As I’ve mentioned before, my two-year-old daughter Bridget is a baby Viking: a freakishly-strong blonde who lives to dance, eat, and occasionally conquer all rules of civilized Christian society by violently head-butting them with her berserker rage.
And tonight, she waged a war on the meaning of pants.
Everything had been going so well. Earlier, she’d finally asked to use the potty insteadof just using it as a step-stool or a comedy hat as she’d done for months, in what I can only assume was a blatant mockery of our attempts to civilize her.
Then she actually peed in it for the first time, like she was supposed to.
We were so ridiculously thrilled. Even her four-year-old sister Brontë was impressed, telling her, “You PEED in the potty like A BIG GIRL. I’m so proud of you, Bridge-git, because you are being a big girl more every day!”
Everyone clapped. I gave Bridget a chocolate, which she wolfed down in beaming celebration before squaring her shoulders and bellowing something unintelligible to the heavens (which I can only assume was a shout-out to Odin) before tearing out of the room…
And that’s when things got weird.
I’m not sure if Bridget worried about whether her potty capitulation meant she’d become too domesticated, or if triumphing over her bowels overwhelmed her with a sense of boundless power, but she ran straight to the pajama drawer and started yelling, “PICK! PICK!”
You see, every night before bedtime, the girls get to pick the pajamas they’ll be wearing and it’s kind of an amazingly big deal for them.
I’m guessing that’s because they don’t control most aspects of their daily lives. They don’t get to make many selections apart from whether to play with dolls or Legos, drink water or milk, eat dinner or NOT eat dinner, and which cartoon characters they want smeared across their bodies as they sleep that night.
So when I opened the pajama drawer, Bridget dove in with real purpose, finally surfacing with a Minnie Mouse nightgown in one hand and an Olivia-the-piglet top in the other.
“You have an Olivia shirt… do you want the Olivia pants, Bridget?”
“No problem. Do you just want to wear the Minnie Mouse nightgown? You don’t have to wear pants with it.”
“Okay, that’s fine too. Except you have two shirts right now. Do you want the pants instead?” I pulled out the Olivia pants and offered them to her.
“NO!” Bridget insisted while shoving the Olivia pants away: “This!”
“Okay, but you have another SHIRT. You have TWO SHIRTS right now.”
“Pants,” she grunted through gritted teeth while staring me straight in the eyeballs, just daring me to suggest she wasn’t holding pants one. more. time. These were pants, goddammit, even if my limited peasant vision wouldn’t accept it.
I sat back.
Alright. Put on those pants then.
Bridget scowled at me while balancing one foot over an upside-down Olivia shirt. She snaked her wiggling toes into an armhole before thrusting her leg all-the-way through.
Hmm. Now what?
One leg safety through, Bridget glanced down at the giant neck-hole and tiny armhole beneath her, suddenly grasping the complex dignity equation in which she’d landed herself. Not yet willing to surrender, she picked up her free leg and alternated pointing her toes at the neck hole and leg hole, aiming back and forth until she lost her balance and fell smack down on her toddler butt.
She started rolling around, jamming her leg in various parts of the Olivia shirt as though sheer force of will would magically transform it into appropriate leg wear. Finally, she somehow managed to cram both her legs into a single armhole, then, realized she was trapped, began thrashing around in a berserker rage, screaming “PANTS! PANTS! NO PANTS!”
I let her thrash until she was winded. Laying helplessly on the floor, her dignity somehow crashed amidst a random pile of brightly-colored piglets, she finally looked over and weakly gasped, “Help?”
I worked the Olivia shirt off her legs. She ran over to the pajama drawer, fished out the Olivia pants, and collapsed on my lap. I wadded up each Olivia leg like pantyhose, popped her feet through either side, held her hands and pulled her back up to her feet.
She laid a hand against my neck, pulled my face closer, and pushed her forehead onto mine. She pushed our foreheads together for several moments.
“Mama.” She gave me a kiss.
Eh, part of me knew she needed to learn for herself that even spite can’t turn shirts into pants, but another part weirdly hoped she’d manage to pull it off somehow.
And still another part isn’t sure whether she’d actually hoped to transform shirts, or was trying to challenge rigid definitions. Maybe we’d all just been blindly accepting rules about only wearing shirts on the top halves of our bodies and a single open-minded clothing messiah could break the boundaries of our apparel world by bravely venturing into unknown territory.
But not today. Today was about getting a little too big for your britches after successfully peeing in designated containers then realizing your jailers sometimes know more than you do about the boundaries of space and time.
Bidgie squeezed my hand and led me to her room, so she could hear her bedtime story and finally drift off into a dreamworld of dragons and Valkyries.
She was safe. Mama had saved her from herself and pants.
