All Together Now… WAAAH!
It’s taken Owlet and me a day and a half to recover from Thursday night’s bedtime trauma.
Actually, we may both be haunted for quite some time.
It’s important to note that bedtime is almost always an easy thing in our house. Lengthy, but not difficult. Thor does bath time (for both kids one after the other, if Platypup is awake). Then he supervises teeth-brushing, and kindly spares me the agony of knowing whether my toothbrush has been borrowed and subsequently flung to the floor. He makes sure Owlet pees and then she comes stampeding out to see me with her towel streaming behind her. If we’re lucky, I’ve already gotten Platypup to sleep after his bath and am able to leap up and meet her in the hall before she wakes him up. If not, well, good luck, Thor, because Owlet and I are headed to bed. She climbs in and spends 30 seconds fussing while I grab her a diaper and then we snuggle down for some milk. Yes, she “still” nurses, and this is a wonderful thing, but a whole ‘nother post for a whole ‘nother day. I sing the same exact songs in the same exact order while she nurses, and then tell her “all done,” to which, surprisingly, she doesn’t object. If she’s super tired, we do some hugs and I-love-yous and settle into silence until I hear her breathing change and I sneak out. If she’s not as tired, we chat for awhile first, with the only requirements being quiet voices and staying more or less horizontal. Sometimes I fall asleep before she does, but no matter how long it takes, she stays in bed without much fuss. Occasionally after milk she’ll ask for Daddy, and depending on how close I think I am to getting her to sleep sometimes I go get him and sometimes I don’t (unless she gets insistent about it, then I definitely get him) because she always wakes up a bit when we switch and then takes longer to settle back down.
Anyway, the above description of bliss and contentment is only the norm if both Thor and I are home. When I’m at my “weekly” knitting group (to which I’ve not gone for a month now due to Thor’s work, not that I’m climbing the walls or anything), Thor pretty much doesn’t get both kids to sleep without some mega star alignment. I leave early to come home and help by around 9:30pm and usually both kids are wailing for me when I arrive. When Thor is working and I’m home alone, I never attempt a bath (and often forget teeth, sssshhh don’t tell). If we’re lucky, sometimes Platypup obligingly goes to sleep and stays asleep and I can put Owlet down in our usual manner. If we’re truly unblessed, then we get a night like last Thursday.
It really started with a barely-nap that afternoon. Owlet went down like clockwork, only to awaken a half hour later. Keep in mind this kid is usually out for a minimum of two hours and often at least three. Yes, you may rain curses down upon my head and regale me with takes of naptime woes. I know I am lucky as hell most days. But a half hour nap is worse than no nap, because with no nap, at least we are 99% guaranteed a ten minute bedtime, tops. A half hour nap not only means the same agonizing afternoon and evening as no nap, but also puts us into a mysterious land where sleep is tauntingly unpredictable.
I totally thought I was lucking out, though, which made the fall that much more painful. By 6:30pm, Owlet was showing signs of an early night: snuggly, whiny, eye-rubby, and stumbly. Then Platypup went to sleep, and I decided to seize the opportunity. I asked Owlet if she wanted to go to bed and she said “Yes!” and off we went, leaving Platypup in the living room. She practically fell asleep during milk/singing time but got a bit squirmy toward the end. We were lying there, doing our chat and snuggle routine when Platypup woke up and started to fuss, then howl. Sometimes when this happens I get wildly lucky and Owlet will fall asleep on her own (by sometimes, I mean exactly thrice). For some crazy reason I was sure this was going to be one of those nights. We talked briefly about why Platypup was crying — I ask her what she thinks he needs and she almost always says “mama milk,” or just “he needs his mama” — and then I went to go soothe him, leaving her in bed.
She’s generally good for at least a few minutes alone in bed these days but I’d barely picked him up when she started to cry. I took a moment to play the milk?-diaper?-burp? guessing game with Platypup, then reswaddled him, popped him in his bouncy seat, and when he immediately drooped his lids, ran down the hall back to Owlet. She stopped crying, we talked again about what I’d been doing, and began to get all warm and cozy… when Platypup started making noise again. This time I tried to bring him into her bed with us, but he wouldn’t stop unless I was walking/jiggling him around. Unfortunately, by this time Owlet was so worked up that she was crying if I wasn’t lying down, which in turn was keeping Platypup from staying asleep. Sensing that he’d drift off quickly without so much noise, I did my best to explain to Owlet in spurts between their cries and then took Platypup back to the living room. I could hear her breaking my heart over the monitor, but it worked, Platypup dozed off again, and I hurried back like a nurse on crack.
Owlet was in full-on sky-is-falling mode and asked for milk as soon as I appeared, which was a great idea on her part since it instantly calmed her. Five minutes or so later, though, Platypup was at it again. (This is highly unusual for him — typically he’s a log for the majority of the night, but especially the first few hours after swaddling. I know, lucky us. Quiet, you’re ruining the story.) Stifling my groan, I asked Owlet if it would be ok if I went to him. And my brave little two years old girl did that thing that I’d have thought only big kids and adults could do — she pressed her lips together while tears welled up in her eyes and nodded as her lips trembled and gradually opened against her will as she tried to contain her despair.
It slaughtered me. I bawled. She bawled. I swept her up into an enormous hug and we cried fiercely together. Then I did what you’ve probably been yelling at me to have done in the first place — I whisked her out of bed and we went out to hang with her baby brother until he finally fell asleep for good. When I was as sure as I could possibly be that he was asleep, we crept quietly back to her room and nursed again, then pressed tightly into each other as if to osmosize her back into my womb until she, too, was asleep at last.
At a little after 9pm I emerged, bleary-eyed and guilty as hell, and finally had some dinner.
It’s been hard to process. I think Owlet is doing a better job than I am. Periodically we’ve had a conversation that goes something like this:
OWLET: I was sad. I was sad in my bed.
ME: I know, honey. I’m so sorry you were sad.
OWLET: I was sad in my bed because… because Mommy wasn’t there. (I wish you could hear her inflection. It’s amazing. Brave, intelligent, sing-song helium voice.)
ME: [big hug] I’m sorry I wasn’t there. I went to be with Platypup, because he was crying, and then you were crying, so I came back to be with you, and then he was crying again. [She nods.] It was easier when we were all together. We’ll remember that next time.
OWLET: I was sad. And Platypup was really sad. He wants his Mommy.
I’ve been contemplating what it would be like to have more kids, which makes Thor very nervous. So I tried to think about how it would’ve gone down Thursday night if I had a younger pair the ages of Owlet and Platypup and they in turn were like six and eight year olds or something like that. And I realized something really important. Something I need to use to make life better for Owlet.
I would never have treated a third child the way I treated my firstborn. I don’t know if I can even properly explain why, but I know it like it’s graffitied in my veins. I ran through scenarios where the older kids were angels who helped with both younger kids so it wasn’t a tough night at all. And I ran through scenarios where the older two were hellions and it was an incredibly frustrating night requiring a lot of creativity and perhaps no children actually sleeping until quite late. There was one noteworthy constant:
In no scenario did I allow a two-year-old to lie alone in the dark crying for me.
I feel like crap because I took advantage of my daughter’s really remarkable qualities. Because she is smart and loves her brother and listens to me a surprising amount of the time, I asked her to do something beyond her abilities and she did it even though it hurt her. She didn’t yell at me. She didn’t hit her brother. She didn’t leave her bed. Hell, she didn’t even sit up in bed!
She is amazing, and if I want to keep her that way, I’d better smarten up. That is all.