Friday, May 13, 2011

The Unexplored Bits

            Bedtime for Celia has disintegrated. What was once a stable, regular, reliable routine has now faced complete deconstruction by my daughter’s brilliant and hyper-aware two-year-old mind.
            It’s shocking what she’s aware of. She had me laughing for almost an hour one bedtime when I’d tried to avoid reading her a particular book that Michelle said she didn’t care for. It’s called Millions of Cats, and I suppose Michelle didn’t like that all these millions of cats kill each other near the end of the book.
            I had a huge stack of books next to our bedtime story chair, and I pulled the first one off the top, “Would you like to read Dr. Seuss’s ABC’s?”
            “No,” Celia said definitively.
            I set it aside and reached for the next one, “How about Peter Rabbit?”
            “No.”
            I slowly lifted each book and read the title before tossing it back onto a second pile. I saw Millions of Cats at the bottom, and disguised it by reshuffling the pile and throwing all the titles I’d already read on top of it, so that it was completely out of sight.
            I got through the stack of two dozen books and said, “Well, I suppose I can go to the bookshelf and get one. Which book do you want to read?”
            “Millions of Cats!” Celia declared.
            I laughed, and laughed, and while I read her the story about the old man who went out and found millions of cats, which in the end all killed each other, I laughed some more.
            Maybe at the heart of the two-year-old mind is an inquisitive desire to explore all the unexplored bits of life. I can just imagine what she was thinking: “The book that Daddy’s avoiding? That’s the one I want to read.”
            The challenge is, her new explorer energy has taken her not only on fantastic learning sprees, it’s also encroached into her bedtime, and we’re not exactly sure what to do about it.
            In the past, if she was resistant to going to bed we’d sing her songs and help her calm down. If she got out of the bed, we’d put her in the crib and let her “cry it out”, which usually took a couple of minutes at most. But now her little brother has the crib, which forces us to figure out alternative solutions.
            It all started to get more difficult a few weeks ago. She would climb out of bed after we’d turned out the lights and gone downstairs. We went through many phases in trying to deal with the behavior – discipline, showing her angry faces, then being straight-faced and simply putting her back without a word. We even developed an underhanded form of bribery: “Big kids get treats, and big kids can put themselves to bed. If you want any treats, you need to show us you’re a big kid.”
            Every time, the change in tactics seemed to have the intended effect, but never for more than a few nights. Which brings us to last night.
            Celia had her excuses – a cough keeping her awake, achiness all over – but really, she was just trying her best to stay up. Her bedtime is supposed to be 8pm. By 9:45pm Michelle and I had a “loud” conversation at the dining room table as Celia sat at the top of the stairs.
            “What do we do with her?” I asked.
            “You know, I think she needs to learn to put herself to bed,” Michelle said loudly. “That’s what big kids do. They don’t need parents to put them to bed at all.”
            “Well, that’s true,” I said. “I suppose we’ll just have to let her figure out for herself that if she doesn’t get her rest she’ll be tired and get sick more often.”
            Celia came downstairs. We ignored her and I continued, “One thing’s for sure, I’m not going to put her back in bed again. She had her last chance with me. From now on, she’s going to have to learn to put herself to bed.” I nodded at Michelle, then turned suddenly, “Oh! Hi, Celia.”
            Celia tried to climb into Michelle’s lap. Michelle said, “If you’re going to choose to stay up, that’s your choice, but you don’t get to be with us. You can sit at your table over there.”
            As Celia sat quietly at her little table, I thought, “Perhaps she’ll get bored quickly.” But then, my brother and his girlfriend showed up with a bottle of good wine.
            At first they gave her attention, then we explained the situation and we all politely ignored her until finally, at around 10:30pm, Celia stood up and went back to the stairs. “Good night, Mommy. Good night, Daddy. Good night, Uncle Abe. Good night, Auntie Caitlin.”
            We all said goodnight and continued our conversation. Michelle and I quietly gave each other a high five with big, goofy grins.
            I don’t know what we’re going to face tonight, but I’ve decided I’m not going to struggle with her. If she wants to stay up, hopefully, she’ll figure out sooner than later that it won’t do her much good.
            I feel like I’m in a parenting crap-shoot. We’re figuring things out as we go, with no idea of how well it’ll all work. I like the fact that we’re giving her some freedoms to figure this stuff out on her own. If it’s done well, I think she could have the ability to grow up into a mature, self-disciplined person who doesn’t need anyone breathing down her neck to help her make the right decisions.
            There’s always the risk that it won’t work, and we’ll have created a monster. I suppose only time will tell.

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