Everywhere I look, Americans are hating on poor little owls. We think owls are lazy, undisciplined loners who really need to get their crap together. Probably immoral too.
I know this because I’m an owl myself.
No, not the cute birds who can swivel their heads around backwards and spot mice from dark forest skies. I’m talking about people with a later circadian rhythm, AKA those of us who are not “morning people.”
Sleep researchers call morning people “larks.” You know these folks, the ones who show up to work first, freshly showered after a bracing jog. The ones that drive owls crazy with their morning cheerfulness as we whimper into our coffee cups and try not to walk into walls.
Well, we owls can feel vindicated by a new Oxford study that says working before 10 AM is “equivalent to the ravages of torture,” leading to more stress, illness, and exhaustion. It claims that our workforce would be healthier and more productive if we started the day a couple of hours later.
Sounds great, right? It does to me, at least. No matter how many years I’ve kept to a corporate schedule, I’m still a wreck before ten. My husband finally learned he needs to write down anything he wants me to know in the morning, because any actual early conversations will fade from my memory with the remnants of last night’s dream.
Even my Army days, a torturous era of jogging before the sun rose, couldn’t break my owlish rhythm. Seems we owls will probably be fighting the great nocturnal pull to our final days, no matter how disciplined we try to be.
On the bright side, research shows that owls tend to be smarter and more creative. I’m guessing there’s a disproportionately high number of owls in the writing, music and other artistic professions.
The question is, however, whether we’re inherently more neurotic or just more likely to become that way. We’re forced to live out-of-synch with our natural rhythms and constant exhaustion can’t be good for one’s mood.
Nor can the ingrained American belief that late-risers are lazy and morally corrupt. You don’t need to look at the ample research to know Americans look down on late-risers. Just look at our popular sayings:
“The early bird gets the worm.”
“Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”
I can’t think of any pro-owl equivalents.
Why are we so convinced that late-risers are bad apples? There’s really no logical reason. Owls often stay up and work later into the night, so they aren’t necessarily getting more sleep or less done.
I blame our Puritanical roots. Waking up earlier is more painful, and therefore better.
We Americans have a gut sense that self-denial is inherently good for you. We’re certain that suffering leads to better outcomes, which makes as much sense to me as trying to solve your problems by repeatedly hammering your thumb.
Plus, we seem to associate mornings with purity and nights with sin. Everyone can see what you’re doing in the morning, so you’d better be good. Morning are for church and hard work, whereas evenings are for drinking and revealing clothes.
So, anyone choosing to live more hours in the night is choosing a life in the sinful realm. Obviously.
I don’t know about you, but I’d love to start my day at ten and apparently, Sweden is on board. Swedish workplaces not only offer more flexible start times, but have also moved to a six-hour day.
And it’s working… Studies show that workers are more productive during a six-hour day because they stay focused. Employees spend less time goofing off and enjoy a better work/life balance.
With these kinds of proven results, will we be seeing a 10 AM, six-hour workday in the US?
I doubt it. Despite the research, Americans hold deeply-entrenched beliefs about the superiority of early risers and long workdays that I don’t see going away any time soon.
My kids made it past infancy, which I consider a big win given how much they want to jump from great heights and jam forks into light sockets.
This long, unbroken procreation line from the first evolving amoebas to our present-day offspring remains intact. Score two more points for our DNA.
As Bridget’s birthday approached, my husband and I remembered that Brontë was two years old when Bridget was born (their birthdays are a couple of weeks apart. June is a fun month in this house). Back then, Brontë was still sleeping in our room.
We knew we’d be needing her crib soon and didn’t want her sleeping in the same place as a screaming-all-night newborn. We decided to move her into her own room, with a “big girl” bed, two months before her sister’s arrival. Being moved out right as her sister arrived might make Brontë feel replaced, we thought, which could lead to resentment.
Since Brontë’s Big Girl Bed was a roaring success at age two, John and I decided it was time to maneuver Bidgie’s convertible crib into toddler formation, where one of its side-walls is replaced with a “half-wall.”
So last night, after the kids’ teeth were brushed and nightgowns donned, we walked them into their room to find Bridget’s brand new Big Girl bed, in honor of her passage into full Toddlerhood.
Brontë was impressed and Bridget was ecstatic, running back and forth giggling with her arms in the air: FREEDOM! GLORIOUS FREEDOM! Plopping into her new bed with a contented sigh, she laid there for a moment before a smirk spread across her chubby face…
Then she wriggled out of her bed, stomped over to the light switch and flipped it off, setting the ceiling star stickers aglow.
“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” Brontë shrieked. She’s a fearless kid in many ways, but still terrified of the dark. She figures if you’re gonna sleep with the light off, you may as well leave flowers and cookies for the monsters too.
