Toddler Houdini at Bedtime


Several months ago, I was alone for the week with only my son because my husband and his mom took our daughter on a vacation to Sanya (三亚, Southern Chinese paradise). The resulting restfulness I felt–having only one child at home–was significant. I found myself able to get more work done and found a rhythm with my toddler (he had just turned 2) that suited us both. Also, without his sister around, he revelled in “mommy time.”

In the evenings after work and when the ayi returned home, I had time to read him his favourite books and sing him the songs he wanted. There was no older sister to conduct things. Together, we had a quiet and calm contentedness that week that pleased us both.

One night, I had friends for dinner: a gay couple on the eve of the arrival of their twins who were soon to be born via a surrogate. They arrived just as I was about to feed Paz his early dinner and they were very sweet with him. Soon, we were all eating together and then I had to prepare my son for bed. My friends were very patient and after the rituals were over and Pazzy was in bed, I returned to the table and my glass of wine. We all resumed our conversation. My back was to his door.

Slowly, the door to my son’s room edged open. A little hand was curled around its edges, but the little face attached was in the shadows. When my friends noticed this, they were beside themselves with the cuteness of it all and cued me to turn around. I reminded them that even the cutest kids who crawl out of bed to get closer to “the action” do, eventually, get annoying! I scurried him back into bed and wondered how long it would take until he’d venture out again.

Eventually, he was lying on the floor of his doorway, openly, staring at us with his right cheek on the floor. Each time I’d usher him back and tuck him in, he’d crawl back out again. I tried the “let’s not pay him any attention” technique, but it only encouraged him to edge closer and closer to my chair, silently, until he was right under my elbow, wanting me to hold him.

It was 10:00, after two hours of this, before I eventually just took him up into my arms. The stubbornness! The perseverance! He eventually dozed in my arms while the conversation continued, which is extremely rare considering my children have always gone to bed in their own beds, sleeping on their own. On this night, however, he’d worn me down. His escapes had become too distracting while hosting company and I was tired of getting out of my chair every ten minutes.

Our adult conversation turned to sleep training and philosophies and I could see that anything I said about creating rhythms, schedules and consistencies was completed contradicted by the heavy-lidded toddler in my arms who had just managed to accomplish two hours of quiet rebellion against sleep, and who had clearly won. All I could do was laugh.

“Do as I say, not as I do,” I said, jokingly, and my friends laughed. “If there’s anything I have learned being a mom, it’s that there’s never any hard and fast rules. Any day could be an exceptional one. Like this guy–the best sleeper ever–and look at his Houdini moves tonight!” And with that, I kissed his little naughty forehead. When he was definitely asleep, I gently stood up and carried him back to his bed where he finally stayed.

A week later, my friends had their babies. I’m sure they don’t even remember that evening after having had six months of the fog of sleeplessness and the chaos of twins, but for me, it was a lovely night of community and extended family.

And now, even six months later, if that little boy of mine can’t sleep, he crawls out of bed with his little 布布 (bubu, or blankie) and sits quietly in the hallway or doorway of whichever place he’s in, slowly edging his way to wherever the adults are. He’s a quiet little escapee whose sleepy smirk make it hard to be cross at him for not being in bed.

They’re lucky they’re cute when they’re little!



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