“I am at the end of my rope,” I think, again. The phrase has come to me at least once a day for the last two years, and with it, the realization that, in that case, I just have to find more rope. The thing about being a parent is that you can’t be at the end of your rope. Your rope never ends. You don’t get to throw in the towel when it is clear that you have made a big mistake, that you are unfit for your position, that you are not qualified for the job. There is no two weeks’ notice.
My kid is awesome. The way she throws everything down and runs to hug me when I get home from work, the uncontrollable laughter when we sing “head and shoulders knees and toes kneesandtoes,” the way she says “three” like she’s blowing a raspberry – these moments enrich my life, and brighten my every day. But I’ve come to understand that I am a failure as a parent, I can’t manage to do what seems to work so easily for others, and it’s too late. I can’t decide that somebody else would be a better fit for this position.
Sofia has this thing where she has to wear a bathing suit at all times. When we take off her bathing suit to change her, if we aren’t fast enough in putting a new bathing suit on, the freakout is impressive. Fast breathing, racking sobs, fat tears running down her cheeks, but worse is the look in her eye, unquantifiable and maybe something I am making up, a look of real panic. And I give in.
Because it’s not really a big deal, right? So she’s wearing a bathing suit. But sometimes she refuses to put anything else on over it, even when it’s 40 degrees outside. And sometimes we don’t have any clean bathing suits, because bathing suits don’t exactly grow on trees and they get dirty fast when it’s the only thing you will wear. And sometimes I just want her to take off the fucking bathing suit already, it’s been six weeks.
We’ve learned to work around the bathing suit. Sometimes it’s okay to put clothes on over her suit, like when I wanted to go to Marshall’s to pick up some things for an upcoming trip to her grandma’s. While I was looking around, she found a backpack/dog that she fell in love with, and she was pulling it all over the store, which was fine, we needed a bag like that anyway. When it came time to try a few clothes on, the dressing room lady wouldn’t let her bring the bag into the dressing room, it’s against the rules; things fell apart. Sobs. Sobs for which there were no cure. I put her in timeout, I explained to her that the lady would take care of her dog while we were trying clothes on. Sobs. I had the brilliant idea of having her try on one of the cheap bathing suits that I had found for her – we always need more cheap bathing suits – and it worked as a distraction. Even if she wouldn’t let me take off her original bathing suit to do it. It’s not like you have to take off one bathing suit to check the fit of another.
It was at that moment that the dressing room lady came and knocked on our door. Sofia’s sobs had broken her down, and she wanted to let Sofia have the bag. I opened the dressing room door without hesitation, and it wasn’t until after I saw the look on the woman’s face that I realized how it must have looked to her: here I was, after begging to take a bag into the dressing room, layering cheap bathing suit onto cheap bathing suit on my kid. She didn’t outright accuse me of trying to steal, but I could see it in her expression, and how am I supposed to explain it? That I can’t say no to my kid, that we can’t go anywhere unless she’s in a bathing suit, that I don’t know how to be a parent? That my two-year-old gets her way about the stupid bathing suit because I’m not strong enough to put my foot down? That I am not fit to be a mother?
Sofia wasn’t the only one sobbing in the dressing room that day.
Sofia doesn’t sleep. She hasn’t slept, ever. When she was 22 months old, she was still waking up and screaming for hours multiple times a night. She’s now 26 months old, and she won’t fall asleep most nights until after midnight. She wakes up with me, at 7:30. She naps for 1.5″“2 hours. This means she is getting something like 9 hours of sleep per day, maybe as much as 10.5, when the average kid her age is getting 13. According to this site, 96% of 2-year-olds get between 10.8 and 15.6 hours of sleep per day. 96%.
Me? I am averaging 6.5″“7, because I have shit to do once she gets to sleep, and I don’t get to take naps.
I hate talking about this in public. Everybody has the answer: “Have you put her on a schedule?” She’s been on a schedule since she was one day old. “What about letting her cry it out?” You know what happens when you let Sofia cry it out? She stands up in her crib so that when she eventually falls asleep from sheer exhaustion (after something like 3 hours), she falls down and it wakes her up, which starts the cycle anew. And if she does fall asleep even then, the rest of the night, and the rest of the week, is 6 times worse than it was before. We tried co-sleeping, which didn’t work, because she would only sleep if she was latched on to me the entire night, which meant that I actually slept less and she did, too, because every time I moved it would wake us both up. We tried Ferber. We tried Babywise. I’ve read every book about child sleep problems that I have heard of, and tried every method that people peddle. And you know what? None of them have worked. Not one. What does happen, though, is when we break from the routine that we have established, things get much, much worse for about a week. And then I have to claw my way back to where we were to start with, even though that starting point is miserable. It’s less miserable, though, than all of the tried-and-true guaranteed methods that experts and well-meaning friends tell me about.
