There they were: twenty-four little monster faces staring up at me from their cupcake heads. I met their tiny candy eyes. Oh yeah? I thought. Does your birthday boy have nineteen kids coming to his bouncy house party? I looked at the perfect beribboned yellow gift bags, destined for their perfectly decorated party room. I think not. I looked at my completely adequate mini cupcakes, with little frosted peaks bedazzled by sprinkles and sugar. A half hour ago, I was proud of my mastery of the frosting gun. I thought the cupcakes looked nice. Not so much now.
I usually write about gratitude for Thanksgiving. I’m grateful for many many things, but this time I’m going to write about something I could easily do without.
I’ve often poked fun at people who have a difficult first child and go on to have a second. I should never have opened my mouth because it’s coming back to bite me in the butt. In our case, Rose was a great sleeper. She slept through the night at four months and, aside from one cry-it-out session after a long trip to the East Coast, always let us sleep. So naturally we thought we’d have another good sleeper. Not so. When Christian came along, he didn’t sleep through the night until about six months, with little consistency. Christian is fourteen months old now and he’s still waking in the middle of the night. Not every night, but enough to run Matt ragged. Matt wakes up with him because I’m not at all good at losing sleep, so there’s the token thing I’m grateful for. Happy Thanksgiving.
Christian’s pattern is this: He will sleep through the night, waking up between 6 and 7:30 a.m. for a few days or a week or just long enough for us to think he’s going to sleep all night from now on. Then something happens – teething or growth spurt or whatever – and he’s back to waking in the middle of the night, and again, we’re disappointed. And exhausted. By the way, regarding teething, if anyone out there is a dental researcher, you might try to discover something that will make all of a kid’s teeth come in at once. Mark my words, everyone will want it.
Christian was in just one of these patterns two weeks ago. He was sleeping through the night fairly consistently for about a week. And, bonus, he was sleeping to the ripe old hour of 7 or 7:30 a.m. We were ecstatic. And then it happened. We turned the f-ing clocks back.
Now Christian was following the same sleep pattern, but he was waking at 6 or 6:30 a.m. because the damn clocks were turned back. Matt was grumpy. I was grumpy, and we blamed Christian. But after about a week, when we had adjusted a bit, we realized that Christian wasn’t killing us, Pacific Standard Time was.
I have always hated changing the clocks. It takes me a good two weeks to adjust in the spring and during that time I can barely function. Curiously, I recover from jet lag much faster. I always liked to fall back initially, because I got an extra hour of sleep, or, when I was younger, an extra hour of partying, but then I hated that it got dark so early. I thought I knew what true daylight suffering time was. Then I moved to Seattle.
Because we’re so far north here, we get tons of light in the summer. At its peak, the sun comes up about 5:30 a.m., and sets at almost 10 p.m. Christian was waking up really early during the spring before we realized we’d left his blinds open and his room got light at 5:30 a.m. After we closed the blinds, he slept later. Anyway it is nice to have all that daylight in the summer, although it sucks for 4th of July because they don’t start fireworks until about 10:30 p.m.
Longer summer days mean shorter winter days, though. Before we turned the clocks back, the sun was coming up about 7 a.m. and setting about 6 p.m. Once we turned the clocks back, the sun started coming up closer to six, but soon held out longer. Because we have such extreme differences in daylight between the seasons, our daylight changes faster than it does at lower latitudes. Right now the sun comes up about 7:30 a.m. and sets about 4:30 p.m. and it sucks. Gone are the days when I’d go out in the world after Rose’s nap at 4:30. By that time it’s cold and rainy and dark and I just want to hunker down and watch movies.
I did some research for this post, and it seems that there are some compelling arguments for changing the clocks, including energy conservation, reduced numbers of car accidents and a reduction in crime. But as I was reading about it, it seemed that none of those perceived benefits were conclusive. Just as I thought. No compelling reason for changing the clocks. And nowhere did it say anything about messing up sleep training. Bastards. Hopefully by next year, I won’t have to worry about fall back affecting Christian’s sleep, but until then, I’m still going to hate changing the clocks.
Sometimes nothing is the best thing you can do. A while back, I wrote about our frustrations with potty training my three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Rose. For eight months, we’d tried to get her trained. After four months it looked like she’d graduate, and then she backslid and I had to pull her out of potty-trained-kids-only summer camp.
