We learned an important thing about him this weekend. A few important things, actually.
Saturday night we were having fun with our friends at a shared camp fire and he was playing soccer, having dance parties, eating our (and everybody else’s) food, having a ball. Then we said it was time to go get ready to go sleep in the tent! Which we had been talking about for days and he had already taken a nap in the tent, successfully (miracle of miracles).
So we brushed teeth at the little spigot, put on PJs and a diaper, read a book, all good things, all fun things… and then when the flashlight went out all H broke loose.
Well, long story short, I learned that he straight up is not a kid who will cry himself to sleep or sort of like run out of steam. We tried singing songs, telling stories, talking about what we did all day, talking about how we took a nap in the tent already, snuggling (in the 80+ degree humid stuffy tent), just holding him in a laying-down position so that he would eventually just be so tired he would fall asleep…
About six separate times (over the course of at least 2.5 hrs) he calmed down, breathed evenly, stopped whining or crying… and then all the sudden there would be this little “eeeeEEEEEE” like air being let out of a balloon slowly and it would ratchet up again into full-on wracking wailing sobs and flailing limbs, yet again.
He started out saying he was “scaried,” and I think at first it was definitely a lot of weird, unfamiliar stuff, but within minutes it had very little (IMO) to do with being scaried and very much to do with just being way WAY past tired.
So yeah, fun fact: this kid does not simply run out of steam. Ever.
Eventually we decided maybe we should just go SOMEWHERE familiar and see if he would sleep in the car. As soon as I turned on the flashlight, he was like “Hey! Dere’s a light! We going in the car? Mommy, where we going?” totally 100% fine. We got in the car and he’s all “Mommy look, da moon! Is a moon! Is bright! Where we driving? What you doing?” just chipper and happy as anything. Suddenly quite content, but suddenly also not remotely tired.
Did I mention he is also NOT a car-sleeper?
By this point it was past midnight. With a full day of sun and canoeing and hiking and soccer and sweating and camping behind him, and a very truncated nap. Yet he was as bright-eyed and talkative as if it was 10am.
So anyway, we talked about if we needed to go home, because he MIGHT fall asleep in the car but it would clearly take potentially hours for that to happen, hours of wasted gas, and then what if he didn’t, would we THEN at 2am be packing up our campsite and driving home? With a now semi-nocturnal toddler to try to sort out?
So we asked, and he was all “Mommy, I wanna sleep in a tent! I like camping! Is good camping!”
We went back in, decided we’d give it 20 min, and if he wasn’t asleep we’d go home. I told him he needed to lay down on his sleeping bag and be quiet, and if he couldn’t stay quiet and stay laying down, we’d have to go home. He was out in about 4 minutes.
Here’s the thing. I THINK that our particular boy (from past accounts I have been privy to) has always been somewhat strong-willed and… shall we say… opinionated.
But I also just keep thinking that you know, we are getting to a place of being very comfortable and familial together, and I think in a lot of ways we are getting closer to having a relationship like hopefully most 2.5-yr-olds and their parents have. BUT… There are still times that I look at this boy and I cannot help but see a boy who spent at the very least several weeks, and to varying degrees longer than that, in places where he was the only person he knew.
That is a confusing sentence, lemme ‘splain.
I don’t want to give too much detail here because it’s not my story, but he has MULTIPLE times been moved to a brand-new home with zero preparation or transition. I know as an infant that it is traumatic in certain ways, and in other ways you have less awareness of what is different, and your basic needs are still being met. But as a toddler – and I remember this from when he first came – as far as he knew, he was on his own. He was the only person he knew, at all. Surrounded by strangers. He had food put down in front of him and he had a bed made up for him at nap time and at night, but he was (literally OR metaphorically) crouched and alert and ready to take on the world, because he had nobody around that he trusted.
I know for a fact that he trusts us now; I mean I have no doubt that we are mommy and son, daddy and son, and we are a for-real family. But at not yet 3 years old, he is still a kid who has had to (as far as he knew) fend for himself for a period of his life.
I think he was always going to have a certain amount of fight in him, and it’s impossible to know how much is innate and how much comes from those very real, very formative experiences of upheaval.
He does run to me now when things are scary, and I think he has found a safe place in our family, but he will always have an angry little bull somewhere deep inside that’s ready to charge if he feels like he needs to defend himself. I hope I can appreciate that strength and the pain of the experience that came from rather than get angry at it. (Because sometimes, not gonna lie, it tends to look a lot like a little person being a BIG PILL.) And then I need to help him learn what to do with that fear/anger/whatever. That is part of my job.
(And also, make no mistake, sometimes it simply IS a little person being a BIG PILL, when fear has no part in it; he just wants what he wants when he wants it.)
But I can tell you this: there are times when I now know that I need some sort of intellectual consent from that child because he simply WILL. NOT. run out of steam or just throw in the towel. He goes and goes and goes, and he gives it all, all the time. He is a little force to be reckoned with.
I respect that. I really do. I am not complaining. It presents a certain set of challenges, but I like having a kid who knows his own mind and won’t bend – he will probably be a terrifically effective human being as an adult.
We joke about how he always ‘leaves it all on the dance floor.’ This kid does everything all the way. He is so smart, so bright, so strong, so funny, so fierce, and so brave. He can skid off a wet slide through the grass on his bare back and cry for 20 seconds and then get up and roar at the slide, and get back to playing. He has a beast of a temper but I can tell you he will never be a passive person who lets things happen TO him. He’s gonna grab life by the cajones, no lie.
So I believe it might be a bit of an adventure, being Mom to this sweet little hurricane. It might make me wrinkly and exasperated and have to start taking blood pressure meds in my mid-30s but I would rather have a fascinating little nutcase, full to the brim with Muchness, who is hot or cold but never lukewarm.