Lucas wakes me up around five in the morning every day. He has this routine that seems designed to drive me insane.
It begins with the clomping of his feet on the hard wood floors. You can hear him hop off his bed and then feel the house creak beneath his toes as he sprints from one end of the upstairs to the other. He hunts for food, iPads, and likes to look out of the living room bay window. He gives off a few claps, seemingly happy that the street is still there, and then heads off to wake me up.
The way he does it is pretty maddening. He will come over and tap me. Tap, tap. Sometimes it’s on the arm. Other times, it’s on the forehead. Either way, he’s my silent wake up caller.
My son is non-verbal with Autism, so he doesn’t give me a sweet, “Wake up, Daddy.” I also can’t respond with an equally sweet, “Not yet, pal. Give it another hour. OK? OK.” Instead I give him a straight, “Lucas. No. Not yet. Go back to bed.”
He stands there, pretending to not understand, but he does. He knows “go back to bed” and, while never officially verified, probably knows that biffing someone awake is the wrong course of action. Yet, here we are.
So again, I repeat it. “Lucas. Go. Go to bed. Too early.” My voice is firmer this time and I include a weary point towards his room to drive the message home. Do you know what he does, this little bugger?
He stands about five feet away from me, just far enough to be out of reach, crosses his arms in front of him as if he’s in a wedding party, and stares at me with pursed lips. I look up at him through half closed eyes and again repeat in a loud whisper.
Lucas! Go. Back. To Sleep.
He steps a foot further away and resumes the butler stance. He’s just standing there waiting for me to roll over and attempt to recapture my Z’s. That’s when the head pokes return.
Sure, I can turn the TV on for him or give over an iPad to occupy his time, but I don’t. It would teach him that he gets rewarded for this antagonistic awakening. I’m his dad and it’s my job to avoid reinforcing negative traits like that. Instead, out of frustration, I will get up, grab my pillow, and lead him back into his room. Then, we will both get into his bed, with him on the side against the wall and me on the outside. I then try to rejoin the folks in dreamland.
It’s all just for show though, because I don’t rediscover rest and he doesn’t resume anything except for his poking. I lightly drift off to sleep a hundred times over the next five minutes. With each nod-off, I am almost immediately woken up by a double tap to the arm. When I open my eyes, his smiling face is a foot away from mine. Sometimes he mouths a “hi”. I smile. He smiles back.
Seriously. This story sounds annoying as hell, right? But still, I smile. It blows my mind each time. I want to be angry. I should be angry. Heck, there was a time when we first removed the safety gate from his bedroom when I did get angry. That was before he turned into a game of dad-trolling. Now, despite the ripple effect of all-day exhaustion it creates, I find myself genuinely happy in that moment.
By the time I finally give-in, it’s still hovering around five, but I’m ready. I sit up, get my wits about me, and find him a snazzy outfit for the day. Lucas couldn’t be happier. The unbridled enthusiasm for finally getting his old man’s creaky bones out of bed sends him into a giggly clapping-fest. Watching him hop around with such a giant smile on his face makes it worth it.
I smile because he’s cute. Sure. There’s more to it than that, though. I smile because I know that I make Lucas happy. Once we’re up and moving, he doesn’t get to watch TV for another, at least, 30 minutes. There’s breakfast to make, lunches to pack, pills to take, and coffee pods to brew. He’s not clapping because he gets Sesame Street soon. He’s clapping because his dad is up.
I know this because as I pull on his socks and tie his shoes, he’ll tap me again. When I look up, he gives me that same grin. Sometimes he puts his hand on my chin and leads my head up to look at him as if to say, “Come, my child.” I laugh out loud every time. In that moment, he’s happy. He’s happy because he has me, not because of the things I bring with me. That’s all I ever wanted from him.
That’s why I’m not irritated in the morning. People assume I would be, though. I mean, he’s altered my internal clock tremendously. I have a hard time sleeping past five even when I can. I also occasionally…and increasingly fall asleep early on the couch at night, which is something I had never done before. I could chalk it up to getting older, but the truth is I have to chalk it up to getting Lucas.
I’m not sure what the future holds for my boy. We might be able to laugh about these mornings when I’m old. We might be in our flying car one day, eating dinner-pills, and he could say, “Dad, thanks. Remember when I didn’t talk? You did a lot for me back then.” I’d be happy with that.
Then again, he might not. He might never say anything at all or fully understand the scope of how I’ve changed my life, both in the mornings and throughout the days, for him. Strangely enough, I’d be happy with that too.
The things I do for my son aren’t done for his recognition, appreciation, or even attention. They’re done because I love him. I want to be the person he’s happiest to see in the morning. I may have had to sacrifice some sleep, but I’ve become that person in his life.
It’s totally worth the trade-off.