“Why are you squirting perfume on my son?” Bill asked me last night.
“He’s having trouble sleeping,” I explained, as I spritzed fragrance on Porter’s wrists and indicated that he should rub them together.
Bill stared at me, uncomprehending. I hugged Porter and sent him off to bed.
“Do you want to enlighten me here?” Bill asked.
As with many child-related things, something seemingly kooky had a perfectly rational explanation.
In a word: Bedtime. When you’re single or childless, the word has pleasant connotations: a time to read, to make love, or to sleep. Once kids appear, the same time period suddenly becomes fraught with anxiety– will he sleep or won’t he? Where are the pacifiers? Why won’t this kid eat another spoonful of rice cereal so I can sleep an extra twenty minutes?
Most of that drama is behind us because the boys are now ten and seven. But although Drew and Finn hit their beds and fall asleep immediately, some nights Porter encounters difficulties achieving the same state Occasionally these problems compel him to come into our room seeking solace just after he’s been tucked in.
For a while he’d come into our room with the uncommon malady I call “Itchy Ass.” It is easy to diagnose. Porter would walk in the room and say, “Mom, I can’t go to sleep.”
“Why not?” I’d ask, not looking up from my book.
“My bottom itches.”
The first time this happened, I visually inspected his buttocks, which showed no sign of redness or tenderness. I began to doubt the veracity of his complaint. When I asked him to point to the itchy area, he didn’t point to the more delicate central tissue, but instead proclaimed that his “entire” bottom itched, further supporting my diagnosis of nighttime fakery.
Knowing that the problem had to be treated in order for my reading to resume, I dug around in the bathroom and found a bottle of old baby powder and told him to pull down his pants and lie on his stomach on my rug. He complied, and I sprinkled his bum liberally with powder.
“Now get in the bed immediately,” I cautioned him. “The powder will stop the itching but it will also make you very sleepy, and I don’t want you to fall asleep on the way to your room.”
His eyes widened and he rubbed his butt. “Yes ma’am,” he said, and he scurried off to bed.
For months thereafter, his momentary bouts of insomnia were easily cured with a sprinkle of powder. After a while, I convinced him that he was old enough to powder himself and then I had a period of not being bothered by Porter at bedtime at all.
As with all good things, the efficacy of the baby powder came to an end. One night Porter came into our room, holding his stuffed panda and looking morose.
“Mom, I can’t go to sleep,” he said.
“That’s too bad,” I responded, engrossed in my New Yorker. “Have you powdered your bottom?”
“No, my bottom doesn’t itch,” he said. “I just can’t go to sleep.”
“Well, powder it anyway,” I said impatiently. He was really cutting into my reading time.
Five minutes later he was back, poking out his bottom lip and clutching his panda and my red chenille turtleneck. “Still can’t sleep?” I asked. He shook his head.
I rummaged around in my bedside table and located a small container of Aromatherapy Sleep Chamomile-Neroli cream. I hadn’t seen it in years; I vaguely remembered purchasing it at Bath & Body Works back when I was treating my Hepatitis C with interferon shots, which caused insomnia. The aromatherapy hadn’t helped my true insomnia, but I thought it would cure Porter’s problem.
“Aha!” I exclaimed triumphantly. “I’ve found a special cream you rub on your wrists and your head to make you sleepy. Let me show you.”
Porter stared at me, entranced, as I pumped a tiny bit of lotion onto my wrists and rubbed them together. Then I put a drop on each index finger and massaged the cream into my temples.
“Wow,” I exclaimed dreamily, suppressing a fake yawn, “I wanted to finish this article about concrete plants in New York City but I’m getting really sleepy.”
“Let me try,” Porter begged and so I dotted him with Aromatherapy. He rubbed it in, breathed in deeply, then trotted off to bed.
And so the tiny tube of Aromatherapy Sleep became my secret weapon for getting him to sleep on those increasingly rare occasions when he didn’t drop in the bed and immediately start snoring.
Over time, I realized my stash was becoming depleted, and I was unable to locate any more Aromatherapy Sleep at Bath & Body Works. Soon it was gone. So last night, when Porter popped out of bed moments after being tucked in, I realized it was time to move on to a new method of combating his problem.
“Honey, we’re out of Aromatherapy,” I said. His lip quivered, so I hastily added, “but that’s really for little boys and babies anyway. I think you’re ready to use something that grownups use to get to sleep. Why don’t you sit on my bed while I find it?”
He did, and I went to my bathroom and started furiously looking for something that would work. My Ambien or perhaps a glass of chardonnay were the obvious choices, but even I have limits to how far I will go to get my children to sleep. I also considered and rejected using a squirt of Bed Head Small Talk (nice grape smell but too sticky) or a dab of shimmery body lotion with gold flecks (which looked dramatic but ultimately lacked a satisfying sleep-inducing odor). Finally I noticed a small bottle of vanilla scented spray that smells just like a pound cake. I was applying it to Porter’s pulse points when Bill came in.
And that is the entirely reasonable explanation as to why I was squirting my son with perfume last night.