A toddler’s life is nothing but phases. A biting phase. A throwing things phase. A take-your-pants-off-and-ride-the-cats-around-the-house phase. Some phases are over in a few days, others drag out for weeks. But rest assured, if the little ones are waist-high or lower, they’re in a phase.
The newest phase is one that needs to be over immediately if not sooner, though I fear it’s one of those marked end date indeterminate. This is the morning means nothing phase, AKA the sprout is his own alarm clock phase, AKA abandon all sleep ye who enter here phase.
Parental sleep deprivation is no joke. To be honest, my wife and I have been somewhat lucky in this department. Big brother started sleeping through the night around 6 months, and little sis at about 8. They still have their moments — the cutting of teeth in an infant is enough to make grown daddies and mommies cry — but for the most part they sleep okay. This is in sharp contrast to a co-worker of mine who wakes up eight or nine times PER NIGHT with her rugrat. Look, it may be a tiny human, and it may need your utmost care and attention, but eight or nine wakeups per night is not really even in the range of the Geneva conventions. You could break Navy SEALS with that kind of treatment.
But the morning means nothing phase is a new animal. Because with your run-of-the-mill midnight baby wakeup call, you get to go back to sleep. It may be fitful sleep, and it may take you a while, but you get to drop off again. In the morning means nothing phase, your only hope is to go to sleep as soon as possible after the child goes down, because the kid is going to wake up, for good and with no hope of going back to sleep, whenever he damn well feels like it. 5 AM? Bet on it. 4? The sprout laughs at 4. 3:30? Challenge accepted.
It’s bad enough that we’re coming out of our summer coma, still drunk on the heady fumes that sleeping until 6:30 brings. School schedule has us waking up by 5:30 on a regular day, so those last few minutes of sleep are critical. But the sprout cares not for those crucial final minutes.
© Matteo Ianeselli / Wikimedia Commons, via Wikimedia Commons
The devil on his shoulder nudges him awake at eye-twitch o’clock, and he crashes around his room for a while. (With big brother, there is no such thing as quiet play.) He builds and knocks over towers of blocks. He topples toddler chairs. He hurls stuffed animals about like a twister in a trailer park. Then he’s out into the hallway, where he turns on every light along the way, because he’s terrified of the dark like a vampire flees from the light. Then, because he can only be unsupervised for so long without somebody telling him NOT to do whatever he’s doing before his tiny brain melts down, he comes knocking on our door.
But not so much knocking as tentatively peeking his head inside, like a cat burglar working up his nerve. Let me not omit the fact that he can’t properly open a door yet, so he rattles the knob for a good ten seconds first. He ducks in, then ducks out, then ducks in, and ducks out again, then:
We try to ignore him, because that’s sure to work. When it comes to picking up hints, he’s about as sensitive as an elbow wrapped in a steel sleeve. He tries again.
“Mommy? Daddy? I’m ready to be awake.”
I slide one eye open, the lid fluttering like a garage door off its track. The clock reads 3:45. “Buddy, go back to sleep.”
The whining begins. He’s saying words, but I can’t hear them, because the pitch, pace and warble of his tiny voice has short-circuited every brain function outside of the purely survival-oriented lobes. I gruffly snarl at him to just get into bed with us.
I know as I say it that this is the wrong move, because the three-year-old does not make for a pleasant bedmate. He doesn’t so much toss and turn as thrash and burn, rolling over and over like a Tasmanian devil off its axis, beating his head against the pillow and kicking viciously at my kidneys.
Somehow I endure this for an entire fifteen minutes, pretending that I will be able to get back to sleep with the munchkin drumming out Chopsticks on my spine. Then my wife, who was sleeping on the opposite side of the boy and I (me in between them), has had enough and yanks him over to her side of the bed. His bag of tricks continues and we both sit there, steaming in our inability to even catch a whiff of further sleep. But it’s thirty minutes before the alarm goes off, and we are NOT getting up yet.
Ten minutes more is all I can stand, so out into the hall we stumble, him bounding along with infuriating energy, me stubbing my drowsy toes on every toy he strewed across the carpet. Along the way, he bumps a baby toy that begins chirping out a truly lunatic calliope version of the Wheels on the Bus at a volume which, to be conservative, is fargoing ridiculous. Meanwhile, our dumbest cat has launched himself at the dumb, sleep-addled dog — three times his size — and wrapped it in a clawed kitty headlock, and the two tussle, stumble and crash into the baby’s door.
So now the baby’s awake, too.
I trudge into her room and pull her out of the crib — she reeks of poop, because why wouldn’t she — haul her downstairs with big brother squawking like a tone-deaf crow about how he wants cupcakes, he wants to watch Grover, he wants to go to the playground later, he wants chocolate milk. All I want to do is get her changed and put on some cartoons so that I can lie down on the couch and at least close my eyes for five minutes before my actual alarm goes off.
This is the second day in four days that he’s done this.
The morning means nothing. Clocks are obsolete. The day starts when the sprout wakes up, and woe betide any foolish enough to suppose otherwise.