My three year old is slowly killing me. It’s an incremental effort, day by day, with her pulling back just enough when she knows she’s really close to getting the job done.
It started sometime over the summer. In the midst of family travel and transitioning from her crib to a bed, she began to wake earlier and earlier. As of now, I believe the record is 3:45 AM. These days, it’s usually sometime between four and five, though she’s also taken to appearing in our bedroom in the middle of the night, unbidden, a chubby apparition waiting to be tucked back in.
Have you been up before five AM recently? If yes, then I’m sorry. If no, let me tell you what it’s like. It’s dark. Middle-of-the-night dark. The lights are off in all the other houses, and the world is quiet and peaceful. Even the dog is out cold. Apparently my daughter has no such internal clock.
Nearly eight years into this parenting game, I’m a seasoned early riser and used to the middle of the night wake-up call. It just seems that recently my three year-old has taken it to the next level with renewed vigor. It also happens to have come around the same time as she’s learned all the ways to unleash mayhem in our household. Whoever coined the term the “terrible twos” had obviously never met a three year-old.
This age does not bring out my best parenting skills. Too often I’m cranky, short-tempered, and quick to yell. I’ve never been a morning person, and as far as I’m concerned, four-thirty isn’t morning. These aren’t my daughter’s finest moments either.
And yet I know this is a stage. Within a few months or a year (God help us all), this too will fade into the blurry repository of memory. I will vaguely remember that she used to get up early or visit me in the middle of the night and that she left a wake of chaos behind her during the daytime hours. Soon enough (too soon), she won’t want me to tuck her in at all. Before long I’ll be yelling at her to get out of bed so she’s not late to school. And it’s only a matter of time before everything I do annoys her.
All parents have heard it: The days are long, but the years are short. I try to remind myself of this when I hear her toddling footsteps on the stairs at three, when I know I’ll be unable to fall back to sleep, and I’ll be dragging all day. I try to summon my patience and my own mother, who rarely yelled (at least in my memory—isn’t memory a tricky beast?). I take her sticky hand in my mine, or pick her up in the black night. Her head rests on my shoulder, her soft hair draped along my neck. I carry her in the darkness back to bed where I tuck her in with her baby doll and favorite purple bear. The truth is, she just wants me, no matter the hour or inconvenience.
And the years are short.