A glass of wine, a great book, and my husband rubbing my feet – what more could a mom ask for? Except for the odd spate of teething or sickness, my husband and I had finally gotten through the sleepless nights and constant wake-ups of our 21-month-old daughter. We managed to go out on occasion and – gasp! – sometimes we even had sex. But I should have known that whenever my kids got into a set routine, and life seemed to be blissful, disaster would strike. And it did in the form of an acrobatic and very determined little girl.
When the kids were younger, my husband’s infrequent business trips were met with panic and despair. I have always found bedtime tricky with two. But now that both kids went to bed fairly easily and stayed asleep all night, I had become smug. “Sure, no problem, I can totally handle it,” I told Jake when he informed me he had to go away for a couple of nights. I was even excited to have the TV to myself so I could gorge on the reality shows I love and he abhors.
As usual, I picked my son up from school, brought the kids home, gave them a snack and even sat them down together to do a creative art activity — not easy with a 4.5-year-old and 21-month-old. Patting myself on the back, I started to get dinner ready while they played nicely together. I sighed with pleasure. This is the best of mommyhood, I thought. Until my daughter decided to toss every piece of art paraphernalia — sparkles, glue and countless crayons on the floor, all while looking at me and smiling. I gently asked her to stop, knowing full well she understood me.
A smart cookie my daughter is, and she loves nothing more than taking attention away from her older brother. And she’s just so cute and funny that most of the time, her devilish antics crack us up. But not this time. With a sassy grin, she began tossing everything she could find onto the floor. A little sterner now, I asked her again to stop or she would go into timeout. Now, I can’t recall when we started putting our son in timeout, but our daughter has actually been putting herself there since she was about a year old. The only problem with her self-imposed timeouts is the joy she gets from doing it. She wandered lazily over to the timeout corner, a little shake in her tiny hips, sat down and laughed. And then found a Tupperware container full of small toys nearby and dumped it all on the floor. I had had enough.
I have never wanted to use her crib or bedroom as a place to put her for a little time to herself, but with my husband away, and my irritation rising, I decided to do it. I took my little monkey upstairs, placed her in her crib, and said, “I am not happy that you’re throwing things. I want you to stay here until I am ready to come back for you.” I marched downstairs, smiling that I had solved the problem. And that was when I heard the loud thump and a scream.
I raced upstairs faster than I have ever run and found my bawling daughter, rubbing her back and standing on her floor. I was confused and stunned. Had I actually forgotten to put her in her crib and just put her in her room? While I held her close and checked for any signs of injury, I replayed the scenario over in my mind. No, the only plausible answer was that my 21-month-old had hurled herself out of the crib. I wanted to cry. I knew this day would come because she is a born circus star. But I thought I had more time. And I was terrified because if she attempted another Olympian leap, she could really hurt herself.
After frantically calling my mother and Googling, I had convinced myself that this was a one off. Perhaps she had scared herself so much that she wouldn’t do it again. And she loved her crib! With my husband gone, and it being close to bedtime, I couldn’t feasibly get her a bed or baby proof her room. Though I must admit, I thought about it. So I put her to bed in her crib and spent the night with my face plastered against the video monitor. When she awoke the next morning as sunny and smiley as ever, safely in her crib, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Until my husband got home, and he caught her trying to get out of her crib again during nap.
How did she do it? With her flexible dancer’s limbs, she raised one leg so high that it was parallel to her head and hooked it over the bars. We both knew that it was no longer safe to keep her in her crib, and she would have to be in a bed. But was she ready? Was I ready? My son was 2.5 before we’d made the transition to a big-kid bed, and once in there, he never made a move to get out. I instinctively knew that my daughter would be a very different story.
Off we all went to Ikea: my version of purgatory. Those annoying little pencils and Swedish names, all of the stuff kids want that we have no room or desire for, and the ultimate end of having to get the furniture, cram it into our very small trunk and then, ugh, assemble it. Luckily, my husband, a bona fide rocket scientist, took care of the building, but still, by the time we’d gotten home, Allen Keyed the bed and baby proofed her room to the best of our ability, we were exhausted. And we still had to deal with our baby’s first night in her toddler bed.
We made a huge deal out of the bed, kitted it out with Dora sheets and a cute tiny pillow. Our son jumped and played on it to show his sister how much fun it would be to have her own bed. She wasn’t buying it. Though she did like using it as a trampoline, that night was one of the longest we’d had in ages. We didn’t want her to be scared or traumatized by her first night in the bed, so at 8 p.m., I went to bed with my daughter. Now, I might only be five feet tall, but that toddler bed is tiny. I shoved myself into a corner and stroked her back until she fell asleep.
But any single move woke her up. For two hours I lay as still as a corpse, hoping that she would eventually be in a deep enough sleep that I could make my escape. Finally, that moment came, and I was free for maybe three hours. But, when she fell out (onto giant pillows we had placed on the floor anticipating this), I was back in her bed for the rest of the night.
We thought that nap time might be easier. Our daughter loved when we read her books and sang to her while she lay in her new bed, and she appreciated our rubbing her back endlessly, but she wasn’t about to actually sleep in her bed. The minute I left her room, she started banging on the door. Seconds later, all I could hear was heavy breathing. When I looked under the door, I could see her little feet. She had fallen asleep on the floor and stayed there for two hours!
I agonized. I didn’t want my precious little girl sleeping on the carpet. It wasn’t comfortable, and I was sure, not particularly healthy, either. But what could I do? Her nap times were when I got a lot of my writing and editing done, and I had no choice. Onto the floor I lay the softest, fluffiest blanket I could find and gave up on that particular battle.
It has been a month, and I must admit that there have been some very nice things that have happened as a result of my baby becoming a little girl. Before the crib-jumping incident, when Jake tried to put her to bed, she would cry for “Mama” in such a heart-wrenching plea that I pretty much always went to her. And I breastfed my daughter for over 21 months. Not because I’m such a breastfeeding advocate (I firmly believe it works for you, great; if it doesn’t, everyone will be just fine), but because I truly enjoyed that bond with her, and I knew it would be my last time doing it. I also wasn’t quite sure how to get her to sleep without my boobs.
Now she takes Jake’s hand and says, “Come, Daddy. Goodnight, Mommy,” and together, they go to her room for story time. And this means I can spend more time snuggling with my older son, and he gets his mommy all to himself.
I don’t have the magic touch. Jake is able to put her to bed and she stays there, but her naps with me inevitably end up with her curled up on the floor, surrounded by books, her soft strawberry blonde hair spilling out from under the door. And last night, I slept on her floor because she had fallen out of her bed and was too scared to be by herself. But, we’re working on it, which is all we can do.
“This too shall pass,” my father always says, and I think of it every time being a mom presents some challenges. In the grand scheme of things, this stressful time is just a blip. An exhausting, annoying, hair-pulling stage, but a necessary one. I am lucky to have such a feisty and funny daughter, although I now know that in about 10 years or so, she may just well be trying to escape out of her window.
(Photo: Sunny studio - Igor Yaruta/Shutterstock)