Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Losing It

My daughter licks the icing from her second birthday cake, marking the end of her time as a baby and the beginning of me facing the hardest year of her life.  We are at Sesame Place dining with the characters and as The Count and Big Bird dance around singing Happy Birthday I consider the many challenges ahead of us as I help blow out her candles.  The never ending toddler bed transition, introducing the potty, and part time pre-school.  Not to mention the myriad of tantrums and defiant behavior that will become more frequent than they have been in the past few months. 

After a fun filled day of taking pictures with Elmo and dancing with Zoe, the Terrible Two wasted no time rearing its ugly head as my naked daughter, refusing to take a bath in her over tired haze, crawled and clawed her way up my chest in our hotel bathroom.  My husband was out getting some food as I'm stranded, kneeling on the tile, asking her to please calm down and tell me what she wants.  She does nothing but point and scream in tones that are both familiar and new.  High and amazingly higher.  I take her to the common room of the suite and she demands we go out into the hallway, kicking the towel away from her bottom which I'm hoping prevents an accident on the rug.  After I tell her numerous times we can't go out without clothes on she cries for chocolate milk.  Halfway through my assembling her sippy cup she decides she doesn't want that and instead screams for something else I can't figure out.  My brain short circuits and I scream back.  This naturally does nothing but make me feel more defeated and sweaty.  I abandon the sippy cup and turn on the travel DVD player.  As expected Mickey Mouse Clubhouse puts her in a trance and I'm able to get her dressed and lay her on the bed while we both catch our breathe.

My husband comes back and I feel the urge to escape.  Looking around the hotel room we so neatly decorated with 2nd birthday balloons and streamers I feel this moment has tarnished what was such a great day.  I grab my cell phone and tell him I need to go for a walk, rushing out and into the elevator realizing I look like a mess with my disheveled hair and wrinkled clothes.  I go sit in the courtyard overlooking the indoor pool.  The sun is setting and there is a family inside with a young child, about my daughter's age.  I sit there wondering if that mother feels like a bit of a failure when her kid makes her crazy too.

In the past month I've completely lost it with her on more occasions than I'd like to admit. I am in charge of the unfun stuff which includes getting my daughter dressed in the morning, bathed at night, brushing her teeth and then to bed.  It gets exhausting to be creative with every task that needs to get done.  To make a game out of something to hold  her attention.  When I am out of ideas and can clearly detect her lack of eye contact and encore of "The Wheels on the Bus" as signs of procrastination and rebellious behavior,  I find myself storming out of rooms, leaving her screaming and crying, threatening to take her favorite stuffed animal away and then following through while resenting my own actions.  None of which seem to be teaching her a lesson and leave me feeling sad and frustrated, looking down at the imaginary "Bad Cop" badge on my chest.

I know I shouldn't be hard on myself for feeling this way.  I should know that my parents didn't feel like they were "in charge" until I was maybe three or four.  When I could really understand things and wasn't as frustrated with my developing communication and the overwhelming curiosity of a two year old.  But then I think I'm just giving my daughter a pass and making excuses for her behavior and my inability to somehow control it.  Instead of just understanding there are some battles I can't win and some battles I'm just too damn tired to fight.

The next day we go back to Sesame Place.  Upon entering we see a little boy laying on the ground in front of the gate with his sippy cup.  He's about three years old, eyes watery and likely fresh off a tantrum.  We smile as we pass but are ignored by his agitated mother who leaves her stroller and older son a few feet away to pick him up.  She wrestles the younger boy in the stroller as the older one pretends to punch him, making him cry and scream.  The woman is sweating, blowing her hair out of her eyes and trying to unlock the wheel brakes.  We make our way to the ticket taker just as she starts to push forward knocking the stroller into her older child who jumped in front to again agitate his little brother.  It  practically flips over.  "That's it WE ARE LEAVING!"  The mother screams, whips the stroller around and charges towards the parking lot.  She escapes my view as I hear her boys crying and pleading for her to go back. 

I look at my daughter and husband as they go through the gates, feeling sorry for the woman.  Wondering what her trip home will be like and what she will tell her spouse.  More importantly, I wonder how quickly the kids will forget what they did to make their mother crazy. At some point she will eventually cool down, possibly go over what went wrong, consider what she could have done differently if anything, and then realize none of it matters.  Because unlike me she's likely already learned that being a parent is just as much about keeping it together as it is about occasionally falling apart. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Toddler Bed

My daughter's mobile music plays for a solid 20 minutes which, throughout the course of its existence, has both relieved and aggravated me depending on where we are in the bed routine when it stops.  Tonight I'm pleased when it ends since she seems to have been asleep for most of the cricket and frog sounds.  Nestled in her bed I lay beside her, my one leg hanging over the rail, head propped up by her stuffed ladybug, singing her our goodnight song and rubbing her temple.  I begin to move and she turns on her stomach, pops up, grabs my neck, and says, "I snuggle Mommy!"  Pinned and practically choking I reach up and restart the music, preparing for another 20 minutes in this position while I consider a new escape plan.

