Four-year-old Bentley was such a sound sleeper that he didn’t wake up when he had to go to the bathroom. There was a family history of bed wetting—on his father’s side, my pride makes me write—and I knew he’d grow out of it.
I put Bentley in large disposable diapers and called it good. In the morning he had a quick bath. We had it figured out; I wasn’t worried until I mentioned it to our family doctor.
“He’s what?” Dr. Stubb’s eyes bugged out like globs of beached jellyfish. “Putting a four-year-old in diapers is terrible for his self esteem. You buy one of those devices that attaches to his underwear. An alarm will sound when he starts to urinate. It will wake him up and pretty soon he will wake up on his own before he starts to go. It’s sort of like Pavlov’s dogs.”
My face got red. I was a bad mother who was setting up Bentley for low self-esteem? In order to salvage my own self-esteem I imagined Pavlov’s dogs in underwear, waking up to a buzzer and being taken outside to a fire hydrant and so I laughed, hesitatingly. Dr. Stubbs laughed a little too but he also looked like he meant business so I went right to the Village Green pharmacy and bought a Nytone Enuretic Alarm.
“Has changed thousands of young lives,” the box said. We hoped it would change Bentley’s because in 1983 the price—$46.70—was pretty steep. But I was messing with Bentley’s self esteem and honestly I was tired of dealing with diapers anyway so I plunked down the money and we started nighttime adventures that everyone in the house participated in.
We explained how it worked.
“Cool,” Bentley said.
An alarm was strapped on his wrist, a plastic covered wire went up his pajama sleeve and down to his underwear where it separated into two plastic wires with little metal clamps on the end that that snapped together, one on the inside of his underwear, one on the outside. When the metal clamps got wet the charge sent a message to the alarm, which went off with a scream that woke up everyone in the house. Everyone except Bentley.
I hit the floor running because if I didn’t get there soon enough I had wet underwear to deal with and wet sheets. I didn’t want to deal with wet anything in the middle of the night but there was his self esteem on the line so we continued.
“Bentley,” I’d hear someone hollering from other bedrooms. “Wake up! You’re peeing the bed!”
He slumbered on.
I’d wake Bentley, grab clean underwear and rush him to the bathroom. We spoke in whispers; we closed the bathroom door as quietly as possible and sometimes only worked with the night-light on so we wouldn’t disturb anyone more than they already were. I’d help him strip his wet underwear off and tell him to finish going to the bathroom, then I’d give him a quick wash and dry and help him slip into clean underwear. We’d attach the clamps, I’d kiss him goodnight and tuck him back in bed. If his bed was a bit wet I’d put a towel down and change the sheets in the morning. If it was a lot wet I changed them then. This happened at least once, sometimes twice, and occasionally three times a night. The whole process took maybe two minutes unless I had to change the sheets. Then it took three.
One weekend we went to Annabella. Mom, who knew what all moms’ know—which is everything—said, “Don’t give him anything to drink after 5:00 o’clock. He’ll sleep right through the night. Wait and see.”
We waited to see but didn’t have long to wait. The alarm sounded, I drug sleepy Bentley to the bathroom. Not once. Not twice. Seven times. Honest. Seven times. I got to the point that I was putting his underwear on backwards in order to find a dry spot to attach the clamps.
In the morning Mom was all smiles. “Well?” she asked.
I was so sleep deprived I couldn’t speak but my evil twin could; “Seven times,” she snapped.
Mom took one look at the bags under my eyes and bustled off to the kitchen. “I’ll fix breakfast,” she called over her shoulder. She offered no more advice.
This nighttime behavior continued when we got home, except we went back to once or twice a night—night after night, week after week. I felt like it was going to be year after year.
The only night he didn’t wet the bed was once a week when he had swimming lessons at the Orem Rec. Center. I figured the pressure of the water forced the cells to give up that little bit of extra liquid early and he “went” sooner. I told him not to go in the pool and he said he didn’t but you know four-year-olds. At any rate we had a full night’s sleep on Wednesday’s and I was considering enrolling him in a diving class, a water aerobics class and any thing else that kept him in the water every night. The instructor looked at me with a blank face.
“Water aerobics is for ages fifty to ninety,” she said.
