Leave the Hall Light On.

Leave the Hall Light On.


My eyes snapped open and I realized what I thought had been a cat meowing in a dream had actually been my son calling me. How many meows was it? At least two. I think.


I jumped off the couch, found my glasses and looked at the time. Almost midnight. Next thing I knew, I was in his room and lightheaded from the sprint up the stairs and the sinus medication I had taken earlier.

“What’s wrong?”

“I need water.” He sounded so little, quite unlike the eight year old he actually turned into two weeks ago.

I sighed and fetched the water. I held the tiny cup as he drank.

“You need to start getting your own water,” I said. “You can do this yourself.” He stared at me wide-eyed but said nothing.

I knew he would wake up and call me. I had turned off the big light in the hall. I’ve been leaving it on all night, every night, and changing the bulbs is a pain and we are using too much electricity and he was asleep so, this time, I turned it off. I should have known better, though, since every time he wakes up and it’s off, he calls out for me. What’s more important: household chores and finances or my sanity? I have no idea anymore.

I never thought parenting would be easy, but I didn’t think about things like this. I didn’t expect to wonder about the level of normal we were at for every single thing that goes on in our lives. Is it normal to need water? Is it normal for him to not want to get it himself? To be afraid of the dark still? To rely on me so much?

Even if I had the data to prove which percentile we were in for each matter related to child development, what would I do with the information? If I were to find out, for example, he’s in the 90th percentile for neediness, I’m not sure if that would help. After all, the best parenting advice I’ve ever heard was to parent the kid you have. As in, it doesn’t matter what everyone else says or does, this is the kid you have so this is the one you have to parent. Of course, I might only think it’s the best advice because it’s insinuating I’m not screwing the whole thing up.

Most of the time though, I’m pretty sure I’m screwing the whole thing up. Delivering one small cup of water to a semi-conscious kid upon request will surely create lasting damage, at least that’s what I came up with when I examined my parenting strategy in the middle of the night. I decided, once I made it to my own bed, that first thing in the morning I would confront this child and find out why he cannot get his own water in the night. Then we can get to the root of the issue, address it, and I will have a completely autonomous 8 year old.

The next morning, though, I learned he no recollection of the incident and so he couldn’t tell me why it happened. If he doesn’t know he’s doing it, how can he stop? That was his question for me. And it’s a good one.

There are no answers or solutions. I can get the water or I can ignore him. It’s probably doesn’t matter. I’m sure it won’t be the last parenting mystery I encounter.

For tonight I’ll just parent the kid I have. Tonight, I’ll leave the hall light on.


21 Responses to “Leave the Hall Light On.”

  1. Wondering about the level of normal. Yes! It’s not whether or not I’m sane or normal, it’s how close or far from the definition I might be. :)

    • michellelongo says:

      I’m pretty sure I’m pretty far. Hopefully not so far that I’m still getting him midnight cups of water when he’s 45 though.

  2. outlawmama says:

    I spend hours wondering about this. It’s torture.

    • michellelongo says:

      It truly is. I just need a crystal ball so I can see if he turns out okay, then I’d be able to just go about my business knowing it all works out in the end. Is that too much to ask?

  3. I never wonder about this particular incident, but about other things, oh my god! I mean, she forgets one book at school every single day! That one book will be the death of me, I tell you. Parenting should come with that ‘Warning’ sticker plastered all over it. Jeez!

  4. Sam Merel says:

    I’m not a parent yet, but I have watched both my sisters become parents over the past 3 years, and I’m pretty sure that wondering about the level of normal is something that every single parent does.

  5. Knowing your child is exceptional still doesn’t help. I often wonder which behaviors are autism and which are typical kid stuff.
    BTW-in our house, it’s the TV & DVD player that stay on almost all the time. I don’t even want to know how that affects our electric bill.

    • michellelongo says:

      I guess none of us really know what’s typical and what isn’t. I probably shouldn’t be this bothered by the light anyway.

