Bedtime at our house can be chaotic. We have some specific expectations for our children, and these expectations are reinforced on a nightly basis. We expect that by 9:00 PM all electronic devices will be turned off (specifically we mean television and movies, although we are OK with music in kids' rooms if it's not so loud it disturbs others). And we expect that by 9:30 PM they will be settled in the rooms, preferably in bed, with noise to a minimum and conversation quiet enough so others don't have to hear.
I cannot remember if we have ever had a completely successful bedtime in our home. There is always at least one person, often more than one, who has a last-minute question for mom or dad, or who needs to get a drink, or who needs to find a book for school the next day, or who "remembers" at 9:29 that they have a homework project to complete. And sometimes it's mom or dad who remembers at the last minute someone's medication or a load of laundry that needs to be started or finished or put away. In any case, the sixty minutes between nine and ten in the evening in our home is often a stressful time.
Last night things went as expected and so Claudia and I were trying to head off several fronts of barrage at the same time. When we had reached a place of relative calm, we could hear Dominyk, our youngest son, speaking in his normal (read that "loud and clear") voice, telling his eleven-year-old brother and room companion about the "love" of his life.
(He met this girl during Vacation Bible School last week, and while I am yet to determine which girl this is, he is taken by her). Earlier in the week I was visiting Dominyk before bedtime and he said, "Dad, I just love her so much, but I'm not strong enough to tell her." This was the very night that Dominyk's behavior at VBS had been especially objectionable (multiple episodes of nasty words and defiance of his superiors) so I said, "Dominyk, if you continue to act the way you have, no girl is going to want to be near you, because that kind of behavior scares people. You need to focus on being appropriate." In addition, I suggested that most ten-year-old girls do not want or need to hear a male peer declare his love. I was trying, most of all, to prepare him for what would be almost certain rejection ... I don't think most girls his age would respond very favorably to a love declaration, and knowing Dominyk's lack of social filters, I could only imagine how this all might come about.
So, during our nightly bedtime process last night, it was worth hearing the penultimate sentence of Dominyk's explanation to his brother. I didn't catch the whole sentence, but it ended like this: " ... but, Tony, she's beautiful on the inside, too." It made me smile, and here's why.
Dominyk entered our family's life at the age of nine months, attached to only his bottle and to moving figures on television. His early days with us were spent with our "forcing" his attachment to us ... we would hold his rigid, chubby, unwieldy body against ours so that he would learn how to be cuddled. We would hold his pudgy little cheeks between our hands in order to make eye contact with him. We played peek-a-boo until he would giggle and seek us out. We worked very hard to facilitate developmental attachment, and we often have wondered how successful our attempts might be. If you know Dominyk you know how very unique he is. He lives in his own world and enters others' worlds only when pulled there with intentional efforts on the part of others. (Although he has not been so diagnosed, we suspect his symptoms are consistent with Asberger's, a mild form of autism).
So, my smile at the comment he didn't know we would hear is because I can see how our early efforts to nurture and care for him have resulted in some success. That we have been able to love Dominyk into seeing the value of relationships, and that he is able to yearn and pine for a girl he "just isn't strong enough" to tell is heartwarming. It means that someday he will be capable of the kind of human relationships that will provide him with joy and a sense of security. He has learned from us what it means to be attached to others, and he can continue forward in human relationships because of the work we did and continued from early on.
Funny thing, Dominyk. You are beautiful on the inside, too!