When we first started her potty training, we tried positive reinforcement. My psych degree kicked into high gear designing her reward system. We had a sticker chart, a candy reward for each success, and cumulative rewards — a marker for every 10 successes and a Barbie for five days without an accident.
What is a four-year-old? Well, almost four, anyway. If you asked me and you asked my husband, you’d get totally different answers. Of course, I think I have a much better idea of what a normal almost-four-year-old is than he does, and he thinks his estimate is more accurate.
Why? Well, lets’ take a look at a recent incident. Matt was holding Christian, our one-year-old, walking through the living room where he stepped on a Hello Kitty metal box of band-aids that he’d given Rose. Immediately, he said, “Rose, I stepped on your Hello Kitty box.” She started to cry. He yelled, “I wouldn’t have stepped on it if you didn’t leave it in the middle of the floor!”
Then I got mad and yelled something about how sick and tired I was of him always blaming her. But that’s not the point. The point is Matt expects that a normal almost-four-year-old can refrain from leaving her toys in the middle of the floor. This from the man who leaves dirty socks on the couch. But again, not the point. What almost-four-year-old cleans up after herself? She’s old enough to learn to start cleaning but she’s not old enough to do it without our prompting. Most of the time when I ask her to clean her room, she gets so overwhelmed that she doesn’t do anything until I help her. I “help” by telling her, “This goes there, and this goes in the box and this goes here,” and let her do the actual work.
He also thinks that Rose’s reaction time should be that of a 26-year-old international air hockey champion. This morning Rose was touching the lawn flamingoes that Matt had just repainted. We thought they were dry but Matt had just gotten some paint on him so he told Rose “Stop touching them. Stop! STOP!”
I said, “Take your hands off of the flamingoes.” I’m not sure who got through to her but by the time she was moving her hand down, Matt was angrily launching into, “When I say stop, you STOP!”
I learned a long time ago that a toddler doesn’t know what to do when you say “stop.” Instead, you’ve got to tell her what to do instead. So instead of saying, “Don’t touch the hot stove!” you should say, “Move away from the stove,” or something like that. I’m not sure that rule is still in effect with preschoolers, but it sure seems to work that way. I’ve told Matt several times about directing her to do something instead of directing her not to do something, but he says she needs to learn to stop when we say “Stop!”
She was sick this week, and we tried to contain her germs. Matt asked me to retrieve Christian’s pacifier from the floor, and Rose, trying to be helpful, started toward it. We both screamed “NO!” as if she was about to pull the plug on a lifeboat, and she burst into tears, but she stopped in her tracks. Then Matt said, “I said Mommy! Not you!” He mellowed as she continued to cry and said, “Honey we don’t want him to get sick too. If you touch his paci, he might get sick and then he’ll cry all night. Would you like that?” She shook her head. Sometimes we both forget. Sometimes we put too much emphasis on preventing things that can easily be fixed. We could have washed his paci if she touched it. Instead we made our little girl cry.
So Matt’s not the only one who’s got to learn how to better parent an almost-four-year-old. But we’re adults. We get used to doing something one way and if our way works, we don’t change it. But the essence of parenting is adapting to new circumstances. Kids change as fast as mutant viruses so the antidote you used a month ago doesn’t work today. Our methods lag behind our child’s capabilities.
It works in reverse too. Rose has the conversation skills of a six-year-old and we often overestimate her reasoning skills. We expect her to understand that her germs will contaminate objects and pass her cold to others. We expect her to think about contamination as she goes about her activities. But she can’t. Even if she remembered, four-year-olds are impulsive. She’s not capable of thinking about everything she touches any more than we’re capable of policing her every move.
We tend to think that having grown from childhood for adulthood qualifies us to be parents. But parenting is so much more than that. We’ve got to know what’s typical of a four-or-five-or-whatever-year old, then we’ve got to take our child’s individual development into account, and we have to account for our own strengths and weaknesses. When I signed up to be a parent, I thought labor was the worst challenge I’d ever face. But they have drugs for that. But there are no anesthetics for growing pains. My mistake was that I thought that the kids suffered them, not the parents.