R

oy’s best night ever fell on the eve of The Nutcracker.

It was not that the two events were at odds exactly: Roy was going to be the special, solitary sleep-over guest at his Favorite Friend in The Entire World’s birthday party. This was a once-a-year, can’t-miss opportunity (last year’s sleep-over for this same friend up until this invitation had been the last best night ever). The coveted invitation had come in after Scott had bought tickets for the matinee of The Nutcracker, though, and the end time of the party would be just a few hours before the performance was to start.

So we developed strategies, Roy and I. He could go to the sleepover, but after he came home—right after!—he would lie down for a couple of hours before The Nutcracker. I wasn’t going to be mad if he did stay up all night, I told him, but maybe he could set a time, midnight even, when he could say he was sleepy and then go to sleep.

This to a nine-year-old.

It did not bode well that between 1 and 2 in the morning I received two texts from him saying that he couldn’t sleep and that he missed me.

Upon returning home, somewhere between snagging the last two leftover pieces of pizza and eating a couple of apple slices under duress, Roy found a spare moment to lie face down on the sofa to lose consciousness. It happened so quickly that I’m not entirely sure he wasn’t asleep first, and fell forward onto the sofa second.

“You’re not getting sick on me are you?” I asked him while pressing my palm to his forehead. No fever.

His face crumpled.

“I don’t know,” he said, his voice unsteady.

But I did. He wasn’t getting sick, he was just so tired that he thought he was.

“But I want to go,” he wailed quietly. Then he looked down at me, his hair pushed up in the front at a weird angle from where his face had been pushed down in the sofa, and asked with watery eyes if I’d put his shoes on for him.

Most of us pass on that second drink because we’re planning on having second and third slices of pie—or vice versa—just not while you’re looking at us, please.

It is lifelong work, learning to care for ourselves. For some of us, the ability to self-regulate is one of our inherent skills, something we were born to do. These people take naps when they’re tired, they’ll just have the one drink, thanks, and they’re good with the slice of pie, they’ll pass on the ice cream.

But most of us pass on that second drink because we’re planning on having second and third slices of pie—or vice versa—just not while you’re looking at us, please. Some of us never quite find that sweet spot, the place in the middle of the road where it’s safe for us and for the people we love to tool through life. We all know them. Hell, a lot of us are them.

Roy is back from The Nutcracker in a vile mood, and while it is a sad thing to see him so tired I can’t be grateful for these first lessons he is being given in the art of taking care of himself. He’s only nine, but it seems hopeful that we are talking about this things now—the value of setting limits for ourselves—while he is still sleeping on the bottom bunk in our home.