  6. dowbiggin says:

    I love the “parent the child you have” advice. Recently, when we are staying in a hotel in NJ on our holiday visit, my kid started talking in his sleep and then sat up and got up onto the back of the couch on which he was sleeping. This was a tad disturbing, given that he sleeps in a loft bed at home, and I could just imagine how this would have ended THERE, where we sleep in a different room. I gently talked him down and helped him get back “in bed” on the couch and go back to sleep. As always, he had no recollection of his nocturnal activities.

    At home, we have a lamp on a dimmer that we turn down REALLY low, so that if he needs to truly get up for some reason, he can see enough not to break his neck. We also still use the audio-only baby monitor, despite our boy’s eleventh birthday approaching this Saturday. Our reasoning is that the “child we have” has both mild autism and some interesting nighttime tendencies, and we like avoiding the emergency room if we can help it. We’ve also found he’s more prone to nosebleeds in his sleep and can vomit in his sleep without waking up. Both are major choking hazards for an unconscious human.

    All this is to say that you may or may not be able to get him to get his own water when he doesn’t know this is what’s going on. You may find you actually have the option of talking him out of the idea if he’s not really awake/thirsty. Or, you know, not. But your peace of mind about his safety, and everyone’s well being are really what’s at stake here. NOT what other people think. You’re not breaking him, I promise.

    • dowbiggin says:

      When we WERE…not ARE.

      • michellelongo says:

        He has night lights in his room and there’s one in the hall as well (you know, along with the big overhead light). He also has an LED taplight next to his bed (also a loft). Nathan talks in his sleep often and though they’ve calmed down, we still have occasional night terrors. Avoiding the ER makes good sense :) Oh, and we use the monitor, too, for the same reasons you described. It’s always good to know other parents are doing similar things. Even though it doesn’t matter what people think, it helps to know some people think the same!

  7. I’ve had a year where I have questioned everything I have done as a parent. But have come to realize we all do the best we can — I’m sure and I know you are a great mom.

  8. Stacie says:

    This is such a normal thing to wonder-you are not screwing Nathan up. I wonder why he’s not content with a nightlight in his room? I just bought Shane a flashlight that plugs into the wall and doubles as a nightlight (if you want it too). That way, if he does feel the need to come in our room, he can grab the light. It’s LED which uses less electricity. Just a thought, although I’m sure you’ve tried multiple strategies.

    • michellelongo says:

      It just seems like there’s never enough light. I think he’d prefer to keep his overhead bedroom light on but that just seems excessive :) At least I can look forward to the next full moon to light the place up!

  9. Silverleaf says:

    Well, everyone else has said it but I’m going to add my voice to the group. We all worry about screwing them up. Oh my god, all the time. I spent much of the past few years going to bed every single night and then lying there worrying for hours that whatever I had done was going to turn him into a sociopath, or some other serious thing that would be ALL MY FAULT. I’m not sure how but through lots of thinking and talking I’ve managed to worry a little less. Because he’s fine and I was the one turning into the crazy in the house. We all try to be the perfect parent but there’s no such thing. We all do the best we can with the tools and information we have. It’s just really hard to accept that and stop worrying, especially in the middle of the night.

  10. Nancy Lowell says:

    Anyone who doesn’t question their parenting skills is probably at best a lousy parent, and at worst a sociopath. I’d leave the damn light on. There are going to be so many more opportunities ahead for you to really screw him up, take it from an expert. I promise.

  11. April C. says:

    I question every single move I make with my daughter. Do I pick her up enough? Not enough? Is attachment parenting okay? Do I need to be a crunchy mom? Am I already too crunchy? Am I crunchily attached?

    I’ve been told, from a number of people I hold in high regard for their modern wisdom…if you aren’t questioning yourself, you’re probably not doing it right so you’re at least one step in the right direction.

  12. Natalie DeYoung says:

    Why do kids need to be so complicated? They need, as Shailaja suggests, warning stickers. And a booklet of instructions. Not the IKEA kind of instructions, with crappy pictures telling you to INSERT B INTO HOOK 47 or whatever; complicated, how-to-program-your-VCR instructions, with explicit details and footnotes.
    Well, maybe not VCR instructions. No one knew how to program VCRs.

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