Sleeper Insists on Open Door
“Otherwise it is not light enough”; asserts she will “never” sleep with it closed
Kina’s bedroom door opens onto the kitchen. It’s covered in paintings she’s made, and it doesn’t close easily, because the floor of the kitchen is warped in places from leakage that predates my arrival here. When the door is properly closed, you have to really budge at it, and so when we close it, we leave it cracked open just a couple inches.
For the first two and a half years of Kina’s life, that’s how we’d leave it at night. We’d say “good night”, give her a kiss, and pull the door closed. Early on, she had no concept of what darkness portended, and so she had no objection to it; an open door and a closed door don’t signify much when doors are meaningless. By the time she was two years old, we’d have to call out to her through the gap in the door to make sure the light was okay—which it nearly always was. She liked to see a sliver of light from the kitchen to remind her that we were outside. Doors meant separation, but the gap in hers could let the idea of her parents through. If I’m being honest, I liked it open when she was little, so I could look in on her and make sure she was okay on a night when she was sick, just to make sure she hadn’t tangled herself in the blankets. I was a nervous father (am I still?) and the open door gave me access to her.
Still, after a while, we all got used to the closed door. It wasn’t until late 2019, before she turned three, that she wanted it kept open. She fell into a horrible multi-month sleep regression (an episode I alluded to briefly on December 11th) that started in a vacation rental, as she wept in the shadows of an unfamiliar room; she’d suddenly grown afraid of a darkness she now better understood. By the time she got home, she refused to let us close her door at night, insisting it be kept wide open with the kitchen lights as bright as they could shine. We’ve since gotten her back to a normal sleep schedule and bedtime ritual, but the door cannot—under any circumstances—be closed.
The other day, in the middle of the afternoon, we closed the door of her room while she was playing, and Kina completely and unexpectedly freaked out. We quickly recovered, but it made me wonder whether the threatening signifier here is in fact the darkness; maybe, instead, it’s the door. I started to think about all the times we’ve made it clear to her that the punishment for hitting is to go to time out with the door closed. At night, when she calls us back to her bedroom six or seven times, we tell her that we’ll have to close the door if she keeps yelling for us. I think we hadn’t realized that we’d started to use the door to inspire a fear of separation—the very thing from which we’d promised to protect her when she was still a toddler.
So we’ve agreed to dial all the door talk back for a while, to let the door be a door until she gets accustomed to it. Laurea and I will continue to whisper to each other in the evenings, until Kina falls asleep. We will clean up the kitchen on tiptoes and with tenderness, reassuring her if she wakes. I have no immediate plans to reacquaint her with a closed bedroom door. That door will be closed soon enough, as she comes to understand and value privacy. The paintings will come down, and hand-written warning signs will go up. The tables will turn, and it will be me wanting the door open a crack, so I can reach in to her for comfort.
Good thing the floor is so wonky. There will always be a crack, just so the light gets through.