He’s so small.
He’s refusing to sleep in his own bed because he wants his mama. This is how it goes these days – and I can’t really blame him because he’s so small – so I agree to tuck him into mine.
He snuggles under the covers, head on pillow. Round cheeks, fuzzy hair, soft lashes. I see how small he is and how quickly this stage will go by. I can absolutely understand why he would want me to lie with him while he goes to sleep. That makes sense to me – as a person and a mother. His mother. And yet I’m lying there with my teeth clenched so tight my jaw is starting to hurt.
There are some nights when I just don’t have it in me. He resists the routine at every stage, squawking and stomping and running away. Laughing because he thinks he’s funny and he knows I think he’s not. He slams doors and throws things and I feel my ability to cope drain away.
When he’s finally in bed, he takes a while to be still. He’s like a butterfly, flitting from flower to flower trying to find just the right spot. He rolls over, pulls the covers up, pushes them away. He snuggles into me, then flops right out of the bed and announces, with conviction, that he’s not interested in going to sleep.
I start with ultimatums, but before long I’m begging.
Please lie down. Please, please go to sleep.
I’m begging a two-year-old to sleep, despite months and months and years of evidence that this is in no way effective. That it serves no purpose except to highlight my inadequacy and remove all hope that this will become a peaceful process.
When he finally settles and asks for a cuddle, my first response is an emphatic, “No!” I need to get out of here. I need to…do something else. I can’t. I just can’t.
And I immediately feel awful. Awful. What kind of mother says no to a cuddle at bedtime? Besides, I know I’m going to give in.
Some nights this cuddle time is my absolute greatest joy. Some nights I would give everything to freeze time and lie there with him. My son. My baby. He has his spot – his back curled right into my chest, his head tucked under my chin. During those times I can feel his breathing – his chest rising and falling, his breath on my arm – and everything about it is peace.
Those good nights outnumber the bad. But, oh, the bad. When it’s not going well and I don’t have it in me I simply cannot summon that peace. We’ve had bedtime battles with this child since he was an infant. A very small, very screamy infant. One night when he was two or three months old it took us five hours – FIVE HOURS – to get him to calm down and go to sleep. When he was finally asleep I called my parents and told them to bring whiskey. “For you or for him?” my mother asked. Both. Definitely both.
We clearly needed to do something different, but two years later we haven’t really figured out what that is. Some nights he’s fine, but most of the time bedtime is not easy. And on those nights I start to think he’s actually going to kill me.
We have the same routine every night and he knows what to expect. He says he’s tired and wants to go to sleep. Stories are usually fine, but lately I use the toothpaste test to know if the rest of the routine is going to go well: if I end up with toothpaste on me – wiped on me, spat at me, thrown at me – that’s not a good sign.
I’m sure my frustration and anxiety about this process transfer to him and get him all hopped up when he’s supposed to be calming down, but I don’t know how to change that. I’m willing to give up the battle – he can sleep in my bed, though that doesn’t necessarily make it easier to get him to go to sleep. It just avoids the screaming. It means I’ll sleep better than if he were in his own bed, but it doesn’t mean I’ll sleep well. But after over two years of this battle, my husband and I know when we’re not going to win and we concede defeat.
The bedtime battle always eventually ends – for one night, at least – but I feel like there are so many other parts to this war.
[Side note: Just when I was trying to decide if it was productive to post this my iTunes mix jumped to Pink. I told you...she's following me.]