Alex doesn’t always drift peacefully off after we bolt him into his bedroom for the night.

He’s honed many tactics for getting us to open the door. First and favorite seems to be rattling the doorknob and screeching. We wish he’d screech “Mommy!” or “Daddy!” instead of his usual impersonation of a trapped parrot, but he does get me or Jill off the couch and to his door, which I wrench open and say, in tones that remind me of every wise dad I’ve ever known, “Bed! Put your head down! Now!” Plus I point my finger.

Sometimes Alex also takes advantage of Ned hopping up and down in the crib – Ned tickled with his brother’s late show — to fly from his bed, peel around two corners and down our bedroom hall, and dive onto our pillows. Last night, he even drew our sheets up over himself and burrowed into our blankets, thinking, I guess, that it might not occur to me to wonder where Alex had gone. Last night, Alex also asked for a book: “Ham!” he said. “Ham!”, meaning Green Eggs and Ham. When I handed it to him, he said, “Sam – I – Am!”

Alex’s ultimate weapon to forestall bedtime makes me proud. He bounces on his mattress, flattens himself, goes all taut and says “Diapee!”

I have to check the diaper for the same reason a bus has to stop at all railroad tracks. Up comes one flap, up comes the other, and I lift and peer in the dim light in a maneuver that would have made me retch in the not-so-distant past. Now, all that comes up is my indignation at finding the diaper dry and spotless.

“Alex, there is nothing wrong with your diapee. Go to sleep!” Plus I point.

“Die – PEE,” says Alex. When did I start calling them “diapees,” too?

Alex is four. Most 4-year-olds don’t wear diapers, but Alex does. He may wear them longer than Ned, who already wears the same size and has already expressed an interest in making it rain in the bathroom. Our babysitter is working with Alex on this, though.

Alex will usually tell us when a diaper is falling off, but he usually doesn’t tell us when he needs a change. Once I peeked and discovered he needed a change while in the office of his developmental pediatrician. “That doesn’t bother him when he needs a change?” the doctor asked. No, I admitted. She made a mark on her clipboard. I wish it bothered him, but it doesn’t yet.

Sometimes in those moments of his pre-sleep wildness, I wonder if Alex will ever be out of diapers, ever deprived of the instrument of this tactic to stave off bedtime. I don’t know what excuse he’s going to reach for at 8:30 every night once he’s out of diapers. I look forward to finding out, even as we’ve finally straightened out Medicaid diaper deliveries.

Medicaid diapers are free, unless you count the emotions involved in having a 4-year-old need them. Every couple of months we get two mammoth cartons of what a social worker once described as “better than nothing” diapers. They have the sticky tabs, not the Velcro ones of the CVS brand. The CVS ones are $13.50 for a 48-pack. We’re trying to get reimbursement for all those months we bought diapers for Alex. The containment factor on the Medicaid diapers rivals Chernobyl – Ned can saturate one in about 20 minutes. Those on Alex last longer, but we still use a CVS diaper on him for overnight.

“Diapee,” says Alex. “DiaPEE.”

Here I am on yet another night, in the dim light, lullabies crooning impotently on the tape machine, Ned making the springs of his crib go nuts, my dinner cooling in the other room in front of the “Enterprise” episode which I am not able to watch. Alex is flat on his bed and trying to hold back the giggles. He feels taut with excitement.

“Alex,” I say, pulling down his pajama bottoms and peeling away the straps, “there is nothing wrong with your oh-”

There in the dim light is a deeper darkness. We all know what I saw. I thought it wise not to point my finger.

Jeff Stimpson, 49, is a native of Bangor, Maine, and lives in New York with his wife Jill and two sons. He is the author of Alex: The Fathering of a Preemie and Alex the Boy: Episodes From a Family’s Life With Autism (both available on Amazon). He maintains a blog about his family at, and is a frequent contributor to various sites and publications on special-needs parenting, such as Autism-Asperger’s Digest, Autism Spectrum News, and The Autism Society news blog.