Every method I try is another failure. It’s a failure because it doesn’t work, but it feels like more than that. Every other parent manages. The books promise that if I do things right, I will see results. The problem, then, is with me. When I break down in tears because the method isn’t working and I haven’t slept a full night in years, when I hit that point where I am at the end of my rope and I give in, that is me, failing. That is me, teaching my daughter that she just has to hold out a bit longer and I will give in. If this were a regular job, I’d be fired. I’d have been fired years ago. Instead, I fail, and continue on because what choice do I have, and fail some more.
It feels like a failure to give in. It also feels like a failure to hold out forever. When Sofia is sobbing, really panicking, I feel like a monster if I am not able to make that okay. I’m not talking about “No, you can’t have any juice right now” kind of sobbing – the kind of sobbing where comfort from me would make things okay, would make the panic subside. And yet, it feels like a failure to give in, that I am so weak, that I can’t teach my kid to be self-reliant.
A friend of mine, whose child was sleeping 12 hours in a row per night at eight weeks, posted that she had decided that they wouldn’t have a TV because “I just saw so many people with kids who have trouble sleeping and I was like, ‘well, yeah, your kid is overstimulated.'” Sofia never watched TV as a baby. The lack of a TV didn’t make her sleep. But the update stung, because it made clear that my private failure is being judged by those who aren’t failing; my misery is just proof that they are doing it right.
“You should cut out TV before bed.” We don’t have any TV channels now, just Netflix, and Sofia watches some educational programming during the day. Turning it off hours before bed doesn’t help. “You should have a calming routine.” Like the family walk, the nighttime bath, the stories in dim light, and the soft singing that we’ve been doing every day since she was born?
There are so many books about sleeping, and all of them have different Guaranteed Solutions. You know why? Because some kids will sleep. It comforts the parent to think that it is because they are following a Method, but in my world, the method has never worked. None of them. And if there were one tried-and-true solution, there would be no books, because anxious parents wouldn’t be desperately trying to snatch sleep from the hands of those in the know; it would be simple. Instead, experts sell sleep to parents whose kids would eventually sleep anyway. The method might make a smidge of a difference, get a kid to sleep at 12 weeks instead of 14, but they are not magic. For some kids, they will not work.
This is how I feel when I am angry. There is another emotion, though, and that is complete and utter despair. I am so bad at this. 96% of kids are getting more sleep than Sofia. 96% of parents are not complete failures. I need to be more strict, I need to let her cry it out for hours and hours and hours every night for weeks and weeks, and then she’ll eventually give up. It is my fault that she cries – she manipulates me into giving her what she wants. My mom said to me, “What I am hearing is that Sofia always wins.” The words hung heavy over the phone line. Yes. Sofia always wins. I always lose.
In the battle for sleep, in the battle for the bathing suit, I am weaker than a 2-year-old.
A friend of mine suggested we get her evaluated for sensory issues and anxiety, which we set up an appointment for. I’m afraid to tell people that, too. Afraid that they will say that I am making excuses for my own bad parenting, that I am seeing a “problem” where there isn’t a problem (other than me). That I need to be more strict, that I need to be less forgiving. That if I just rip that goddamned bathing suit off of her and refuse to listen to her cry, it will make her stop. And they do say that. Or imply it. “Every kid goes through this.” Okay. But I’m at the end of my rope and it’s not getting better and so what you’re telling me is that every parent manages to deal with it and I am the outlier. I am the one who has hit a breaking point when other parents manage just fine. I am a failure.
Other people support an evaluation, tell me trust my gut – as though my gut has ever been trustworthy. My gut told me I was almost certainly pregnant when I was a 12-year-old virgin, my gut convinced me that I had Multiple Sclerosis which the MRI and spinal tap proved to be untrue.
I’m hopeful that something will come of this – that if there is an underlying anxiety problem or sensory disconnect we can work on those, which will help with the sleep. That’s how I feel when things are going okay, when it’s noon and I’m exhausted but making it through the day, when I come home to a laughing toddler. Around 11:30 p.m., after two hours of sitting in the dark with a hyper and/or screaming child, I believe that this is all me, that I’ve ruined my kid with my ineptness. Sofia always wins. I always lose.
So here I am. Vacillating between feeling like a failure who can’t manage to be strict enough, and feeling like an evaluation is a step in the right direction. And then feeling like I’m just trying to get some sort of medical label on my kid to make up for my own failings, and then feeling like at least an evaluation will give me some insight.
And mostly feeling like I’m at the end of my rope, and afraid of what will happen when the rope really does run out.