Friday, February 25, 2011

What my kids are thinking about

I've said it before and I hope I will say it again: my kids are pretty easy.  They've been healthy as horses, great sleepers and eaters, and haven't been inordinately fussy.  For the most part.

But a lot of exciting stuff is happening to them these days, and that can make kids a little stressed out.  They've transitioned from two naps to one, which changes the rhythm of their entire day (and mine).  And they're getting over two weeks of a nasty cold, followed by a little aftershock of sniffles, which is not so much "exciting" as it is "stressful" to them and everyone around them.  Other ways to describe the sickness include "suck-ass" and "shit sandwich."

The effects of this stress have manifested in heightened whininess, clinginess, and sleep disruption.  And instead of rallying during this trying time, I have tended to allow my fatalist leanings to get the better of me.  "This is my new reality," I think as I try to prepare meals with one kid in my arm and the other pulling at my pant leg, screaming, "Uppy Uppy Uppy Uppy."  Because of course it's all about me.

At least I don't blame anyone but myself:  "This is all on account of your hubris," I admonish myself.  "Bragging about how good your kids are.  Implying that you're some kind of great parent because your kids take a lot of naps.  Pssht.  Jerk."

I'm happy to report, though, that the ill-effects of their being sick are dissipating, and they're both slowly adjusting to their new nap schedules.  And I'm starting to have a brighter outlook for my tenure as a full-time parent.

They're also at the beginning of the nearly vertical segment of the language learning curve.  This both creates its own stress, and provides a window into their consciousness that was previously accessed entirely by speculation.  So now, instead of relying entirely on guesswork as to what they want and need, we have some clues about why they are freaking out.

We've always been advocates of the "cry it out" school of sleep training.  We won't let them cry indefinitely, of course; but we've found through a bit of trial and error that they actually go to sleep more quickly if we leave them alone than if we comfort them every time they cry.  I've got nothing against "attachment parents" who co-sleep with their kids, or parents who hang out next to the crib until their babies go to sleep.  Whatever works for you is fine.  But we just couldn't handle that with twins.

Surprisingly, it was fairly easy to let them cry it out when they were infants.  First off, once they were about four months old, they went to sleep pretty easily and consistently.  Secondly, at that age, if all their physical needs had been attended to, we could attribute their distress to some kind of nebulous baby-angst that we couldn't really do much about.

But as they grew more sentient, and as we got to know them better, it became more difficult for me to hear them cry and not rush to comfort them.  They were becoming little people, and had real fears and anxieties about the world they were becoming integrated into.  As newborns, their neurons were firing randomly; but by the time they were six or eight months old, they were figuring out reality, and every time they learned something, it had to inspire a whole litany of questions and theories about something else.  Their little brains where whirring with the most fundamental problems of existence and identity.  And they were becoming more emotionally complex as well.

And then they started to speak.

So now, when they inexplicably wake up screaming in the middle of the night (as one or the other of them have been doing almost nightly for the last three weeks), they are often able to express the root of their anguish.  And this is sometimes serious anguish.  Like death-of-a-loved-one anguish.

But--and this may not be as shocking to you as it was to me, especially if you are a veteran parent--the source of their angst is usually not as existential as I had assumed.  In fact, it's usually quite petty.  At four in the morning, I tend to think of it as "idiotic."

For instance, a common conversation I would have with Cobra in the wee hours, after I can no longer listen to her wailing, might go like this:


Me: Sugar, sugar, sugar...settle down, settle down...


Me:  What's wrong, honey?

Cobra:  Pup-pup-pup-puppy....WAAAAAAAHAAAAHAAAH...

Me:  You want Puppy?

Cobra: Puppy Puppy Puppy

Puppy is her favorite stuffed toy, which she now drags around with her everywhere.  Except she doesn't take it to bed.  We have to tuck Puppy into his own bed, and tell him "Stay, Puppy," then say goodnight to him, before we do our nightly yoga (long story) and put the kids to sleep.

But apparently, Cobra wakes up with the night terrors, and simply must check on Puppy's status before she can go back to sleep.  Sometimes she just needs to see him, and sometimes nuzzle him a bit, before she can lie back down.  Then, if we're lucky, she can sleep through until at least 5:30 a.m. without worrying about her pet.  Or having frightening visions of garbage trucks.

I almost liked it better when I assumed they were grappling with questions about their place in the universe.


Check it out: I have a post up at MamaPop, wherein I make fun of Thom Yorke's dancing in the new Radiohead video.  I know everybody's been piling on him already, but the piece I wrote includes a lot of funny videos that will help you get through your boring Friday at work.

Happy weekend!   


  1. It seems to me that children start crying or screaming in the middle of the night once their brains begin really developing and have then been affected by a fever or illness.

    I believe it's a sign of their intelligence as they worry about their place in the universe.'s that theory work for you? Feel any better?

  2. I had similar experiences becoming more attached to all the baby drama when mine became more cognizant of the world around them and then frustrated by the sheer ridiculousness of the sources of drama. Our lot as parents is a strange one, no?
    Great post and good luck with that whole nap transition thing. Mine are starting to forsake their naps entirely and I want restitution, dammit.

  3. I buckle when they are no longer just mamamamammama-ying me for the sake of making sound. It's when they are able to say, "Mama?" that they get my attention. And then they start in with the middle of the night idiocy. They've got my number.

  4. Okay, I find this post so relatable! My daughter is 15 months. I had a little bit of a tough time with the cry it out, but it was genius for our family. But now, it's just excruciating to listen to her cry! I feel like these are the times she will REMEMBER that she cried and nobody came. Torture.

  5. First thing a child does is breathe.Second thing they do is wonder how to bend and manipulate their parents to doing their bidding.

  6. I think it's a periodic stage they go through, where they wake up and need you. Lately it's been my 6 year old, but a few months ago it was the 4 year old. It doesn't usually last very long. The 2 year old doesn't factor into it much because he shares a room with his brother and his big brother is usually all he needs at 4am.

    Did I mention I highly recommend room sharing?

  7. For me it became tough when they started crying and screaming my name when they woke up. Manipulative bastards.

  8. The stages can be rough but every time we get through one I think about how fast it actually went.

    We're starting to think a little bit about middle school for my oldest now and I can't help but wonder where the time went.

    The days of naps are long gone. Soon they're language skills will be strong enough that they'll be able to tell you in no uncertain terms what you have done wrong. ;)

  9. well you just don't know what's happening to Puppy. maybe someone was abusing him.


  10. @Nari--I'll feel better once they start letting me sleep through the night.

    @Mitchell--Oh, man. I shudder to think of the day when they give up napping altogether. I hope it's not until they're in school.

    @Nicole--Yeah, they've got all of our numbers.

    @Stephanie--Exactly! That's what I mean. It just seems hard to believe that these episodes aren't contributing to their future personality disorders.

    @Jack--Third thing is to succeed at manipulating parents.

    @3Z--Room sharing is definitely in our girls' futures. And their presents. I don't know if they comfort each other right now, but I hope they will someday.

    @H-Man--Yup. That gets me every time. Just 2 nights ago, I was being very resolute and letting them cry. Until I heard "Dada? Dada?" They know how to work it.

    @Jack--Also true. The stages seem interminable while they're happening, and instantaneous in retrospect.

    @Andygirl--It is just crazy how they (esp. Cobra) are so into taking care of Puppy and Turtle. We have to tuck them in at night and they take turns hugging and kissing them. Really cute. I'll try to get some video.


Don't hold back.


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