Brontë got out of bed, stomped over to the light switch, and flipped it back on, returning to her bed in a huff.
“BLEAAAAAAAAHHHHH!” Bidgie screamed. She’d been putting up with this sleep-with-the-lights-on nonsense for months now and finally had the opportunity to take action. She crawled out of bed, stomped back over to the light switch, and slapped it off again.
This was followed by inevitable screaming.
Uh oh… John and I hadn’t considered this turn of events.
The kids took turns stomping back and forth and shouting as the Great Light Switch Power Struggle raged on. Eventually, Bridget collapsed in defeat. She just couldn’t compete with a kid two years older.
As Bidgie struggled to pull blankets over her eyes, John and I looked at each other sideways, scratching our heads.
“Umm… Maybe we could drape a blanket over Bridget’s bed,” I suggested. “Now that she has a side exit?”
“I was just thinking the same thing,” John said as he wandered off.
Returning with a brown blanket and zip ties, John started arranging a makeshift tent over Bridget’s crib as I moved in to help him. After finishing, we further decided that since the kids’ beds were roughly the same length, we should push them together to leave more useable space in their room.
Backing away to survey our creation, it suddenly hit us: we had made our kids a fort. We were two grown adults who had just spent the evening building a giant bed fort in our daughters’ room.
And our kids decided it was the coolest thing they’d ever seen.
They scrambled onto the beds, climbing in and out of the bed linen fortress together and cried themselves giggling about making various stuffed animals poke their heads out the door. Toddler jokes.
They were still in hysterics for about half an hour after we kissed them good night and closed the door. Finally, the noise died down as they passed out in their respective beds.
They stayed quiet and John and I got to watch The Walking Dead in peace.
Bed forts: another underrated parenting technique.
It’s easy. Wake up every hour and scream your fool head off. Done and done.
We have all been hoodwinked by the phrase “sleeping like a baby.”
It’s supposed to mean falling asleep quickly, sleeping soundly without stirring, and waking up fully refreshed. It refers to the glorious sleep of the innocents… The complete slumber that only those untroubled by doubts, fears, and guilty consciences can enjoy.
If you are one of the rare parents with an infant who passes out quickly and sleeps soundly for hours, congratulations. You are living the dream. Also, I hate you guys.
For the rest of us, a newborn means that you probably won’t get a proper night’s rest for at least several months, if not several years. We have all heard the jokes about how tired new parents are, but none of these jokes prepare you for the slow psychic deterioration that comes from waking up every hour, night after night, to deal with a hysterical infant.
Sleep deprivation is a recognized torture technique. This means people will turn on their allies, confess to heinous crimes, and give up the bomb location when their sleep is screwed with enough. When you’re a new parent, this happens to you… You want food? You want cash? You want me to drive you around the neighborhood in my jammies at 3 in the morning? Sure. Let’s do it, just stop… screaming…
Captured terrorists have nothing on new parents.
When Brontë was an infant, John and I would have to draw our sleepy butts out of bed, put her in her stroller at 2 or 4 in the morning, and painfully walk her around the block to get her to quit yelling. Nothing else worked. One time, a neighbor (and an experienced parent) who was watching us go about our 4 AM zombie crawl, gave us a knowing look and reassured us that “It gets better.”
That felt so good to hear at the time. And he was right, it does. You just have to make it through this rough stage without jumping out the building and running away while maniacally laughing.
How to do that? Unfortunately, different things work for different kids. Brontë needed to be cuddled or walked around outside, whereas we discovered that Bridget couldn’t sleep unless she was put into her own room with the lights out.
On the subject of infant sleep: you are supposed to wake the baby up every couple of hours (three at the most) to eat. The importance of doing this is drilled into your head, over and over, because babies have small bellies that digest food quickly (especially breastfed babies).
My advice? Don’t do that shit. You’re just training your baby to wake up every two hours.
I know it’s what the experts tell us, but instead of slowly unraveling what remains of our collective sanity, why don’t we apply a little rudimentary logic to this concept?
Think about it for a minute. Do you think cavewomen had alarms for waking up their offspring every two hours? When you peel back all the layers of abstract thinking, we are still animals, and animals have very strong survival instincts. If hungry enough, they will eat anything (even each other). Do you really believe we would sleep through starving to death?
I don’t either. A hungry baby will happily wake up and tell you all about it (or, not so happily). Shaking a perfectly content sleeping baby awake every two hours to cram food down its mouth is madness. A week of trying to do this crap nearly broke me, so I let it go, and both of my babies turned out just fine.
Of course, if you have a special situation (like a dangerously thin baby), this advice may not apply to you. But I’m guessing that supplementing with formula is a better option for fixing a dangerously thin baby than constantly waking him or her up, anyway.
My other piece of advice to new parents? Hang in there. It gets better.