I've come to realize that my satisfaction with parenting is directly related to how cooperative my children are at bedtime. Or more specifically, Zaxxon.
A few months ago, I was thinking of writing a post about whether or not the second baby was easier. Kal'El seemed to be. In fact, he seemed a lot easier--and in some respects, he is. He took to nursing much better than Zaxxon did, though I was experienced so that was probably at least half of the equation.
Experience certainly is a major variable in making the second baby seem easier. I've already seen most of what babies can throw at us and know how to respond: I recognize tired and hunger cues, I already know that neither he nor I will fall apart if we go out in public, and I remember the basics of infant development.
As I was putting all this together, I realized that there was another factor that was making Kal'El seem much easier to handle--Zaxxon had entered a very difficult stage, both developmentally and emotionally. This made Kal'El seem that much easier by comparison, because there is little babies can do to misbehave or test boundaries. Zaxxon seemed to wait until Kal'El had been around a few months before showing signs of jealously. I think it took him that long to realize, on a gut level, that Kal'El wasn't a temporary state of affairs. He was never terribly aggressive toward his brother, but he became very needy, always wanting me to focus my attention on HIM, and he also seemed to decide that cooperation with anything I asked was optional.
Bedtimes, in particular, became a huge struggle. I tried numerous tactics but quickly found myself hating that time of day. It didn't matter how good of a day we had, getting him into bed took forever and put both of us in a bad mood. Every time I tried to shift away from negativity and find a fun way to get ready for bed or a more gentle way to keep him in bed, it ceased working for one reason or another after only a day or two. Whoever said that children thrive on routine because they know what's coming knows nothing about my son--he operates best if I can come up with something creative and new every day. And I really don't feel that creative (which is scary, coming from a writer.)
However, before I could write this post two months ago, something clicked for Zaxxon. I don't know what it was, but I was grateful for it. Getting him to his bed still took a fair effort, but once he was there, he would stay put. He would still often come out for one trip to the bathroom, but there was no more coming out every two minutes with a fresh request or simply to try and interact with us a little more. No more of my trying to decide how many times to silently lead him back to his bed before taking toys from him as an incentive to stay put (and deciding whether I should break the silence to warn him before I did.) No more feeling the I-just-want-five-minutes-without-worrying-about-you rage building up every evening. It was heaven.
Unfortunately, it didn't last. For the last three nights, he's begun to push his boundaries at bedtime again. He's even shown signs that he'll make a good lawyer because he's looking for loopholes. I tell him that if he comes out again he'll lose most of his stuffed animals, so he doesn't come out or open his door. What he does do is knock (and then bang) on his door, trying to get me to open it for him. When I finally get fed up, worried that he's going to wake his brother, I amend the rule to say that if he's out of bed or making noise, he'll lose animals. He breaks the rule, and I take half his zoo away. Then he asks me to tuck him in (again) and I'm so frustrated with him that I just flip the covers over him. And then I feel bad.
I hate hating bedtime. I want to cherish all these stages of my children's lives. Zaxxon's at a very fun (if high-maintenance) age, and I want to enjoy it. But my sanity as a parent necessitates having time to myself, and if my last interaction with him every evening is filled with frustration or anger, that mars my whole experience--and probably his.
I know I need to just take a deep breath and work through this. Children are ever-changing, and sooner or later Kal'El will become independent enough to become difficult as well--and I'm sure he'll throw me curveballs that Zaxxon never thought of. I'm just sad (and frustrated) that a behavior we thought was gone is returning with a vengeance. Since it's been a few months since we've had to do anything, I need to make sure Zaxxon knows the rules before the lights are out and then stick to them without letting myself get worked up. And I need to make sure that anger doesn't interfere with displays of affection (like tucking him in.) I am the adult here, after all.
But sometimes, being the adult is hard.