It starts with a nearly inaudible whimper that sounds faintly like “nu-nih”. “Are you ready for night-night B?” I ask her. She may repeat the plea “nu-nih” or she may just burst out in laughter and go back to tapping the plastic toy against her upper lip. Sometimes she just stands there with a blank stare and an emotionless expression on her face, and other times she simply makes a high pitched squeal which forces you to ask the question again; "are you ready for night-night"?
Here begins the nightly dance that could take 10 minutes but more likely will take the entirety of the evening, even into the early morning hours. We get her ready for the night; upgrade her brief to include multiple layers of absorbency; prepare the proper layers that comfort her obsessive-compulsive tendencies, brush her teeth and pray things go smoothly.
In preparation for bedtime, she layers herself like the flaky crust of a baklava starting with a camisole. Not just any camisole, one that smells just right. It may come from the folded laundry in the basket, it may come from the dresser drawer, it frequently comes from dirty clothes hamper and is always given clear approval by a toothy smile that makes her eyes disappear. Once the camisole is in place, the same process is followed for the pink tee shirt. Not blue, not green, pink. Occasionally she shakes it up a bit by requiring two tee shirts, no reason that we can see - she just requires “deep pink” and the only way you can get deep pink is by adding layers.
Next comes the denim vest with the cut-off sleeves. Originally she had a special therapy vest that was designed with 20 lbs of weight, velcroed into the lining of the vest. The intent is that the weight gives a sense of gravity to the child, calming them is some mysterious way. I always thought it just made her stronger, like carrying 30lb barbells around all day long so that after a year or so you end up with a set of biceps that even a pro wrestler would covet. We ditched the weights, in part because is was summer and the weights just made it hotter for her, in part because her voracious appetite has caused that vest to grow tight. The same issue surrounding the camisole and tee shirt follows the vest even though we wisely accumulated three nearly identical vests, she can sniff out the preferred one. Vest secured with all buttons engaged, we can move on to the harness.
I’m not sure at point she decided that she needed to wear her four-point, webbed bus harness but once it was deemed essential, no amount of logic could sway that. I’ve had nights where at 10:30pm I’ve loaded her in the car and drove to Sherry’s work to retrieve the vest that was accidentally left in her car. The harness, secured over the denim vest, over the deep pink tee shirt collection, which is over the camisole…is followed by the backwards-applied backpack.
The backpack is not just a backpack; it’s a backpack with a lunch bag, a notebook with a specific weight of paper in it and freezer pack from the refrigerator. The notebook has to be arranged so that the hinge is situated to her left, the opening to her right. It must be settled upright in the base of the bag. If it’s not perfect you’ll spend the next hour zipping and unzipping the array of zippers. Nothing will change but she’ll sense that it is… You’re captive and you can't "pull a fast one" on her as the backpack is worn backwards, on her chest. She watches your every move.
If these items are correct in her mind and if you were fortunate enough to have the selected the correct pair of shorts on her now “double-bagged” bottom, you may proceed to the bed-socks. Ankle height – only.
You find the array of hand held artifacts that she needs, things like the thick waxed paper that is tied in a knot in the middle, the crocheted dishrag (which she insisted one night that I cut in half). The remaining torn quarter of a Nerf ball, ripped with her teeth during a fit of rage is the final obsessive accessory that gets positioned. With all these particular and peculiar items in place – it’s not uncommon for her to now change her mind about the whole affair. False alarm.
Like an old dog, searching around the kitchen before turning a specific number of circles on the bed before finally plopping down with a disgusted groan, so Bethany follows her routine. I don’t know why she does it, how she gains comfort from it, or if she does it only to dive us insane with her never-ending combinations of obsessive priority. Even should you be lucky enough to get her all aligned and in bed – it’s not uncommon to have her crash around screaming and laughing. The screaming usually indicates that she’s mad. The laughing usually indicates that she’s now naked, her room peppered with wet synthetic pellicles of impossible to pick up matter that was once known as a diaper. We typically double up the diaper at night; this means you now have two diapers worth of matter to reclaim.
The clothes, so carefully chosen an applied - now lay in the hallway and down the stairs. She throws them over the half-height “Dutch door” with the zeal of a discus thrower and the laugh coming from the dark is both devious and delightful. Reaching over to turn the light on and seeing the full fury of the mess I need to clean, I can’t help but love her more. Honestly, I want to strangle her with the bus harness that is still half-draped over her bare stomach with the camisole somehow twisted around it in a knot. That devilish, 16 year-old Korean smile that causes her big, round cheeks to momentarily displace her eyes is the second thing I see on a disheveled girl standing there naked in a room full of exploded diaper.
One day I’ll cry when this is all but a memory. One day, I’ll hear the Lord tell me “I did well” in spite of myself and he’ll tell me how He kept me from strangling her one night with a bus harness after she’d made a mess (the zipper was jammed). One day, the upstairs will be silent, the house, empty and proper. One day, my special purpose will be fulfilled and I’ll be released from this responsibility and all these tears of frustrated exhaustion will be replaced with tears of lonely memory. Hearing her snore deeply up stairs, I’m relaxed and a bit numb, thinking of what I should be doing while she sleeps, yet I do nothing. I’m as deep tired as she is clad in deep pink. I relax a bit knowing that for for the moment I’m safe. The 6 - 10 trips up and down the stairs with her to confirm that lights are off, certain doors are shut and others are open, and everything in-between is "just so", finally yielded a level of content that would allow her to sleep. I pause and listen to the ticking of the old mantle clock, praying that she stays sleeping through the night. As I pray for a deep sleep for her, I hardly notice the state I'm in and while I form the words of intercession in my mind, slowly, gently, peacefully, I fall asleep.