the conundrum with an ornate feather

I have grossly underestimated my four-year-old.

We are having some issues with sleep in our house. People are often asking me how Karis is sleeping. And for a newborn, she is sleeping okay. It's the other two that decided to up the ante since Karis was born. I am pretty sure that the three of them have a daily meeting where they discuss the shifts they will cover to ensure an even spread of waking us up throughout the night. Generally, India starts screaming bloody murder around 1am. Then around 2ish, Jafta will wake us up to inform us he went potty and needs his worship music turned back on. Jafta falling back to sleep is Karis's cue to cry. India usually hits another screaming fit around 4, and again Karis takes her cue for round two from India falling back to sleep. At 6, 6:15, 6:30, 6:45, and 7am, Jafta will enter our room and ask if it is time to wake up yet. We will tell him no and make various threats of bodily harm if he asks us again, which he ignores since he knows we are all talk and too tired to actually get up and discipline him. And also because we don't spank, and putting him in a time-out in his bed is kind of a moot point when he's already there.

After weeks of this, I am pretty tired, and a dear friend suggested that I try a kind of incentive for Jafta, since he's the one of the three likely old enough to bribe with a prize understand a token economy. I was a little skeptical, primarily because Jafta feels the need to announce to the world every time he uses the bathroom. We have been telling him for years that he no longer needs to tell us every time he has to go. But still, every night we are woken several times with Jafta at the foot of the bed declaring "Mom, I'm going potty!" Not annoying. AT ALL.

We devised a clever little system where we rigged up a hanging star lamp (or SMILA STJARNA, to be precise) and plugged it into a Christmas tree timer. I bought a 4 watt nightlight bulb so it doesn't really illuminate the room, it just gives off a little glow. It hangs right above his bed. The timer turns the light on at 8pm, and the light turns off at 8am. We gave Jafta specific instructions to stay in bed until the starlight goes off. We also gave him specific instructions to quietly use the bathroom without telling us if he needs to go during the night.

I underestimated three things in this scenario:

1. Jafta's math skills
2. Jafta's desire for a knight costume
3. The availability of a knight costume in the greater OC Metro area

I told Jafta that if he stayed in bed for five nights in a row, he could earn a knight costume. He has been begging for a knight costume for the better part of a year, so I knew it would be a good incentive for him, but I really thought it would take weeks for him to have the self-control to get through a whole night of not coming in our room. The first night, I was shocked to hear Jafta use the restroom by himself around 1am. I was so shocked by hearing someone walking quietly down the hallway that I actually thought it was a burglar. After a few minutes I peeked into his room and he was back in bed. The next morning, Jafta woke me up at 8am ON THE DOT. "Mommy, my starlight went off and I went to the bathroom at night all by myself and in four more nights I can have a knight costume."

Somehow his concept of time had eluded me, because usually I like to make ambiguous and generalized promises to him about things in the future. Like, "you can chew gum when you are 7" or "you can have skate shoes when you are 10" or "you can stop going to school when you have an MD behind your name". So I was thrown off when, three nights in, I realized that I had better find a knight costume, and FAST, because he was reminding me every second of the day that he was a mere two days away from knighthood. And he was very specific about the kind of knight costume he wanted. He wanted the kind with an ornate feather. Yes, his words. No clue where he got that idea.

I hadn't really planned out the acquisition of the knight costume. On the evening of day four, I casually ran to Target to pick up some toilet paper and a knight costume. There were 5,732 varieties of princess costumes at Target, but no knight. Then I came home and sent Mark to Walmart. No knight costume there, either.

I knew we were going to have a coup d'etat on our hands if a knight costume did not materialize by the morning, so after much searching and calling and gnashing of teeth, Mark had to drive all the way to Tustin to get a knight costume. (And yes, I know Tustin is only 15 minutes away. But I have been living in the OC too long and have some very fixed ideas about not veering out of the 5-minute radius surrounding my house. Anything further than that is a road trip by OC standards).

So, we now have a respectfully earned knight costume, complete with an ornate feather/fountain grass plume from the backyard. Jafta is really, really excited about it. For the last few days he has worn it everywhere, on bike rides, to a pool playdate, to pick up my mom from the airport, and even to bed. Every time I have a phone conversation Jafta wants to know who I'm talking to and if I've told them about the knight costume yet.

I am extremely proud of Sir Jafta and his dedication to a better night's sleep for those in his kingdom. If only we could get the princesses sleeping through the night, we could have our own version of Camelot.


  1. Great story! And I am glad he is staying in his room until 8am. WOW! I have 3 boys, one is 5 and twin 3 year olds----I was just telling my husband that I sleep less now than I did when the twins were 3 months old. :)

  2. great story! toddler boys sure know how to have fun with us, don't they?

  3. I love your idea.. my kids are 8 & 5 and they both wake up in the middle of the night and sneak into our bed. I can't figure out why they wake up or how to keep them in their rooms without making them feel like we don't want them. So I love this idea and with school starting soon... I am going to test drive it! THANK YOU.. and sweet peaceful dreams!

  4. Thks for this.
    I totally copied it as I saw this but did not want to pay $34.99...

    My son totally stays in his bed now..I blogged about my expereince here.

  5. he he he....funny yet interesting.... how much did that Knight suit coast?? keep posting. Will be visiting back soon.


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