This Cannot Go On

By Chaya Houpt

Around the time Y.B. and A.N. turned two, they started to Talk. Not just words, but sentences, and then plans and games and conspiracies. Where they had previously been mostly indifferent to each other’s presence, suddenly they were partners in crime. They would stay up for most of the night, chatting and laughing and playing.

I placed them in their cribs at 7 PM as usual, but now, instead of quietly thumbing board books and sleeping until 7 the next morning, they would party.

My husband and I would go to sleep around 11 or 12, lying in bed with clenched teeth as we listed to our daughters carry on from the nursery down the hall. The next day, they were miserable company: cranky, short-tempered and whiny. Each day, the cumulative sleep debt was worse.

And naptime was a problem, too. They wouldn’t nap at all in a room together. We set up a pack-n-play and carried Y.B. down to the laundry room each afternoon, where she would often be woken early by the doorbell.

This cannot go on, I said.

So we sought the advice of our parents, mentors and friends. We tried bribing, threatening and all kinds of parental trickery. There were staggered bedtimes, later bedtimes and I can’t even remember what else. It was frustrating. Infuriating, even. We felt so powerless.

Some of the things we tried helped a little. But mostly, the girls just grew out of it. They gradually got used to the wonder of verbal communication, and they learned to be quiet roommates.

How long did it take before they started going to sleep quietly at an early hour? Oh, about A YEAR.

. . .

Another story, this one about mornings:

I have encouraged my girls to be independent and self-sufficient from the youngest age. When they entered the “I do it by self” phase, I was thrilled. I watched in wonder as my tiny children performed more and more of their morning routine by themselves: getting dressed, brushing teeth.

And then, sometime around last November, it just stagnated. They started dawdling, protesting, refusing to do anything by themselves. Mornings became a nightmare.

This cannot go on, I said.

I wrote an email to Jenny. “I don’t want to start every day with a battle,” I wrote. “Here is what I have tried.” And I listed all the tricks and strategies I had employed.

Jenny empathized and offered some ideas and suggestions, which I implemented. It helped a lot, but A.N. was still having a lot of trouble getting out in the morning.

This cannot go on, I said, and in January I wrote Jenny again.

She helped me through the situation, and said, “If things are still terrible Purim-time, let’s rethink.”

Purim came and went. Pesach rolled around, and then Yom Haatzmaut. Last Sunday was Lag B’Omer. And even this morning, it was a battle to get A.N. dressed and out of the house.

And you know what? I’ve accepted it. I don’t feel the urgency to change or fix the situation. Maybe this CAN go on. Maybe I don’t need a solution, or maybe our family isn’t ready for a solution.

One day last week, my neighbor Leah observed that my kids have a hard time with the morning transition. It was good to get objective confirmation, because Leah is no stranger to the challenges of a house full of young children.

“Is it always the same kid?” she wanted to know.

“Nope,” I said, because though A.N. might present the most challenges, Y.B. and B.A. have been known to get into the elevator howling and refusing to put on shoes as well.

And then she said something like, “You are always so calm with them.” I don’t remember her exact words, because of all the noise from the choir of angels.

. . .

So that’s the thing. Every meltdown, every dragged-out journey to nursery school, every impossible morning presents a challenge: how can I fix this? How can I get this family running like a well-oiled machine?

But that’s not always the victory Hashem has in store for me. Maybe I am simply meant to try my best to help the situation, and when nothing works, I can accept reality as it is and know that I am growing stronger, more patient, more calm in the process.

This cannot go on? Why not? Here’s another one: this too shall pass. But not on my timeline.

Chaya blogs about parenting and life at All Victories.

11 comments on “This Cannot Go On

  1. Just wanted to add a great story:

    Years ago, there was a fine Jewish couple that longed to have children. The wife was a wonderful housekeeper and a superb cook. The husband made a good living and treated his wife very well. The only thing missing – but it was a very big thing – was children.

    Pesach came, and the house was spotlessly clean. The Seder table was glistening with china and silver and the matzos and bottles of wine. The husband came home from shul with a poor stranger, whom the wife welcomed graciously. The Haggadah was conducted beautifully by the husband, while the wife served an elegant delicious meal.

    At the end of the evening, the poor stranger took his leave of the host and hostess. He thanked profusely them and blessed them. At the doorway, the stranger turned around and smiled. “Next year, everything should be a big mess.” Then he walked out.

    The wife was practically crying. “A big mess! Why did he curse me like that?” The husband had to comfort her, she was so upset.

    Next year was a leap year with two Adars. Pesach occurred 13 lunar months later. During that year, something wonderful happened. They had a baby! By Pesach time, the baby was already nearly three months old, big and squirming in his mommy’s arms. It was a lot harder to clean the house, a lot harder to make Pesach, but who cared? They had a long awaited child!

    On the first Seder night, the husband came home from shul…and with him was the mysterious stranger from last year. Seeing the strange face, the baby started to howl and thrash in his mother’s arms. It was very difficult for her to calm him down. Suddenly the baby grabbed a corner of the festive tablecloth and pulled hard. Dishes and glassware fell off the table onto the floor!

    The exasperated mom put the baby down and started sweeping up the pile of spilled food and broken dishes on the floor. She looked up to see the stranger beaming at her. “This is the mess I promised you.”

    So whenever you walk into a home that has plenty of lively and active and healthy children, Baruch HaShem – children who manage to throw their toys and their clothes and their breakfast cereal into a big heap on the floor and under the couch – say this out loud:

    “This is the mess I promised you.”

  2. Little kids, little problems.

    Big kids, big problems.

    Teenagers = mucho headaches.

    Been there, done that.

    As Shlomo HaMelech said: “Gam zeh ya’avor.”

    (This too shall pass).

    He had teenagers too!

  3. Out to school?

    How about up for shul?
    If don’t you have teenagers yet – take your “this cannot go on” or your “this too shall pass” – and tack on “you ain’t seen nothing yet!”

  4. It’s true, Judy — even the most insane morning in a house full of “regular” needs is something I often remember a lot of people would be very grateful to have.

    That doesn’t mean I don’t keep a bottle of chloroform handy.

  5. By the way, I’m not trying to make light of how difficult it is to get kids dressed and breakfasted and out to school, it’s definitely not easy for any parent. However, compare it to getting a special-needs child ready in the morning (lo aleinu, a child diagnosed with autism, or cerebral palsy, or trisomy 21, or some other mental or physical challenge) and it’s a breeze. So if you do have thankfully normal healthy children, other than an attack of the “whines” or the “tantrums” or the “let’s give Mommy a great big headache todays,” be grateful to HKBH, swallow a couple of the Extra-Extra-Extra-Extra Strength Tylenol caplets, and remember that one day they’ll get it from their own kids.

  6. “Jenny empathized and offered some ideas and suggestions, which I implemented. It helped a lot, but A.N. was still having a lot of trouble getting out in the morning.”

    So it didn’t totally go on…it sounds like it got better! Build on your victories! You see you do have the power to change things!

  7. It does pass.

    I have seven adult children, ages 21 to 34.

    Our time of morning battles, sleepless nights and missed carpool is over.

    So it’s just me and my husband in our “empty nest,” except when the children and grandchildren come to visit.

    As my dear departed mother a”h used to say: “The years fly on by, but each day is 24 hours [to get through].”

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