The first years of a child’s life are jam-packed with an endless string of memorable “firsts.” The rite of passage that is climbing into your first “big boy bed” ranks right up there with such landmark moments as sitting up unassisted for the first time, learning to walk, or uttering your first words.
So it was with more than a little surprise that my wife, Julie, and I learned that it was going to be no easy task to get our grandchildren, Easton (5) and Barrett (3), into new, more age-appropriate bedtime arrangements during sleepovers in our home.
Easton sleeps on an inflatable mattress when he’s over at our place. Barrett, who was moved into his own bed at home some time ago, still sleeps in a crib when he’s with us. Now it’s time for Easton to graduate to a real bed while Barrett takes his brother’s place on the air mattress.
Which brings me to a point of puzzlement. Barrett would never accept sleeping in a crib in his own home these days, but he is reluctant to abandon his spot when it comes time to crash in our home. Compounding matters, Easton won’t budge from his air mattress.
The point is that habits, rituals, and traditions are organic. They are born of a certain set of specific circumstances, ones that may be nullified when the scenery, people, or time changes. Ritual exists to bring order among chaos. Our sleeping arrangements trump those of when they are home simply and solely because they are…well, ours. They are our way. Our tradition.
Easton associates his mattress with camping. He’s not merely on the floor at his grandparent’s house; he’s on a wilderness adventure. The latest addition to his little carpeted campsite is that he now insists on sleeping under the flickering glow of an electric candle that mirrors the dancing flames of a crackling campfire.
Understanding why Barrett persists in his desire to stick to his crib is less obvious to us, but we’re confident, nonetheless, that it has everything to do with the fact that things are just “different” at grandma and grandpa’s place.
All of which is, to me, an informative lesson in early childhood development. It seems counterintuitive on many levels, but I find it fascinating that their little brains are already so compartmentalized, so capable of receiving the very same stimuli (“It’s bedtime”) and processing that information in two diametrically opposing ways.
“Different” is okay, in this case, so long as it is supported by a framework that speaks to a child’s need to feel safe and secure when they are away from their parents.
Funny thing is, I managed to puncture Easton’s air mattress the last time we babysat, which I assumed would force the issue of moving him into a bed. But he still wouldn’t budge. Letting the air out of his mattress was like letting the air out of his sense of security…so it was time to get out the duct tape.