Before becoming a parent, I didn’t understand that while you can put a toddler in bed, you can’t actually force it to go to sleep. Even if said child is exhausted with eyes rolling back in its little head, the small human will cling to the waking state like a suicide jumper clinging to side of the building and their last, worthwhile hope in this life. But unlike a jumper situation, there is no skilled, smooth talking professional that knows just what to say at bedtime.
Nope. It’s just me, and I’m exhausted. I’ve fought one too many battles on this day. From putting on the same little shoes no less than 20 times, to avoiding stairs and sharp metal objects. I. JUST. WANT. IT. TO. END.
I’m actually that asshole that wants to scream: GO AHEAD! FREAKING JUMP. I don’t care!!! Just leave me alone!
My frustration at my own children alarms even me.
I mean, it doesn’t start out that way. Every night, the ritual starts out as you imagine bedtime should be. Sweet and routine, a meaningful and enjoyable end to the day.
But after bath time and teeth brushing, four bedtime stories, a few rounds of You Are My Sunshine and Kumbaya, I’m ready to give a last goodnight kiss and go enjoy an hour or two of being an adult.
As I peck those cherub checks and turn to leave it starts.
“Please sleep with me mommy. I missed you today.”
Sometimes I stand firm and say no (which sets a whole different chain of events into action) but night’s like tonight, I fall for the sweetness and desire to cuddle and watch them drift off into fantasies.
“Shhhhhhhhhhh,” I sooth, as I snuggle down next to by child and control my breathing into a peaceful coo.
Keep in mind whilst this singing, and reading and shooshing is going on—I’ve folded my body into a midget bed roughly three feet long and two feet wide, along with my child and a myriad of stuffed animals and nighttime friends.
After what feels like an hour has passed since lights out, I peek at my watch to discover it’s only been fifteen minutes. An army of thoughts and things I still need to accomplish before I can put myself to bed march through my mind.
But finally, I hear the breathing slow into that rhythmic zone that signals the fight is finally over. Victory is mine! I didn’t nod off during bedtime duty!
I slowly rise from the bed, when a little hand clutches my arm with a force not to be easily dismissed. I wait, until the grip softens, then try again. I tiptoe, holding my breath, and finally exhaling when I touch down with the last step into the hallway.
A soft voice pierces the darkness, “Mommy. Sleep with me.”
“It’s time for bed baby,” I coo.
“But I want you to sleep with me,” the voice raises an octave to match the desperation.
“Just go to sleep honey, it’s late. I’m right here.” The house is only 700 sq feet for god’s sake. Some people have bigger bedrooms than this. I really am just right here.
“But Mommy,” insert lame, manipulative crying.
I jump, desperate to not wake my other sleeping child . The villain has me right where it wants me. This has escalated to a hostage situation. And still, no trained expert to guarantee my release.
Now I feel the heat rise into the back of my neck.
“Okay, sweetheart,” I say barely breathing, hoping to pacify this one long enough to drift off, and not wake my other child that actually did fall asleep.
And just for the record, those of you that were blessed with good sleepers: you got lucky. My kids were easy to potty train. As in, one day they just started doing all their business in the toliet. No fuss, no accidents. Even at night. It all just magically fell into place right around their 2 birthday. I could credit my stellar parenting skills, and I did offer a few practical techniques that I think helped, but ultimately—that just wasn’t our struggle. We preferred our battlefield between the sheets.
I have read and researched everything there is to read and research about babies, toddlers and sleeping. There is such a thing as too much information. The Ferber Method, the No-Cry Sleep Solution, The Nighttime Parenting Manual, Dr. Sears, Dr. Spock, Dr. Who the Fuck Cares, my husband does not want to hear about another science of sleeping theory. He just wants them to go the bleep to sleep.
So here I am lying next to my own child in the darkness, absolutely fuming mad. Totally not the intention I had with a bedtime routine.
“This is ridiculous,” I rage to myself. “This is like extortion. They are manipulating me, and I am falling for it. Who is the parent here?
And kids are sensitive to energy. So now they’re wide awake too.
“I need to go pee mommy,” they know that will always work. Because you know, who wants to deny a toliet training toddler a bathroom trip, especially at bedtime?
And yes, again for all your perfect parents out there, that have your kids use the restroom, and have a final drink of water before bed, and then they obediently go to bed and actually to sleep…we did use the bathroom and have a final drink before bedtime. But bedtime was an hour and a half ago—and the kid probably does need to use the potty and get another drink of water.
And now I understand that stupid 90’s campaign—Never EVER shake a baby. “Who would shake a baby,” I remember my childless 20-something-self thinking.
Me! I would shake a baby. I would shake both my babies right now, if it meant they would GO. TO. SLEEP.
And so, I take a few deep breaths, and remind myself that one day I’ll miss folding myself around their perfect little bodies and soft skin, and reminisce how sweet this time really is. But for now, I resentfully report back to my post, and as I surrender into the softness of nurturing and mothering, I fall peacefully into a slumber right beside my babes.
A few hours later, I’ll wake, stiff neck and dry contacts glued to my blurring eyes, and stumble to my own bed for a few hours of sleep before they will inevitable wander into to join me.
Honestly, I never did figure out the perfect bedtime routine. My kids just outgrew the toddler bedtime wars.
But for those still surviving the days of GO. THE FUCK. TO. SLEEP. There is hope on the horizon,you’re just too tired to see yet. And I have no advice, other than stay strong, this too shall pass.
And this little gem read by Samuel L. Jackson, might at least bring a little comedy to an otherwise grim reality of serious sleep deprivation.