Tuesday, March 22, 2011

When Home is... a Toddler without Day Sleeps

It’s been a week between posts. Sadly the quietness hasn’t been due to an inundation of freelance work, a book offer or a busy social life. Instead it’s due to very little time alone and a very moody toddler who thinks he doesn’t need to sleep during the day anymore.

My predictable time off in the middle of each school day is no more and it has reminded me of how I felt a few years ago when I was going through this ‘transition’ (for us both) with Ned. History is repeating itself in our house and below is a piece I wrote for Sydney’s Child a couple of years ago which reminds me that this is just a phase... and home will not stay this way forever...

No More Naps (Published in Sydney’s Child magazine, February 2009)

I nervously look out my French doors towards the garden as I pour water into the coffee plunger and my friend chats obliviously. It’s four o’clock on a Friday afternoon and my two-almost-three-year-old son is running around in circles laughing maniacally. This is not a good sign. As my friend’s daughter, of a similar age, bends down to pick up his toy lawnmower, my son lunges, pushing her roughly and shouts indignantly — as only a two-year-old can — ‘No, that’s MINE!’

After the fracas is resolved, I turn to my friend apologetically, ‘He didn’t have an afternoon sleep.’ She nods, smiling empathetically.


The day begins well; with his older sister at preschool we enjoy a bit of shopping followed by morning tea at a café, an elaborate fantasy game with fire engines and diggers, lunch, and three picture books before bed. I come downstairs looking forward to a couple of hours of quiet, or perhaps more honestly, Oprah and a cup of tea. But then I hear a little voice singing. It’s the theme song of his favourite cartoon about a fire engine.

‘Stay calm’, I say to myself, ‘It won’t be long before he drops off. He looked tired enough.’ I turn up Oprah.

Half-an-hour later he shouts out to me.

‘Hello mummy,’ he says with his angelic smile as I open the door.

‘It’s time for a sleep. You haven’t had a sleep yet, have you?’ I say sternly.

‘No, I’ve had a wake.’ He answers honestly.

Another half-hour goes by. Oprah and my tea are finished, but still my son sings. I put the washing machine on to stop myself listening and becoming more frustrated.

I go back upstairs. He’s sitting in bed looking at books. How can I be angry about that? Yet, I also know that without this sleep the afternoon will descend into hell.

I attempt for a third time to make him nap.

I chat to a friend on the phone, out in the garden, where I can pretend he is sleeping soundly. Then he appears, clutching Babar the elephant, wide awake and smiling. It’s over. My generally calm, placid little boy who has now been awake since 6.30am will have to survive on no sleep until this evening. To do so, he will become a wilful, manic, teary and unpredictable mess.


I used to think an overtired newborn was trying, but that was before experiencing an overtired toddler. When my daughter began to threaten to drop her afternoon sleep around the same age I remember commenting to a friend who was a counsellor that I didn’t know how I would cope without having a couple of hours off each day. She laughed and said that she had counselled many mothers who went through a depression once their toddlers stopped day-sleeps. I attempted to smile despite the sense of dread.

But, of course, as with all new chapters of parenting, my daughter and I found a way to settle into this new arrangement: some quiet time reading in her bedroom after lunch each day allowing me the illusion of time to myself. Before long she was at preschool a couple of days a week and I became used to a three hour break while my baby son slept.

Oh, how quickly they grow though. And I had forgotten this awful transition time when they still need a sleep to get through the afternoon despite resisting it. As I pour my friend her coffee and listen to my daughter call out from upstairs that her brother is ‘not playing gently’ I am reminded why I stopped socialising in the afternoons.

There’s a crash upstairs, a wail and a stern ‘you naughty boy’ from my daughter. Her tea-set has been thrown across the room. I bring him downstairs and tell him that he will have to sit with my friend and me as he can’t play gently. He eats afternoon tea and rubs his eyes. He spills his water and rubs his eyes. He bangs his knee getting down from the table and howls. It’s only 4.30pm.


At 5pm my friend and her daughters leave. My son is now covered in mud and mosquito bites from playing in the garden, but at least he hasn’t annoyed the other children for the last half hour. I decide a bath before dinner is necessary tonight.

He seems calmer now and more loveable; smelling of baby shampoo and clean pyjamas. There were tears about his dinosaur pyjamas being in the wash but he has finally grown attached to the monkey ones he is wearing. But the contentment doesn’t last long. He spills dinner down his front and is devastated. Tears because he has made a mess, tears because he wants to still wear these monkey pyjamas. Finally my daughter and I convince him his robot pyjamas are much better and peace is restored.

By now my husband is home. My son climbs onto his father’s lap and quickly asks for a story and bed. He sucks two fingers and hugs the toy elephant he sleeps with every night. My husband carries him upstairs. His red-rimmed eyes stare at me as he waves good night. He has given in. It is only 6pm.

I reflect, while pouring myself a glass of wine, that there is actually a positive side to the end of day-sleeps.


Anonymous said...

I'm hoping I (we) will soon settle into the routine of no daytime sleeps as you mention. Due to a room shared with little brother, my almost 3 year old doesn't seem able to have 'quiet time' on his bed, so he is let lose in the house while I try to pretend he isn't there. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, he seems to have enough energy to carry him through the afternoon and evening without too much bother -we're often trying to get him to go to sleep at 8pm! Bring on that large garden with trees to climb to wear him out. Thanks for letting us know it is just another phase...

Anonymous said...

how times change...now xavier and i let our 6 and 9 year olds watch a dvd on a sat/sun arvo so that WE can have an afternoon nap... ;) - love this piece, felt like i was there! - jan X

Germaine Leece said...

Ah yes, everything is 'just a phase' isn't it!! But hopefully not your afternoon 'naps' Jan! gx


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