Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Other Side of Three

Abigail has been three years old for two days now, and I can't say that wonderful things have come of the metamorphosis. Ever since she entered into the "terrible twos" phase, I've been holding out hope that Three would be better since Two got so awful at times, and started so early (two weeks prior to 24 months, to be exact). Over the course of the last month, I really began to buy into that hope. She's as defiant as ever, but was becoming more open to calm discussion. Genuine, heartfelt approaches were sinking in. Casual, fun twists on the mundane were enthralling her.

Cue to the last week or so, and in particular- the last couple of days. None of the usual tricks have been working. I'm starting to worry that my future is going to closely resemble this kind of experience. To top it off, bedtime has suddenly become an epic showdown.

I'm too afraid to pin all of our difficulties on her recent dropping of the afternoon nap, but I recognize that it's contributing to a lot of them, so Tom and I have begun discussing the ways in which we can ease the transition for everyone. Clearly, my dream of her continuing the nap past four years old is not going to be achieved, because while I can get her to stay quietly in her room for the allotted time, I cannot make her sleep through it.

Today, we did two things differently. We skipped the nap altogether, and we started bedtime sooner. Putting her in quiet time has been great for me, but will have to be nixed once Michael moves into her room where she will likely keep him up if she's awake. Beyond that, enforcing it wasn't preventing her over-tiredness in the afternoon and early evening, and was depriving us both of potential one-on-one time for age-appropriate learning and crafts that can't easily be done in the presence of her younger brother.

She enjoyed the first of such sessions today: cupcake-making with Daddy.

When bedtime rolled around, we decided that Mia needed an earlier start as well, since I can never seem to time her second nap in such a way that she can fit in a third without wrecking bedtime altogether. She woke from her second nap at 3:15pm today, and I knew that pushing through to 7:00pm was going to be asking a lot of her, let alone 8:00pm. I'm also beginning to suspect that some of her recent sleep issues can be traced back to being put down in such a dramatically overtired state.

Michael's 7:30 bedtime seems to be working well for him, so the trick was to combine his bedtime prep with Abby's, since getting him done before her delays her tuck-in time. We started off in the living room as usual, but quickly realized that it wasn't going to work. I had to stay to keep Michael from wandering upstairs during story time (for which his attention span isn't nearly as long as Abby's, and is book preference is much more specific), but I couldn't get Mia properly winding down outside of the dark, quiet bedroom that she associates with sleep.

After a few minutes, I suggested that Tom take the older two upstairs to finish in Abby's bedroom, where we'll likely be doing story time from now on, and I slipped into my bedroom with Mia. She was out in minutes, and after I lay her down I joined Tom upstairs to make sure that he was handling everything okay.

I walked in to this.

My entrance coincided with the ending of the book, and Michael was off- running towards me with a wide grin behind his binky. I scooped him up and took him across the hall to his crib while Tom and Abby discussed which song she'd like before bed.

I'd like to say that it all went smoothly after that. It didn't quite. Michael fussed for a minute, as he's wont to do when he thinks he's missing out on something, then settled down. Abby tried to stretch out the time, which she's gotten more and more aggressive about doing, by being indecisive. When a song was finally chosen I reminded Abby that she must try to be cooperative: when Daddy finished, he would lay her down, give her a kiss, and she was to close her eyes and go to sleep.

From downstairs in the kitchen as I tackled the after-dinner mess, I could hear that this was not what transpired. Night two of tantruming began, and I let it go on for perhaps ten minutes before going upstairs to check in with her.

When I reached her, she was sitting up in bed, as tired as she was stubborn. She wanted Daddy to stay with her. She did not appear to be scared, or lonely- more than anything I think she just wanted to delay the day's end. I reminded that we'd never done bedtime that way, and that Mommy and Daddy had lots of things that they needed to do after she was tucked in to bed; that the best way to fall asleep was simply to breathe slowly and close her eyes; that she had lots of good company with her dolls. I convinced her to lie down, then, tucked her in tight and told her a story about her guardian angel. For the first time, I prayed with her at her bedside (something I've been meaning to start and should have done long ago but somehow never worked in). Then I told her how much her guardian angel loves her, and that although I would be leaving, her angel would stay, and hold her tight all night long.

She was silent, then. She seemed hugely comforted. She must have been, because I've heard not a peep since.

I'll be saying a little prayer in my own bed tonight, that I can find the patience to help her through this next phase; that I can figure out ways to make things better and easier for us all. I really am excited to see this other side of Three- I just hope it's heavier on the good things and not so much on the tough ones.