Why My Son Refuses to Say, ‘Goodnight’


Every night since our son found the ability to speak to us, he’s refused to let us leave his room with “Goodnight, see you tomorrow.” He swiftly shouts back in his small, sweet voice, “No goodnight, not tomorrow.” Though to most it would seem like a defiant move — one to reject the idea of going to sleep — that was not his reason. Not one bit. Not at all.

He simply needed the reassurance that closing his eyes meant nothing in his world would change.

I used to need that reassurance as well. For years, our world was rocky. Our daughter and son’s health were in a near constant battle to stay stable, keeping us in a revolving door of inpatient stays at the hospital. As the children continued to decline, so did my ability to stay faithful that they would stay with us long enough to see a cure for mitochondrial disease. Things have become a little calmer around here, but I’d be lying if I said there were not days where that deep-rooted fear climbed to the surface of my mind.

There were days he would wake up and find me gone. I hated that for him. So many unexpected admissions for his sister, late night ambulance rides, middle-of-the-night kisses goodbye, with no way to explain to a small, nonverbal child that Mommy was coming back as soon as she could, wishing with all her heart that she could somehow be in two places at once. It was traumatizing for us both, the near constant separation that went on for well over a year. We all tried our best during those arduous times, but sometimes our best just wasn’t good enough no matter how hard we tried. Only God knows how we came through on the other side.

Not a day goes by where I don’t count my blessings for that fact.

I crawled into his bed. He lay on his side, fidgeting with his flashlight, placing his small hand in front of the light watching to see where it would fall, then glaring with fascination as it illuminated his hand when he interrupted the beam. I straightened out his covers and placed my head on his pillow. He rolled over, turning off his flashlight, looking through me with his glassy, grey eyes.

“Are you sleepy yet?” I asked, running my hands through his moppy sand-colored curls.

He smirked slightly, curving only one side of his mouth, shrinking his eyes so only his pupils were showing. His thick eyelashes were like blinds covering the small opening of his eye. “No, I not sleepy.”

“I think you are.” I stroked his baby-soft cheek, his skin like satin.

He rolled over, facing his top bunk, clicking his flashlight on and off, the light creating a perfect circle on the dull wood surface above. “Mommy, where does the moon go when the sun comes up?”

I laid still for a moment, unsure of what to think. I was surprised by his sudden ability to formulate a question and the advanced thought process it must have taken — things he’d struggled with since he’d learned to speak. How long had he been thinking of this?

“Mommy?” He rolled back over, pressing his small button nose to mine, so close I could smell his sweet baby breath.

“Well,” I paused for a moment to think, “it’s still there, I guess, you just can’t really see it when the sun comes up.”

He sat up quickly, pulling the covers off both of us, grappling for his flashlight, again shining it on the wall and then covering it with his hand, staring at it intently. “When the sun comes up the moon goes away? When the moon comes back the sun goes away?”

“Yes, but they don’t really go away, buddy. They are always there even when you can’t see them.  Sometimes, when the sun is up, and you look really hard, you can still see the moon.” I sat up next to him gently taking the flashlight. I placed my hand on top of his, letting the light shine through both of our fingers. He looked up and smiled, seeming to understand.

I finished tucking him in and started for his door. “Goodnight, sweet guy, Mommy will see you tomorrow.”

“No, no tomorrow, no goodnight.” He shot up and pouted.

“Mommy already tucked you in, little man, it’s time for me to go.” I turned around to leave.

“Say, I will see you when the moon goes down and the sun comes up, say that.” He was near tears, his chest rising and falling quickly, his face turning blotchy and red.

It was then that it hit me. He needed to know that just like the moon, I wouldn’t really go away, and just like the sun, I would always come back. I walked back in and sat on the edge of his bed, placing my hand on his back. He laid down, his mouth still in a downward curl, his eyes turned towards his pillow. “I will see you when the moon goes down and the sun comes up.”

He closed his eyes, smiling and gently drifted off to sleep.

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This post originally appeared on Learning to Let Go: A Different Dream for Us.


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