What a perfect reality check for a first “official” post.
I’m by myself with Lily this week, because Joe’s in Germany on a business trip (this is an anomaly, thankfully). Right now, it’s a little after 4:30 a.m., and Lily’s upstairs screaming her lungs out (and she’s got Joe’s lungs, which produce considerable volume). We’ve both been up for about an hour and a half now.
Normally, when she wakes up in the night, I let it go if it sounds like she’ll get over it in a couple of minutes. Often, this is the case. But tonight, a little after three o’clock, she started wailing, so I turned on the lamp by my bedside, retrieved her, and snuggled under my blankets with her for a bit. Over the course of about 20 minutes, I hoped she would fall asleep so I could take her back to her crib, but she was happily playing with my hair. Sigh. This meant I would have to return her to her crib while she’s wide awake, and the dreadful “crying it out” process would commence.
So I did that. And she screamed for about a half hour while I was lying there in bed, thinking, “She knows I’m here, in the next room, so it’s not about being scared that she’s alone and has been abandoned.” As far as I could tell, she just wanted to be held for hours on end. But I couldn’t let her dictate the terms of sleep-time, particularly when I’m the only parent around.
Even so, there’s only so long that a reasonable person can listen to the inconsolable screaming of her child. Out of frustration, I screamed back, from my bed, a couple of times. (Because of work and various snafus and commitments, I got only about five and a half hours of sleep the night before, after a long day, so I’m freakin’ exhausted.) Finally, I went in and saw her sitting up, a wet mess, in her crib. I tried to give her a pacifier, but she screamed harder and refused it, so I left and slammed the door. And after a couple more minutes of screaming, I reached my breaking point.
“Fine,” I said, throwing the door open again and grabbing her up in my arms. “You want to get up? You want to go downstairs and play? Why not? It’s 4 in the morning. That sounds perfectly reasonable.”
So we came downstairs, I threw on all the lights, and she stood on the carpet, wobbly and obviously exhausted, with her mussed hair damp in her eyes. I held the Orajel in front of her (when new teeth are hurting her, she nods to acknowledge that she needs it), but she didn’t respond to it, so I put it away. I left to get a different pacifier, to see if she would now accept help to calm down She did, and we held on to each other in silence for a few minutes. Then I said, “Can we go upstairs now?” And although I’m not sure she understood what I was asking, she nodded her head against my shoulder.
Back in her room, I sat and held her in the rocker for a few minutes, and her breathing grew regular and heavy. It seemed like she might be asleep, so I tried to put her in the crib. Inevitably, of course, she awoke in the process and saw what was going on, which kicked off another, new round of wailing.
This time, I screamed back directly. In fact, I tried to out-scream her. To let her now how painful it is to be on the other end, absolutely helpless. To let her experience what a heart-stabbing sound it is. I doubled over and pounded a fist into the floor, feeling pain on the side of my hand.
Joe gets annoyed and angry in these situations, too, but for some reason, my threshold and tolerance for it is much lower than his. Maybe it’s a maternal, hormonal thing – I have no idea – but Lily screaming for large chunks of time just psychically and physically rips me to pieces. It feels like I’m dying. Like I’m a profound failure in every way imaginable. So when the pressure builds up over a long time, I occasionally scream back.
Like just now. But of course, this only startled and upset her more – though I’m pretty sure at this point she long ago lost track of whatever it was that originally enraged her. I sat on the floor next to the crib, finally crying myself, and while Lily seemed mildly interested in, and puzzled by, my tears, she kept right on wailing. God, dear God, let that sound in my ears stop, I thought. But it didn’t.
I briefly considered calling Joe in Germany, since it’s a reasonable time in that part of the world. He had told me to call whenever I needed to. But what on earth could he possibly do? Nothing. He’d feel guilty and helpless, and he’d talk to me, but that’s it. It’s not like he could say, “I’ll be right there.” So what was the point in calling and possibly interrupting his deposition?
Instead, I knocked my head a few times against the floor of Lily’s room, then sat up and said, “I can’t hold you all night. I just can’t, Lily.” Scream scream scream. “I’m sorry. I’ve done everything I can. I love you, but I’m done.” Scream scream scream.
With that, I slammed the door (I have to vent anger at things other than my toddler), stood in my room’s doorway, and realized that I would just have to move myself farther away until she cried herself out and fell back to sleep. My presence, whether holding her or screaming with her or otherwise, seemed to never truly lead her anywhere close to sleep. So I came downstairs to the living room, turned on the laptop, and began writing this.
And sure enough, as I started typing the last paragraph, the house FINALLY went silent. A strange blessing in all this is that Lily, I know, will wake in the morning, after probably sleeping in a bit, and be oblivious to the entire episode. To her, it will be like a dream she can’t remember. Little ones have this wonderful gift of forgetting and bouncing back. It’s adults who have a tough time shaking it off.
So despite the new quiet settling across our home, it will probably be a while until I’m calm enough to get back to sleep. And when I wake up, the rawness in my throat from losing my temper and screaming back will be there. Yet Lily will wake up chattering, as she usually does, and will say “Mommy” with a big smile. I’m glad for her toddler short-term memory, in a way. It’s a small grace for a new parent. You can make mistakes again and again and again, as you inevitably will, and she’ll be there loving you again in the morning. Thank goodness.
It’s like “50 First Dates: Toddler Edition.” Or “Groundhog Day,” where I’m Bill Murray and Lily is Andie MacDowell. Hopefully, after living variations on the same day repeatedly, I’ll get it close to right one day.