he said as more tears fell.
“Oh, Luke,” I said, hugging him, “I believe you will have Motty-O in Heaven. I believe Heaven is filled with all the wonderful things you love and cherish in your life. Motty-O is part of our family. He will be in Heaven with us. I just know it.”
“My other animals too?” he asked.
“Most definitely,” I replied, relieved to know that he wasn’t suffering any ill effects from his diagnosis.
I can’t help but laugh now at how it all played out. Last night, Luke couldn’t sleep. I thought it was because of the same things that have been troubling my mind this week, so I gave him the one thing I thought would be the greatest comfort to him. Instead, that was the one thing that made it more difficult for him to fall asleep. I’ve got to learn not to project my concerns onto my little guy. Of course he’s not got insomnia about his reading issues. Why would he worry about something he’s always known? It’s the mysteries of the universe that keep children awake, mysteries like what happens to our stuffed animals when we die. That’s the only kind of mystery that is worth losing sleep over.