Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Death Knell of Naptime; or Screw-off, you moms with low-key kids, why don't you just let me gripe in peace?

On Labor Day weekend, David and I took the kids to a BBQ at the home of one of our closest friends. There on the deck we ran into some acquaintances, whose kids are similar in age to ours, and the mom and I were catching up, when she asked it I was having a third. Not third hot dog, mind you. Third child.

“Wow,” I said, because the sheer thought of that was so mind-blowing, so terrifying, so panic-inducing I literally could not speak.

”So, does that mean “Yes?” she teased.

“Oh God, no. Absolutely not, It means no.”

“Yeah, we’re done with two as well,” she said, “And honestly, I can never quite fathom
why people would want more than two.”

“Oh I can,” I said, “I can totally fathom it. In fact, I think I probably do want more than two. I think I would even have more than two if I led a totally different life. If we had a ton more money and a bigger house – hell, even if we didn’t have all that, I’d probably take the plunge if only my kids were more easygoing. But they are shaping up to permanent hell-raisers, and I think two of those is more than I can handle”

“Oh,” she said, shaking her head, “Kids are kids. They all have their moments.”

I looked over at her four year-old, whose hair was pulled into a perfect ponytail and who sat on a grown-up chair polishing off a hamburger without spilling anything on her nice dress. Evidence A that this child is not prone to “moments”: she wiped her hand on a NAPKIN. My children think napkins are for sketching and clothes are for wiping hands. And it’s not because I haven’t taught them otherwise.

“Mommy, I finished all my dinner, Can I have a Popsicle?” she asked politely as you please.
She really did finish all her dinner, too, a whole burger and some hummus and maybe even a few carrots. God for I knew, she’d sampled the couscous salad. My children’s idea of “I’m FINISHED!!!” is eating one Thumbelina-sized bite of plain pasta with no green stuff on it.

“She looks very well-behaved to me,” I observed.

“Well, kids are kids. They’re all hard work,” she retorted.

“Yeah, I guess,” I murmured. I mean, pets are hard work too, and so is gardening. So is blowing your hair dry so that it looks just like it did when you left the salon the day you got it cut.

Ok, that’s unkind. It’s just that I was envious of her well-behaved, non-exhausting, don’t-make-scenes-in-the-lobby children, who allowed her to have an adult conversation and fed themselves and pissed in the bowl, too. And I think that when you are fortunate enough to have one child like that, much less two, at the very least, you should admit you have it easy and allow parents like me, the owners of rugrat ragamuffin hellraisers, to gripe about our lot. It’s the least you can do.

I should have excused myself at this point but for some reason, I felt I had to prove just how hard I had it, and I mentioned that Seconda had dropped her nap – at 2.5 years old – can you imagine! And she told me, “Well, I just force mine to take his nap.”

I’m sure she didn’t mean to pass judgment. But mothers out there will understand that that’s precisely what she did. I got her message. My daughter had prematurely dropped her nap because I wasn’t firm enough, because I didn’t possess adequate follow-through, because I wasn’t strong enough to put her temporary discomfort in the backseat and make her long-term health my first priority. I got the message.

And that’s when a synapse snapped in my exhausted brain. “Force mine to take his nap?” Like I hadn’t?

For weeks now, every day at 1pm I have locked my child in a crib tent, closed the dour and listened to her scream for an HOUR. If that isn’t forcing I don’t know what is.

It just doesn’t work. She can rage harder and longer than me. She is more powerful and resourceful than I. The child howls, like a raging werewolf who’s coming off crack cocaine, for an hour, but still, I ignore her. I really do. People call on the phone and I pick up and conduct conversations while she howls in the background and my friends without children are like, “Should I call you back?” and I am like, “Oh, no, this is a fine time.”

The problem is, no crib tent can hold her. Somewhere in the middle of the unending scream-fest Seconda shimmies out of the crib and either climbs on top of the dresser, flinging piles of neatly-folded clothes and fragile, beloved items belonging to her brother onto the floor; or she clambers to the floor and pulls out every single book off her bookshelf, often tearing pages out, purposefully, in the process. She rips the feathers off her brother’s dream catcher. She eats whole tubes of Chapstick and sucks all the juice out of magic markers. She does these shenanigans until either I tire of speculating what havoc she’s wreaking on herself and the home, or she just opens the door and announces, blithely, “I took a NAAAAAP! Let’s get ICE CREAM!”

So I know a thing or two about forcing a child to sleep. And I know you can’t. Period. End of story.

Another friend said, “Well, why don’t you try just putting her in the stroller and going for a walk?” Its like she doesn’t know who we are talking about. These techniques work for other, run-of-the-mill children. These techniques, in fact, worked for my son. I got that kid to hold onto his nap for a whole year after he started striking. But my girl-child is bionic. Since the age of about four months she has never fallen asleep in a stroller and I can count on one hand the number of times she’s drifted off in the car, even on long trips to South Carolina. She is indomitable. She is indefatigable, literally. She is a force of nature. And she is done napping.