I wish I could've taped the look on my daugther's face the moment my husband and I revealed her toddler bed.  With big smiles on our faces we watched as she inched away and then approached cautiously.  We showed her how she could get in and out on her own, threw in her stuffed animals,and acted as excited as possible.  She smiled slowly and then laughed, crawled in, and spent the next hour running from the bed to the living room.  I watched her from the kitchen, feeling proud as she took her bowl of cheerios to bed and dangled her feet through the guard rail.  I thought we had done it.  That she would reward us for recognizing her love of sleeping in her Sesame Street fold out couch by giving her a "big girl" bed and she would in turn easily go to sleep.   

That night we struggled with a new bed time ritual of reading numerous books, sitting in the bed, and singing songs.  As the clock struck an oppressive 11p.m. she finally decided it was time to sleep.  I closed her door, feeling like a bad mother and foolish for thinking this transition would be at all seamless as my head strong daugther lay with her pillow and blanket on the floor.
In the weeks that followed we tried a number of different things to get her to stay in her bed, least of all her bedroom.  Storytime on the chair with Mommy.  Storytime on the chair wtih Daddy while Mommy reads the story from the ottoman.  Storytime on the chair with Mommy while Daddy lays in bed.  Laying in bed with Daddy while Mommy sings the goodnight song from the chair.  Laying on the floor with Daddy while Mommy sings the goodnight song from the bed.  Without the confines of a crib, most of these scenarios ended in me jostling my fading husband from whatever post he was stationed as our daugther said, "Be right back" and went to the living room, leaving us to the sound of her mobile music and our mutual frustration.

Each night she'd fall asleep somewhere and then we would put her into bed.  A lucky shopping find of Minnie Mouse sheets finally kept her interested in the bed long enough for one of us to climb in and spoon her. So now we have a new bedtime routine which consists of  me laying down next to her, worrying about the weight capacity of the mattress that is clearly sinking in the middle.

Tonight is shaping up to be no different than the past few nights and yet being held down by my 23lb daughter somehow stifles my anger at this whole, far-from-easy process of getting her to sleep.  After a few minutes with her tiny arm around me, I succumb to my sleepiness and the warmth of this odd cuddle. Just as my body goes limp the words of every sleep book, judgey parent, and doctor about creating negative behavior patterns remind me that "just this one time" can't exist in the world of parenting.  If I lay with her for a while longer she is going to think I'll be here all the time and then that's going to create a vicious cycle of me and my husband taking turns sleeping in her bed.  So I rub her hair and count to myself to stay awake.  After a few minutes I realize I may really be trapped.  I have only one free hand which is now fishing for my glasses that she made me take off, while the other is fast asleep under her pillow.  I lay there trying not to sneeze as her wisps of hair tickle my nose and decide to close my eyes.

I wonder how many other mothers and fathers are around the world, currently in this same uncomfortable and awkward position.  How many of us feel ridiculous and are cursing the manufacturers of the toddler bed, who clearly didn't think to make room for an adult body?  How many of us are wondering why its so damn hard for someone to sleep in her bed, when sleeping in our bed is something we are thinking about all day long?

Her breathing gets heavier and I know its time to move.  I grab onto one of the railing with my free hand and shimmy my way out from under her pillow.  I curse every creak the bed makes as I try and lift myself up and out, the blood flowing slowly back to my tingling fingers.  The door even creaks as I suck in my stomach to get through the sliver of space.

I close the door behind me and feel successful.  Too tired to take care of the mess around me or pick up the dusty magazine I've been meaning to read, I crawl into bed.  A half hour goes by and I'm still staring at the ceiling fan, unable to sleep.  I think about all of the times my mother used to lay next to me in bed.  I'd fall asleep feeling safe and sheltered by the warmth of her body, only to wake up hours later to the empty space next to me.  Confused as to why she left when her cuddle promised a night of sweet and pleasant dreams.   

I tip toe back to my daughter's room.  She is quiet, her chest rising slowly as I watch from the crack in the door.  I wonder how bad my back will hurt tomorrow if I crawl back into bed with her.  Reluctantly I head to the bathroom, take an allergy pill and get back into to my bed.  Noticing the cold air around me, I finally drift off to sleep.