SLEEPING beside a 2-year-old can be compared to driving i Rome, meeting your in-laws, or your first parachute jump -- traumatic, unpredictable, unforgettable.
This is a simple story featuring one loving, dumb, gullible grandmother and one loving, smart, beguiling little boy.
Terrible 2 is really a misnomer. It's the ''fear of terrible 2'' that is the culprit.
I had not invited him for the night, yet. I guess I was waiting until he could talk in sentences; would be potty-trained, maybe able to drive a car or take out my garbage.
Now he's 2, and he's coming for a sleep-over. Besides his Mom and Dad needed a night away from him.
He brought his pacifier and his pillow called ''Bubba,'' or rather the pacifier and the the pillow together are ''Bubba,'' both of which he has to
have to get to sleep.
They brought diapers, his favorite oatmeal for morning, his car seat, his clothes, three of his favorite books and his favorite video with overweight, out-of-work opera singers doing ''Old King Cole'' and other ditties.
We took him to the restaurant of his choice, McDonald's, wher you can dip those McNuggets into anything from sauces to Coke and where we got a small plastic toy that made into a dinosaur. Only you had to be a genius to activate it.
Everything was going so well. He was so good, and later in the back yard we played tennis with a foam tennis racket and ball.
About 9.30, I dropped to the ground exhausted from so much tennis. After a bath we got ready for bed.
I had the guest room all geared up for him. His parents had tol me he would sleep in a ''big boy bed,'' as they billed it. So after four rounds of ''Old King Cole,'' and a picture book of Jack and Jill tumbling down a very steep hill, and a kid jumping over a candle stick -- talk about violence -- he nodded off.
When we looked in on him at our bedtime he was smiling in hi sleep. But at 12:30, I heard a noise. My husband was up to his old tricks, pretending he didn't hear anything in the night.
I got up, and the little guy was standing in his bed, saying gently, ''Gigi,'' (that's my name) ''tennis, ball? . . . cake, cookie, Tommy Turtle?''
''No darling, no tennis now, we must go back to sleep.''
So I lay down with him and hummed a few hundred bars of ''Ol King Cole,'' and eight verses of ''The Wheels on the bus . . .''
Now here's where we all know I made my mistake: lying down beside him.
The night has a thousand eyes, and 2-year-olds do too -- eye that won't always close on command.
But he never said ''home,'' and he never tried to get out of th bed. He actually tried to go to sleep, but he kept calling my name ever so gently in my ear. In fact, at times his little finger would circle my face as he said ''Gigi's eyes, nose, mouth . . .'' and then his finger was in my ear.
Anyway, it was 4 in the morning -- I think I saw the beginning o dawn, or maybe I was hallucinating, when he finally went to sleep. That was when I tried to slowly pry my arm from under his head and my left leg from under his little feet and managed to escape back to my own room.
Thank you Lord for the blissful bonding time and my eventual sleep. And, of course, thanks to ''Old King Cole'' and ''The Wheels on the Bus . . .''
Yes, I know I never should have slept with him but I didn't want him to fall out of bed.
I don't know when was the last time I'd had so little sleep; probably the last time I had a child with an earache some 40 years ago, or maybe the time my first boyfriend and I discovered kissing.
The 2-year-old woke up at 6, angelic and ready for more tennis After he went home I lay down and had a four-hour afternoon nap.
He tells me he wants a return engagement. I know I will be ready in a few years. And I have told him to bring two Bubbas -- an extra for his aging grandmother.