It’s bedtime, so cuddle up with your favorite paperweight and go to sleep

None of our boys have ever become attached to a particular security blanket.  Buster once had a short phase when he wanted to take a Star Wars Lego Stormtrooper in the car with him wherever we went, but he kept losing his Star Wars guy in the back seat, so he decided Lego people were too slippery to make constant companions. And those volatile little dudes were always losing their heads.

Big Man had a stuffed dog he liked for a while. But he also exhibits the family trait of being inattentive. He could rarely remember where he left his puppy and no matter how much he called for it, the disloyal mutt would never come. He was often so aggrieved by his fair-weather dog that he would refuse its companionship at bedtime. “No puppy. No puppy,” he declared as he waved it off.

I’m not saying Big Man doesn’t like to sleep with a favorite object. It’s just that the object changes from night to night.  Last week he insisted on taking two plum-sized rocks to bed with him. Why would a boy want to sleep with rocks? He’s fascinated with pebbles and coins and buttons, and whatever little trinkets are fun to put into pockets, and maybe these rocks were awesome mega-pebbles. Or maybe it’s because rocks will never turn their backs on you like moody plush puppies do.

Before that, I think he snuggled up with an empty spray bottle. Somehow the spray top went missing and he lost his fascination with it. Meanwhile, we never got to use it and the shower mildew thrives.

Getting ready to cuddle up with a day planner.

Getting ready to cuddle up with a day planner.

Yes, he sometimes wants to take a toy to bed with him, but he’d prefer a calculator or whatever other office supplies he can get his hands on.

Sadly, there are some things he’s not allowed to cuddle in bed, as much as he’d like to. It can be difficult for a two-year-old to understand the problem with taking a power cord, or a box of thumb tacks, or a loaded stapler to bed. He’s sure he can handle them, and gets angry at whoever makes him give up his new pet, which, as far as he knows, is OSHA. It’s always handy to have a government regulatory agency to deflect your child’s anger.

And post-it notes! Jackpot!

And post-it notes! Jackpot!

I guess it’s a good thing he doesn’t have a single bedtime favorite. I’ve heard stories of parents traveling long distances to retrieve an inconsolable child’s security object. We don’t have to hurry home for anything as long as there’s an Office Depot within reach.

I suppose there will come the day when he’s heading off for college and I’ll wish I had some childhood favorite to present to him as a bond to home. I’m sure he won’t even remember his puppy, and I think the damned thing ran away anyhow. But, he’ll probably need paper clips for school and we’ll likely both have a good, nostalgic cry when I hand him those.

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Grown man seeks help of preschooler to outwit toddler

Big Man is a model two-year-old when it comes to going to sleep at night. Once I get him to his room and lay him down in his bed he goes right out and sleeps until morning.

The disagreeable part is getting him to his room when it means leaving behind his family, who could potentially still have fun without him, in the living room.

It’s my job to put him to bed, and the moment he realizes I mean to do it, he runs straight at Mommy. As much as she wants him to get his rest, Mommy relishes this moment. Big Man is often too busy hiding TV remotes and telephones to be much of a snuggler. But as soon as Daddy says it’s time for bed, he dives for Mommy’s lap like she’s the last chopper out of Saigon.

The words, “Time for bed,” signal Big Man that he should do something endearing, making desirable his continued presence in the land of the conscious. Everyone understands the game.

The other day, Big Man and Buster were playing LEGOs. We have a big, basket/bag hybrid container full of sundry LEGO pieces from the many sets we’ve built and smashed as a family. In years to come, when the boys inquire about their college funds, I will point to that basket; it’s all tied up in precious LEGOs.

The dreaded LEGO basket/bag. It doesn't look like a lot, but underneath the three big pieces are 999,999,997 tiny pieces.

The dreaded LEGO basket/bag. It doesn’t look like a lot, but underneath the three big pieces are 999,999,997 tiny pieces.

There are like a billion LEGO pieces in that basket. When a substantial portion of them gets dumped out it becomes a daunting clean-up project. Having the entire basket dumped out makes me want to put a For Sale sign on the house and let the next people deal with it.

On this particular day, Big Man and Buster had a fraction of the contents on the floor at clean-up time. Buster, being the biggest brother at hand, was in charge. He began to do his duty. Big Man, however, donned the “I’m too young to be expected to pick up after myself” attitude.

It turns out Big Man does know how to pick up, especially when it's time for bed.

It turns out Big Man does know how to pick up, especially when it’s time for bed.

For the record, Big Man is not too young. He is often astute at picking up. Buster knows this about his little brother, and was rightfully irked by the idea of picking up by himself.

Buster appealed to me to intercede, but it can be challenging to compel a two-year-old to pick up LEGOs when he has no mind for it. I tried many forms of soft coercion, all to no effect.

He even knows where things belong, but only when it's time for bed.

He even knows where things belong, but only when it’s time for bed.

That’s when my genius four-year-old dealt me an ace. Buster whispered to me: “Tell Baby he has to go to bed if he doesn’t help.” (Big Man is still Baby to him.)

I turned to Big Man. “You don’t want to pick up LEGOs?”

He shook his head.

“Well then, I guess it’s time for bed.”

Big Man dropped whatever useful device he was trying to pry the batteries out of and darted to the LEGOs. In five minutes the floor was clear.

