Bedtime with my 2 1/2 year old is challenging, to say the least. We moved Dylan to a big boy bed just before Sadie was born when he was about 22 months, because we didn't want to get another crib. And he was just ready. He never got up after being tucked in for the night. We moved Sadie to a bed at about the same age because she was beginning to try to climb out of her crib and we feared for her safety. This didn't bode well for her readiness to stay in bed for the night, and she's been pushing the limits ever since.
Not that we are perfect parents by any stretch of the imagination, but I think we've done a pretty good job through trial and error of making the boundaries very consistent so that once it is bedtime, she has no excuses to get back up. We have a story before bed. We brush teeth before bed. Potty time happens before bed and there's no getting up for the potty after bed. (For the record, before reporting me to CPS for abuse and neglect in not allowing my daughter to urinate after she's tucked in and possibly causing her to have multiple and severe UTI's, she still wears a Pull-up to bed and she has NEVER. ONCE. ACTUALLY. PEED. when we have let her get up to use the toilet after bed.) We are very clear with her about that after this and this and this happen, then it's time for bed. No room for ifs, ands, or buts, and for the most part, she adheres to the confines of her bed when it is time, but not without her fair share of whining.
I am all about giving her choices at bedtime so that she feels she has some control over the situation. "Do you want to brush teeth before or after you have your story?" "Do you want to get a drink of water now or after you go potty?" "Do you want to turn off the light or do you want Mommy to?" "Should I stay for 1 song or 2 (on her CD of lullaby music that she likes to listen to as she falls asleep)?" Of course she always says "2" which usually morphs into 3 or 4 by the time all is said and done. Because of everything that she can sneak into the equation in spite of all of the boundaries and consistency and choices. Like, wait, I need to give you another hug and a kiss; I want a kiss on this cheek, too; I need some dreams; more dreams; more dreams; scratch my back; kiss me again; I want some water. But especially the whine. "STAAAAAAAAAY," she will moan with her pathetically tired little voice that takes nerves of steel to resist.
I resist it for many reasons. I resist it because I am selfish about MY time after my kids have gone to bed and I simply want to leave her room and get on with it. I have books to read, TiVo to catch up on, blog posts to write, projects to finish, and sleep to get to. I resist because I believe that being firm with her boundaries will help her become more confident and independent, and somehow I have failed as a mother that she needs me too much and can't fall asleep without me next to her. I resist because I don't like to hear the whining and I'm afraid that giving in to it is teaching her that that's how to get what she wants. But sometimes she just needs me. And so I stay.
Tonight was one of those nights. As I was feeling frustrated at myself for giving in and not just a little manipulated into staying, I laid next to her gently rubbing her back. I watched her eyes drift shut and her face settle into a sleepy, contented smile, and my eyes drank in the perfection of her features with awe and wonder. She turned her face from me and I stroked her silky soft hair and inhaled its little-girl-sweet-mixed-with-outdoors-and-sunshine scent. And I stayed and breathed it all in, and stayed and breathed. And wondered why I'd ever considered it a chore to stay.