Working at a daycare gives you a very strange view of children. I live in the South, so the stereotype of screaming children in Wal-Mart isn't part of a redneck joke. It's literally just what happens when you go to Wal-Mart. Without a ton of close family, those kids were for the longest time the only children I had any exposure to, so my views on them were somewhat negative. But my grad school told me the only financial aid I could get was an assistantship working at the on-campus daycare, so I was going to have a new experience with them whether I wanted to or not. And I have had many, many experiences with them, life-altering and strange experiences that cast a great doubt in my mind as to whether the world is going to exist when these people become voters. But I digress. This is about one child in particular. I'll call him Thomas.
Thomas was about four years old at the time this happened, and he was a little…special. I don't mean he was "special needs," as the current euphemism puts it; I've met those kids, they're diffferent. Some of you have kids who are just…special. You don't realize it because your children are completely different people around you than they are around their friends. You're still convinced that your kids are going to grow up to be astronauts or scientists, but I knew within minutes of meeting them (at age six) that they're going to be spending large parts of their adult lives performing some kind of service at truck stops. But I digress. Thomas was special.
Thomas's thing was that he simply refused to sleep. Some of you are parents and are nodding your heads (the insomniacal nature of children being commonly understood) but it's a lot stranger than you think. Those of you with children have one, two, maybe three kids, all of different ages. During naptime with Thomas's group, I have forty children, none of whom have any genetically-based reason to obey me, none of whom I can punish in any meaningful way, all of whom have friends who will back whatever insanity they have in mind. During naptime, the room becomes a prison. I'm the warden.
I have some experience with the behavior of children of this age. There are children who dislike sleeping. There are children who prefer not to sleep until they choose the time and place. But people who work at daycares become experts in swooping in and physically incapacitating children in the fastest possible timeframe, and we're damn good at it. That's what naptime is, if you look at it clinically. Sensory deprivation (turning off the lights, playing music to drown out snoring, etc.) combined with hypnosis (rubbing their backs). Some kids fall asleep more easily than others, but if you put in the time, they all go out eventually.
Other kids who didn't sleep would just stare plantively at the adult until they got embarrassed and walked away, trying again later. Thomas, though, was determined to fake-sleep until you left, feeling satisfied at a job well done. As soon as you walked back, there he is. Staring at you.
Look, I know how to fake-sleep. But I'm in my twenties. This kid is four years old, and he is a master at the craft. He knows just how much to snore and when. He knows how to slow his breathing down to give off that sleeping demeanor. He knows how far he can open his eyelids to see if the coast is clear. And he knows how to do all of this without actually falling asleep.
The other teachers and I talked about it. What the hell is going on with this kid that he's learned how to do this as young as he is? But I decided it was just too weird not to experiment with. I figure, if you look at the kid for long enough, he'll keep his eyes closed, and eventually he sleeps. Has to work, right?
So that's what I do at naptime. Everywhere I go in the room, I keep my eyes on the kid. He sees me looking, lays down, and closes his eyes. I sit across from him and stare. Nothing I do really requires a ton of attention, so I just keep my eyes on him wherever I go. And every few seconds, the same dance. Eyelids flutter. Eyelids raise. Eyes glance slowly upward. Eyes meet mine. Eyes clamp shut. Pause. Eyelids flutter…
This goes on for twenty minutes. I notice something weird about his breathing. He's losing his cool, I think, and figure I'm about to win this round.
Then he starts crying. "Quit looking!" he wails. "Quit looking! Quit looking!"
Look, you might think it's an asshole move to get into a staring contest with a four-year-old. Lemme just say that in my shoes, you might do the same thing.
After a long talk with my supervisor and Thomas's parents, we agree that yes, Thomas's ability to pretend to sleep is just uncanny, but no, there would not be any further experimentation on this front, as it's not important enough to emotionally traumatize a preschooler over the subject. He had been seeing a therapist, and he kept mentioning nightmares about someone staring at him, constantly staring. My immediate thought was "how can a kid who doesn't sleep have nightmares?" Nevertheless, I agreed to knock it the hell off and the matter was dropped. Thank God I have a tolerant boss.
A day or so ago, I walked in while they were doodling with crayons. I glance over the table, seeing a bevy of wonderful, psychologically fascinating exhibits (kids taller than one parent, kids being rained on, kids shooting various animals) before I land on Thomas's.
A window and a face. I asked another principal teacher in the room. She said all of his drawings were always the same. A window and a face.
I saw something that looked like crayon on the other side of the sheet. I flipped it over.
It keeps looking.
It won't quit looking.