“He’ll be fifty in forty-six years,” I said. “Maybe we should enroll him early so he’ll get used to it.”
“The class is at 5:30 in the morning.”
“Oh,” I said, laughing feebly. “I was just kidding.” She didn’t smile. Some people have no sense of humor.
One night, several weeks later—not a Wednesday—I’d finally had it and told Phil it was his turn. I showed him where the clean underwear was and then I went to bed with a smile on my face. At 2:00 am the alarm sounded. Phil slumbered on. I poked him and told him to hurry. He got up and stumbled into the hall, turned on the light, leaving our bedroom door open.
“Bentley,” he hollered—it’s possible he didn’t holler but in the middle of the night normal voices sound like those through a megaphone—“Bentley,” he hollered again. “Get up, son. You’re wetting the bed. Get up! GET UP! Come on now, that’a boy. Come on, Watch Out! Okay, you really should clean up this floor.”
This is not the time for the “clean room” lecture, I thought. Surely he’ll see he left our door open and will close it. He’ll tiptoe Bentley into the bathroom. Surely he will.
He left the hall light on, our bedroom door open and when he got to the bathroom he left that door open, too.
“Whoa, wait a minute,” he yelled. “Let me get this clamp off.”
Just pull his underwear down, Phil. Point him at the toilet and let him go. And close the door.
“Wait. Stop! Hold on. Let me help. WHOA, HOLD IT, HOLD IT, HOLD IT. I’LL PINCH THE END. WAIT! IT’S GOING EVERYWHERE. STOP! STOP IT! WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH YOU? STOP IT! OHMYGOSH!
And what’s the matter with you? I thought. I was wide-awake. So was everyone else in the house. Did I hear him right? He was “helping” Bentley by pinching the end? He had obviously lost his mind. I had lost mine too for asking him to give me one measly night of sleep.
I got up, turned off the hall light, tiptoed into the bathroom and and closed the door. Quietly.
“What’s going on,” I whispered.
“This kid pee’d all over the place.” Phil hollered. “Look! It’s everywhere! It’s on the ceiling, for crying out loud. What’s the matter with him?”
Nothing, I thought. What you should ask is “what is the matter with someone who pinches the end of a little boy’s anatomy while he’s peeing? Haven’t you ever put your thumb over the end of a garden hose? Same principle. Water everywhere."
“Go to bed,” I whispered. “I’ll finish.”
He stomped off, scratching his head and perhaps his behind. Men do that kind of thing in the middle of the night. I didn’t watch. He banged the bedroom door. I hung my head and looked at Bentley. He was wide eyed. I rumpled his hair. “Do you have to go any more?”
He shook his head. He’d probably never go again. He’d blow up like a puffer fish. His eyeballs would turn yellow.
We got the wet underwear off and I washed him. He put on clean underwear while I washed the wall. I stood on the toilet and washed the ceiling and then put the clamps on his underwear and hustled him back to bed, kissed him goodnight and silently promised myself I wouldn’t ask for a night off again. I tiptoed back to the bathroom and washed practically every inch of it. I was almost 3:00 am by the time I was finished. I had zero seconds of sleep; the kids had all been ear-witnesses to a fighting match between their dad and a human sprinkler. I was now wide-awake. I went back to bed and stared at the ceiling, making a few rules involving husbands participating in any nighttime parenting activity. In fact, I wondered if husbands should be involved in any nighttime activity at all.
After a few months, the alarm woke Bentley and he would get up and go to the bathroom. Some time after that he would wake up without the alarm.
We retired the Nytone Enuretic Alarm but still have it, in the back of a drawer somewhere. When Bentley has kids we’ll mail it to him. I’ll include a note of warning for Tricia:
Here’s the alarm we used when Bentley was four and a bed wetter. It comes with this advice: It’s easier to get up and take care of any bed wetting problems, yourself. Men don’t do well with four-year-old’s in the middle of the night. Trust me. Now, if the bathroom walls and ceiling need a thorough cleaning, then you can ask for Bentley’s help but you’ll be cleaning in the middle of the night. Alone. Bentley will have scratched something and gone back to bed.
And your child will probably be traumatized. Some traumas are never forgotten. To this day I wake up twitching if a car alarm goes off in the middle of the night. Good luck.
I love you,