Everyone understands the game, and some have figured out how to play it.

We’re goin’ over the wall tonight

The youngest boy has crossed the last threshold out of babydom. He’s learned to escape his crib – only his motive is not so much escape and it’s not really a crib he’s exiting.

THE SNEAK

They all, in their own time, figured out how to shake free of the crib. Big Brother executed his escape plans quietly, never letting us know he was plotting a breakout until we heard the loud thud from his bedroom floor.

Being first-time parents, we had foolishly parked a dresser at the foot of his crib. Climbing up to the top of that dresser was Phase One of his plan. He hadn’t really thought through Phase Two, which resulted in the thud of his bouncing off the floor.

Let's do this!

Let’s do this!

We couldn’t believe he wasn’t broken; his thud sounded like a cannon ball hitting the house. We immediately banished the dresser and made all manner of rookie parent safety adjustments to his crib.

Leg up.

Leg up.

THE HARD CASE

Buster was a loud prisoner. He wouldn’t stand the injustice of being left in a crib and he let us know it. It was only a matter of time before he made his first thud in a misjudged leap to freedom.

And over.

And over.

His thud wasn’t as loud. There was no tall dresser to climb onto, and he was a smaller kid, except for his lungs. Still, we lived up to the letter of the parental contract by checking on him to make sure he was a bouncer. Then we put him directly back to bed. If he kept making thuds like this, after a while, I’d see about lowering the crib mattress to make egress more difficult.

Roll.

Roll.

He kept making thuds, and eventually I adjusted his crib. After more thuds, I adjusted it again, and again. When his hole was as deep as it could go and he still climbed out of it, we put him in a big boy bed. That wouldn’t hold him either, but at least it would give some relief to the floor.

Second leg up.

Second leg up.

THE GRACIOUS HOUSEGUEST

Big Man doesn’t sleep in a crib, not because he’s bigger than his brothers were and might put a hole through the floor. He took a liking to sleeping in his pack-n-play after he graduated the cradle. We tried the crib a few times, but he preferred the pack-n-play. He sleeps well there and hardly ever acts like a caged animal.

And down. Happy face.

And down. Happy face.

And now he can climb out of it. There are no thuds. It’s lower than the crib, but the deftness with which he climbs out makes us doubt he’d thud out of the crib either. The kid is a ninja, using his feet and hands in concert to roll silently over the wall.

He doesn’t do it to escape; he does it because it’s morning time. There’s none of Big Brother’s, “I’ll act cool until your back is turned,” or Buster’s, “I’m breaking out of this hell hole, you dirty rat!” In his toddler way, Big Man is telling us, “Don’t trouble yourselves. I’ll see myself out.”

I’m hoping our graceful little country squire will soon begin offering to make breakfast.

A toddler for all seasons

I’ve spent some time here talking about how destructive Big Man can be. (If you didn’t know better, you might even have thought it was complaining.) It’s only fair I spend some time explaining how helpful Big Man can be. He’s a multi-faceted boy – a toddler for all seasons.

While it’s true that Big Man has spilled his share of juice and other sticky foods on the floor, he often makes a good faith effort to clean up after himself. He goes to the drawer of washcloths we keep for handling sticky boys, retrieves a dry cloth, and fervently attacks the spill. In fact, he mops his spill to an area of carpet twice the size of the original mess. Then, he dutifully returns the sticky cloth to the drawer, because that’s where it goes, and a boy should always put things back where he found them.

Even in his younger days, he was quick to lend a hand with the cleaning.

Even in his younger days, he was quick to lend a hand with the cleaning.

Big Man likes to alert his parents when the phone rings. He points at the phone and gives his distinctive alarm, “Dada! Dada!” If you make no move to answer it, because it’s a telemarketer, or more likely, you’ve forgotten what to do when the phone rings, he will climb up the chair and retrieve it for you, making every effort to press the TALK button before you get to him. He lives in undying hope he will eventually retrain you as to the appropriate actions to take in the face of a ringing phone.

Big Man likes to be sure Mommy and Daddy are fed on time. To that end, he reacts definitively to the microwave beeper. He is just tall enough to reach the button that pops open the door and stops the machine. He punches this button before the beeper has stopped sounding. Sometimes he punches it before the beeper has started, because Daddy is just too hungry to wait all that while for hot food when mostly thawed will do.

speed dial

Helping Buster order a pizza. He only messes around with toy phones when he’s humoring the children.

Big Man is in tune with sounds and their meanings. He knows the sound of the garage door opener likely means an absent parent has returned to the nest. He draws everyone’s attention to the sound with his “Dada! Dada!” warning. Even when the sound of the garage door opening means he’s found the spare opener remote and is pushing newly discovered buttons, he calls his family to investigate, because maybe, just maybe, he’s found a magic little box that brings sweet Mommy home whenever you push the button. Somebody tall enough to turn the door knob should go look in the garage to see how well this magic works.

It may have been disappointing to learn the garage door remote button didn’t bring Mommy home, but he soon got over it. After all, he’d found another button that made a distant yet familiar noise. That’s a good thing. When you are a toddler, people flood your world with impotent, toy buttons. Any day you discover a button whose pushing yields real world results is a good day.