Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Staying up late

I took a late-night trip to the airport to pick up my parents last Saturday. Their flight arrived a few minutes after ten o’clock. By the time I’d dropped them off at their house and gotten home myself, it was past eleven. But when I walked in from the garage, Tim was still in the playroom, playing a computer game.

“Go to bed, Tim,” I said automatically. “It’s really late.”
“I will. Soon,” he told me.

But as I headed upstairs to bed, I realized something unexpected: it didn’t really matter to me if he went to bed soon, because I had a sudden flash of memory of what it was like to be fourteen and staying up late on a Saturday night.

Quite simply, sometimes it was the best part of the week. At fourteen, in eighth grade, you’re still too young to drive anywhere or go out with your friends, but your body is developing a teen’s affinity for staying up late and sleeping late in the morning. On weekdays, you just have to fight it: force yourself out of bed when the alarm goes off, turn off the light at night when your parents tell you to in order to get a decent amount of sleep before school the next day.
But on weekends, you can give free rein to your naturally changing biorhythms. And when I saw Tim still playing computer games at 11 p.m., it reminded me how good that used to feel. I remembered the weighty hush of a house in which everyone else is sleeping. The sense of getting away with something because you’re still awake doing what you want to do. The privacy and solitude that are not necessarily easy to come by when you’re a middle schooler busy with friends, classes, team sports, and family activities.

Sometimes, I confess, I’m still tempted to find that late-night solitude, to stay up really late and wend my way through the wee hours reading or working on a project or watching a movie or writing, the way I used to do at Tim’s age. But, like eating candy every day, it’s one of those things you assume when you’re a kid that you’ll do as soon as no one can tell you not to, and then by the time you could do it without facing any sanctions, you have too many compelling reasons not to want to do it anymore. The house gets cold late at night, and it’s so much harder to think clearly after midnight. Predominantly, of course, is the reality that it’s just so hard to get up in the morning if you’ve stayed up really late. And sleeping late in the morning is unthinkable, with so many plans and duties and responsibilities.
So even though the words came out automatically that night – “Go to bed, Tim; it’s late” – I never followed up to confirm that he did. I just went to bed myself. And part of me hoped he didn’t go to bed for a while yet. For a few moments there, I was living vicariously, remembering the freedom of being a young teen with no weekend bedtime. And it felt good to remember.

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