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I am being rather rudely awakened from a 12-month slackening in my maternal duties. Once the terrible twos ended, I found myself with an increasingly independent, increasingly verbal, increasingly compliant, and above all increasingly predictable child.

Simon was tightly scheduled, and the very few times I veered from that schedule (like attending Baron’s birthday party last April during nap-time), we both paid dearly. It got so that whenever Simon grew crabby, I could look at the clock, determine if it was time for food or sleep, and cure the crabbiness in short order.

Farewell to all of that. Two complications have forced me to step up my game:

Just after turning 4, Simon hit the dreaded “little adolescence”, featuring a new dose of negative persistence and oppositional behavior. It’s just like the terrible twos, only with less head-banging and more back-talk!

And he’s giving up his nap. For a month or so, Simon has simply rested during many of his naps. He will lie down under mild protest, ask for his  Radiohead CD and covers, and then yell for me the minute the music stops playing. He actually sleeps about every third or fourth day. However, these days do not necessarily correspond to the occasions on which he seems the most tired or grumpy.

Put these two facets of development together, and you have many a head-scratching moment.  It’s 3:00 p.m. and Simon is wired. Do I even attempt a nap? Or, it’s 3:00 p.m. and Simon is horribly grumpy and complaining he needs food. Snack or bed?

Sometimes I betray my internal instincts, such as our Halloween birthday party/trick-or-treating double-header, and end the day with an exhausted-but-happy kid. He was more timid than usual at the birthday party (scheduled during his regular nap-time), but rallied nicely and never got mouthy with me.

Other times, like last weekend’s two-playdate-Sunday, I similarly over-planned and ended up creating a catastrophe. Well, perhaps not catastrophe, but a child who seemed happy one minute, grew mouthy and sarcastic the next, proceeded to throw an old-school tantrum over getting into pajamas, reached aphasia-inducing levels of hysteria, and then fell asleep on top of my and Matt’s bed seconds after calming down. I wasn’t taking any chances of awakening that particular beast: Matt and I bunked in the guest bedroom while Simon snoozed for eleven hours on top of my bedspread. (I did throw a blanket over his legs to create a simulacrum of normality.)

I have yet to find a discernable pattern. Just yesterday Simon seemed very tired at 2:30 but did not sleep, and then appeared happy and energetic last night. So of course he requested his bath at 7:00, crawled into bed of his own accord at 8:00, and kicked me out at 8:15 sharp. And was never once mouthy. Go figure.

The only way I know to see my way out of this is to experiment with schedules and routines until I find one that works. At age four, Simon is not suddenly going to become the non-scheduled child. That’s not in his DNA.

I have done this before, of course. At around 16 months or so, Simon went from two naps a day to one. I had to adjust then, too. The difference is that at age 16 months he simply rubbed his eyes when he was tired—there were no behavior issues to sort out, fatigue related or otherwise. Now it’s a bit more complicated: When exhaustion is the root cause of nastiness, I feel the only solution is to take care of Simon and get him to sleep. But if it’s the little adolescence rearing its head, then correction is in order. My parenting philosophy on this is clear, if only I were better at recognizing what lies before me.

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