Monday, July 07, 2008

Habit?

I remember a time when my little boy was learning to speak. He would make his demands with a question: "Habit?"

In this instance, "habit" was toddler-ese for "have it?" meaning, "May I have this now please."

Depending on how you look at it, habit and have it are close enough in meaning -- in either instance, it is a way of communicating, "I want it, and I want it my way."


* * *

My girl was running me ragged with her bedtime circus. First, the sleepy friends, her plush accomplices, had to each say goodnight to her in a particular order, following the pattern of a story we must have read a year ago. "Who's nose and toes?" I'd ask, and she'd tell me which animal/princess/threadbare transitional item could "kiss" her before settling into its appointed location. Once we made it through their rotation, her covers were arranged just so, either snug as a bug in a rug or as loose as a goose with a moose (don't ask). Then we'd begin the water cup debate -- which one could sleep with her (and where), which one would probably spill, which one might necessitate a trip to the potty in the night. Then there was the music -- too loud, too quiet, and oh no, it's skipped to track two already and I need it to start at track one. Pleeeeeeeeease?

I'd finally have her in bed, having said the right words in the right order, and might settle in for a moment before her encore performances began, generally with screams from down the hall.

"I CAN'T HEAR MY MUSIC!"

"MOMMY, MY WATER SPILLED. I NEED NEW JAMMIES. I NEED NEW COVERS, AND THE FLOWER SHEETS, AND NEW WATER."

"IT'S TOO DARK."

If not assaulted with the screams, I was ambushed by the soft shuffling of her little feet padding down the hall to find me.

"Mommy, I'm scared."

"I need to pee."

"I can't find my blankies."

I would comfort her, set her up again and ask, no beg, for her to please stay in bed. My threats were meaningless. My pleas ignored.

The bedtime routine, aka bedtime the way I say it is, had been turned upside down. I was being played. I knew it and she knew it. I sat there with head in hands, continuing the game in exhaustion and frustration.

As I complained to my kind and empathetic friends, mothers with girls the same age give or take a few months, I was met with compassion, understanding, and a reality check: "You know you're being manipulated, right?"

Yes, I knew.

Of course I knew.

I knew and I played along fearing the consequences should I -- or she -- change the rules.

Bad habit.

I want things my way all the time and so does she.

* * *

In order to break the cycle, I introduced a new element to the game. The sticker chart. The good old-fashioned bribe. If she stays in bed at night, she gets a sticker. Five stickers earns her a prize.

Stickers and prizes and trips to the mall? How could she lose?

In the next round, she raised the stakes by getting up before dawn. I countered with a new requirement: a sticker was awarded for staying in bed at night and in the morning. Her response: cries in the middle of the night in addition to visits to my bed in tears and fear.

And when those stopped, do you know what happened?

I missed her. I missed being needed, missed trying to figure out what she'd do next.

I found myself making nightly visits to her room. See, she tends to fall out of bed, not always but often enough. I needed to check because I hadn't heard from her, and gosh, isn't she lovely when she's sleeping and not yelling?

A new game routine was established. Before I would go to bed, I'd slip in to her room to check on her: still covered? still horizontal? still breathing? still my baby? (ed note: I am no longer allowed to refer to her as "Baby," but that is another story for another day.)

Habit?

You bet.

If we were to interact post-bedtime, it would be on my schedule, not hers.

We were moving forward and for a time, all was right and good in the world in which we both slept uninterrupted at night in our own beds.

All was fine, that is, until one day when I commended her for staying in bed, for being brave all night by herself and for playing quietly on her own when she woke. She had made me so proud, being such a big girl and not visiting when she wasn't supposed to.

She smiled, happy and confident. "Now I don't visit you."

"But it's o.k. that you visit me?"

Well played, child. Well played indeed.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well done. Beautifully written. Brings tears to my eyes.

LiteralDan said...

I love that when the water spills, new jammies, covers, sheets, AND water are required. To make sure we can do it all over again!

Ms Picket To You said...

sigh. love this very much.

LaskiGal said...

OK, I'm liking the sticker chart.

And, I'm such a sap. I can't imagine no visits, but I know the day will come.

Crystal D said...

Oh I think I need to pull out a stick chert on my kids right now. Meals, Bedtime and everything in between have become a constant negotiation. My threats are so ignored. I guess I need a better plan. We used a sticker chart with Madeline once before and it worked great. Thank you so much for reminding me!
Isn't it so much sweeter to go check on a sleeping child. It makes my heart swell 10 times.

MyUtopia said...

What a wonderful post!

MamaNeena said...

awe. I needed a post like this today.

Adrienne said...

ooh she is a smart one indeed. but that's not surprising when one knows her mother!

Queen of the Mayhem said...

They are just so stinking cute....that is how they get away with manipulating us so well!

Fat, frumpy and fifty... said...

parenthood ahhhhhh!!! toddlers....the mind games begin ...LOL

enjoy
sara x
mother of susannah (16) patrick (13),

l'm hiding behind the frozen foods..

GoteeMan said...

such a sweet picture you have painted with words...
enjoy this time - in restrospect, it will be so very short, passing so quickly...

You are very blessed, as is your sweet child...

J/

Ann(ie) said...

congrats girlie!! ;) Sending virtual margaritas your way. xo.