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Parenting Imperfect

October 18, 2010

Bedtime routines and stalling techniques change with time

The bedtime battles have changed as the kids have gotten older.

The Diva was the sort of baby who wanted to be rocked and snuggled for hours before she’d finally give in to sleep. If we hadn’t put our parental feet down, she’d still insist on at least one of us lying down in her bed with her until dawn. I’m sure that she’s storing up her irritation at our refusal to sleep with her so that she can bring it up in therapy sessions when she’s an adult.

The Boy never wanted to be rocked or held. Frankly, you could just read him a story and chuck him in his crib. He’d sing and talk himself into dreamland.

Which worked quite well until he discovered that he could crawl out of his crib. That was, indeed, a sad, sad day. Still, he couldn’t quite manage to turn his doorknob, so we knew he’d stay in his nice safe room _ it was like a big crib, really _ long enough to fall asleep. At which point, one of us would scoop him up and put him back in the baby cage.

And then we moved into a new house, one that had doorknobs that were much easier to turn.

Various methods were tried to keep him in his room because, even though he had the dexterity to open the door, he didn’t have any sense of danger. I had visions of him wandering through the house late at night, deciding to climb on the counter and juggle knives. Or something equally not good.

We resorted to the same piece of hardware that my husband’s parents resorted to when he reached the same stage. We put a hook-and-eye on the outside of the door so that we could lock him in.

It lasted about a week. By then, The Boy figured out that we didn’t care what he did in his room as long as he stayed in it. I’d check on him shortly before I’d turn in for the night and frequently found him unconscious on the floor, wearing only his pajama top and surrounded by books.

I’d do what any parent would do when faced with their toddler son rehearsing to be in a fraternity. I took a picture, then got his pants back on him and put him in his bed.

Thankfully, that stage seems to have passed. For now.

The Boy got older, as he does, and the bedtime routine is easier. We now read stories to both kids, shut their doors, and walk away. When they wander down a few minutes later with phantom aches, the sort that are stalling techniques rather than health crises, we send them back up to their respective rooms. Unless a child is actively bleeding, all parenting is done for the day after the bedtime stories have been read.

The excuses are just that. Like last night, The Boy wandered down to let us know that he was “in a mood to pee.” We pointed him to the downstairs bathroom, whereupon he took care of business, then went back to bed without another comment.

We didn’t remind him, of course, that there is a perfectly good bathroom not 10 paces from his bedroom. The trip downstairs was really just to make sure his parents hadn’t left the house.

He loves to come to where the adults are and hover in the doorway. We can watch him wrack his brain for an acceptable reason to be bothering us. It’s hard not to laugh.

Aside from his moods, the reasons have involved miniscule cuts on various body parts that require adhesive bandages. After the first few times one of us walked him back upstairs to the bathroom with the bandages, he figured out that he could reach them himself. Some nights, when we’d check on him before going to bed, he’d have four or five of them stuck to his body somewhere, like he’d sprung a half-dozen tiny leaks in his arms or legs. Bandages would be laddered up his limbs, which I’d take a picture of, naturally.

The bandage fad passed _ helped into retirement by moving the box to a higher shelf _ and the itch cream phase began. His sister was given free access to the stuff this summer because she could be trusted to only use it sparingly on actual bug bites. The Boy, after a few reminders, does the same. The tube is generally left on a counter both can reach, just in case the itch should strike. It saves us a trip up and down the stairs.

One night, however, just as I was coming up to bed, I noticed that a tube of IcyHot, that uber-stinky ointment that you rub into pulled muscles was next to the tube of itch cream. The tubes look about the same. I had no idea we even had IcyHot in the house.

That’s odd, I thought and reminded myself to ask if what my husband had done to himself when he came up to bed. When I did, he just looked at me. “We have a tube of IcyHot?”

The Boy still smells a little like muscle rub when the wind is right. If nothing else, the incident has cured him of his phantom itches. And, yes, we’ve made a second pass through the places in the bathroom he can reach. Who knows what mysterious unguents he’ll find next in his quest to avoid sleep.

Adrienne Martini is a freelance writer, instructor at the State University College at Oneonta, mom to Maddy and Cory, wife to Scott, and author of “Sweater Quest,” which was published in March. Her columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/parentingimperfect.

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