Sleep Like a Dog. Then Wake Up

0wen summer 2012_crop3 

0wen summer 2012_crop4

0wen summer 2012_crop5

My friend Lori was writing this week about her son Ben and his sleepless night.  Usually Lori posts about marriage support (she and her husband John are marriage counselors) on her blog Caring for Marriage.  But a family member with special needs tends to make a pretty large impact on a marriage – so sometimes she posts about Ben too.  Or her other kids.

Maybe there is something in the air.  Owen and I have also been pretty sleepless, rendezvous-ing the last two nights in the kitchen around 3:30am.   I never know what wakes me (us), and I am inclined to blame Rascal my neurotic Australian Shepherd. (The Aussie is never confident about the safest place to sleep  – central location top of the stairs to protect his flock from all those terrible things out there? Or right next to mom’s bedside to be protected from all those terrible things out there?)

To be fair to the dog, guys like Owen and Ben commonly have disrupted sleep patterns.  It could be that some inner connection to Owen wakes me long before I physically hear him.  Or it could be years of experience. I have wondered, nights when I am lying there wide awake, what it is about.   But I tend to sleep lightly anyway, while my husband and the Boston Bulldog generally sleep like the dead.  Either way, by the time I heard crashes in the kitchen early this morning I had already moved the Aussie twice and lain awake (like the Aussie) worrying.  Maybe Owen had been doing that too.

Lori and I have in common that we aren’t finding it any easier to deal with broken sleep cheerfully in middle age.  She says she glares; I tend to fuss like Donald Duck in a fit. (You’ve seen the cartoon?)  However on this second night I found myself better able to consider things from Owen’s point of view rather than my own sleep-deprived rage.  Lori’s post gave me the gift of a sense of community.  Lori, Ben, Wystan, Owen, the neurotic Rascal, and who knows how many others out there are enduring this phenomenon together.

I shepherded Owen toward the digital kitchen clock and showed him the numbers “3:30” there.  Three is time to be in bed, I said.  I asked what did he want? was he thirsty? I sent him back upstairs with a glass of water.  I tucked him in.   And Owen seemed calmed.  He didn’t get up again, although I am not sure he slept.  Basically I found myself acknowledging through my tone of voice and peaceful manner that he has his own inner life and possibly his own reasons to be up.  Owen was probably surprised by this zen version of the nighttime encounter with mom.   I couldn’t have been so zen about it had I not read Lori’s musings earlier that day:

“…While I have plenty of phrases at my fingertips with which to express my side of Life with Ben, he does not. So he yells. His hurt is probably as legitimate as mine, his distress as deep.” 

Yeah.  Owen has always had times when he seems more frustrated, more restless, more zoned out, less communicative.  And lately it has been one of those one of those times.  Reflecting some more on what Lori writes, I am getting the strong impression that my job in Owen’s life is to be to a connector.  It’s not a job I am sure I want.  But I see what a difference it makes when someone is helping him meet people, helping him to make sense of sounds, images, smells, events (why are we here, now?) – helping decode all the incoming sensory experience, connect the dots, make sense of the chaos.  Owen becomes a different person the more I treat him like someone who understands things, but just needs support.

I suspect that there is a lot more going on in that curly head than me or most other people know.  But because of the potential I think is there, often my response is to get mad when Owen masks what I think (hope?) he is capable of.  Owen’s disability is an intellectual disability.  Helping him overcome it will never be straightforward or visible, like attaching a prosthesis to replace a missing limb.  The people who see potential in Owen are his prosthesis.  It is we, or no one,  who will to find a way to bridge the gap, and connect Owen to his world. I willing to give up my own agenda to do that?  

Better sleep on it.

Read more about Lori’s blog and how to receive it here –

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