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The Upside of Irritation

The vast majority of the time, Simon is an easy toddler to take care of. He eats and sleeps well, and his disposition is sunny and social. Last week, however, was on the tough side. Every day but Wednesday (a Camp Whitworth day) he was off his game in at least one respect, and Friday he was crabby nearly the entire day.

I didn’t work on Friday, so I had planned a lovely mama-baby day for us. We’d start at the playgroup at Mama’s Hip, then come home for lunch and a nap, then hit the JCC pool once he woke up. After our swim-date, we’d have time for dinner and play with papa, and a family wind-down session with books and music would end the day. What could be better?

According to Simon, just about anything. He spent most of the day whining and yelling. I never could figure out what was wrong; all I knew was that everything I did was wrong. I picked him up the wrong way at the wrong time. I chose the wrong toys. I made the wrong food. I read the wrong books. I went about changing his diaper all wrong. I’m pretty sure I even looked at him the wrong way most of the time. The single thing I got right was taking him to play group, but even that ended poorly when I (wrongly!) wouldn’t let Simon run up and down a busy street without holding my hand.

It was maddening, and my nerves were frazzled from a bout of insomnia the night before. At times like this, I wage an internal war between doing/saying what I know to be the correct things and giving into my frustration and doing/saying what I know to be the incorrect things. Friday, I tell you, my internal reserves were low, and I gave in to baser instincts, like yelling at Simon to just be quiet, more than once. I may have even told him to shut up. (I sure hope not, but I can’t remember.) I’m not proud of this or excusing myself in any way. In hindsight, it’s clear as day that I lowered myself to his level and was something of a toddler myself.

On the other hand, there are some upsides to days like these. They make you a bit less judgmental about the public parenting of others. They make you appreciate the good days more. And in this instance, some crabbiness helped me to solve an emerging sleep problem of Simon’s.

For the past week or two, Simon has woken up after two to three hours of sleep many nights. Unlike his previous partial arousals, these times he’s wide awake, lucid, and unhappy. We got into the habit of picking him up, bringing him into our room for a bit, and then putting him back down. When this happened once a month, I didn’t think too much about it. At four times a week, it began to emerge as a new and unwelcome routine.

Most nights, after the crying would begin, Matt would suggest we let Simon work through it on his own. I’d half-heartedly agree, then insist on intervention the minute the crying went past five minutes and/or escalated in tone. Friday night, though, I was so tired from Simon (and, frankly, of Simon), that once I put him down for the night, I had no desire to see him again for at least 12 hours.

So when he awoke howling at 10:05, I was more willing to try Matt’s suggested course of inaction. I let it go. At 10:14 the crying reached a crescendo and I got ready to go get him. And then, just as abruptly as it began, it stopped. We repeated these non-actions when Simon awoke unusually early the next morning, letting him be unsettled and cry until he dropped back to sleep and woke up happily babbling at his regular waking time. The payoff was that Simon slept in late Saturday morning, had a terrific day, and got himself back to sleep when he awoke during his Saturday nap and again that night pretty easily.

It just goes to show you that sometimes doing nothing is the best thing you can do for everyone. And that there’s some value in even the most annoying of days.

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