I recently wrote about the war raging between my toddler and me. Guess what? It’s still going on, and I’m still losing. Bedtime has become the worst battle.
I should cut Elisabeth some slack. We travel a lot. One day her dad is home. Another day he is gone, and doesn’t come back for a long time. It’s a lot of change for a small person, and she handles it pretty well. Except at night. I don’t know if she thinks that if I leave her at bedtime, I won’t be there in the morning, or if she just likes to terrorize me (I think it’s the latter), but the child will not go to bed.
She launched her bedtime campaign small, insisting I sit in the rocking chair while she fell asleep. That’s not a big deal. That’s why they made a Solitaire iPhone app, right? But gradually she began taking longer and longer to fall asleep. Every time I tried to sneak out of the room, the rocking chair would give me away with a telltale creak. Every time Elisabeth would wake. “Mama?” she’d asked, making sure I was still present. Followed by, “Mama sit down!” Every. Single. Time. And also, when did she become so bossy?
I started to employ a new strategy. Every time she caught me leaving, I would say, “I’ll be right back. Mama’s just going potty.” Elisabeth respected that. If a girl has got to pee, a girl has got to pee. Did I feel bad lying to my child? Eh. I figure on the scale of parental lies, this one ranks pretty low. Plus, I always do come back eventually to check on her.
Anyway, the potty excuse worked for awhile. I would slip out of her bedroom under feigning incontinence, and she would fall asleep. But then she caught on. “Mama! Sit down! Mama. Mammmmma!” She would moan until I resumed my rightful place in the rocking chair, playing Solitaire until my hand cramped.
And just so I wouldn’t forget my place, she became quite particular regarding the placement of her lovey and blanket in the crib. She insisted that I drape her blanket over her back, followed by her lovey. “Back! Back!” she would cry, if ever I dared to place her lovey beside her instead of on her. When she wanted to test me, she would purposefully remove the lovey and blanket. When she wanted to go nuclear, she would throw the lovey and blanket out of the crib. “Blanket! Lovey!” she would call to me. “Back!”
Ohhhh no. Mama don’t play that game.
“Elisabeth. You did that on purpose,” I would say in my stern voice, whilst retrieving the blanket and lovey. “I am not putting these on your back. I am leaving now. Good night.” I’d give hand her back the objects of contention and then make my exit, listening to my daughter wail at her abandonment. I’d give her a minute to before coming back in. Now I had the power. Well, some power.
“I will sit back down, but you must be quiet. And if you throw out your blanket again, I’m leaving.” She would whimper and settle down. Sure, I was still resigned to the rocking chair, but I had gained back some ground that I thought was lost. I considered that a win.
BIG miscalculation on my part. While I thought we had reached some sort of bedtime compromise, she was plotting her next move.
Recently we were going through the same song and dance. She had thrown out the lovey and blanket, I had left and come back when she stood up in her crib and started saying, “Mama night-night,” and pointing to the floor, making it clear she expected me to go night-night next to her. “No, Elisabeth. I’m not going to lie on the floor. I will sit in the chair. You go night-night.”
“Mama night-night! Mama night-night!” she continued, as I retreated to the rocking chair, assuming she’d settle down in a minute.
I assumed wrong.
“Elisabeth, lie down or mama is going to have to leave,” I threatened. Yes, threatened. Mean mommy, I know. To be fair, this had been going on a really long time.
“Up! Up!” she insisted.
“No, it’s night-night time. Please lie down, Elisabeth.” I said calmly. “Noooo!” she howled. “Up! Up! Mama. Mammmma!” she continued, in low, guttural moans.
This was a transformative moment. She was no longer the normal Night Stalker I had come to accept. This was Night Stalker 2.0. Night Stalker, The Toddler.
And all of a sudden, it happened. A sight so terrifying I hesitate to recount it here. In an instant, Elisabeth reached up her leg to the top of the crib railing. Then she grabbed onto the top of a slat for leverage and hoisted her body up. I watched, frozen in horror before suddenly coming to my senses.
“NOOOOOOOOO!” I cried (in the deep, slow-motion movie voice) and leapt out of the rocking chair. I reached the crib just before she swung her second leg over the side, and hastily placed her back in the crib.
She had almost done it. She had come thisclose to climbing out of the crib. Once that happens, it’s game over for me. If she can climb out the crib, she can unleash a whole new wave of bedtime terror, a wave of terror I am not prepared for or equipped to fight. I had kept her in her place, for the time being.
Yesterday everything changed. After a particularly long nap time struggle, I gave up. Elisabeth threw her lovey out of the crib for the umpteenth time, and I threw my hands up and exasperated, said, “That’s it! You do not get Lovey back. I’m leaving.” And I left. Admittedly, it was not my finest parenting moment. There is an article circulating the internet about how maybe your 2-year-old just needs you at bedtime. Maybe she just needs a few extra cuddles and head-strokes and love. It’s beautiful and sentimental and really hits that guilt button hard. Yes, my 2-year-old needs me. But after an hour of extra cuddles and head-strokes and picking up that freaking Lovey off the floor, I needed me. Specifically, I needed to pee. For real this time.
I left, and miraculously, Elisabeth didn’t cry. I had won! I had won! She had given up! And then I heard it. The Thump. Followed by, The Scream. The Pain Scream.
In a panic, I darted the three feet across the hall back into her room, and found Elisabeth not in her crib where I had left her, but squatting on the floor, pacifier dangling out of her mouth, wailing in pain. Obviously, she had jumped out of her crib (I suspect not very gracefully, given the crying.) I swept her up and assessed the situation. No blood, no broken bones (at least none that I could see.) “What hurts? What hurts?” I kept asking, and she patted her head between sobs. No bumps or bruises (again, none that I could see or feel), and after a few minutes of cuddling she calmed herself down. She was fine, thank goodness. And I was guilty. I never expected Elisabeth to throw herself to sudden injury in our battle of the bedtimes! That level of self-sacrifice shows true determination and grit that I could not match. I want my child to sleep, I don’t want her to break her arm – or worse – climbing out of the crib.
I conceded defeat. She went back to her crib willingly. And guess where I ended up? Laying on the floor next to her, no dignity, no power. And I fear that is where I will remain forever. Or at least until we purchase a toddler bed.