Play your hand

You ever had a day that started with a bang but ended with a whimper? Yesterday my youngest daughter Sloane had one of those days. Now, don’t get me wrong, it was fun for her right up until bedtime. But that’s kind of how bad days occur for a toddler, they unravel, slowly over time, and then suddenly it comes crashing down. The same can probably be said for adults. Here’s how it unfolded for Sloane, and ultimately here’s what I learned as I sat rocking her in my arms at the end of a long day for all of us.

It began with us waking up late with less than 30 minutes to get dressed and out the door for church. Miraculously we made it just in time. With all the hustle and bustle of the holidays approaching, we decided to extend our post- church grocery shopping to pick up the essentials. This was probably our first mistake. Last night Samantha and I had a date night that ended pretty late for us (past midnight) so we were already running on fumes. As usual I convinced my wife we should push through to get some things crossed off our list (that’s my enneagram 3 talking) and my wife gamely acquiesced. (Side note: this is one of the characteristics that has always endeared my wife to me over the years, her willingness to go along with many of my hair-brained schemes. I’m a sucker for her confidence in my ideas).

After leaving our third store (yep, you read that right), we headed home. It didn’t help that the last destination had been Target (where the saying is, you don’t go into Target with a list, instead Target tells you what to buy). Everyone was tired and cranky, and worst off, Sloane had missed her afternoon nap, mistake number two. Now we’d missed our window for both peace and quiet and Sloane would possibly remain in a state of increasing irritability. We would have to decide was it too late for a nap or should we ride it out for the next few hours before bedtime. We foolishly decided it was too late for a nap. Rookie mistake (I mean, we have 4 kids…we should know better by now right lol?). Besides, is it ever really too late for a nap (adults and kids alike?). My emphatic answer is nope.

We soon learned how wrong we were. By the time grandma had arrived to save us for her afternoon visit the decibel level and choas in our house had reached defcon 10. My wife had retreated momentarily to our bedroom as if to say… tag, you’re it. Meanwhile, I tried my best to curl up with a book by the fireplace. It actually worked for a bit while grandma was there to entertain the kids. But then she left. And we were left alone to fend for ourselves with our children.

The rest of the evening was all downhill from there. I mostly remember a lot of tantrums and crying, mostly from Sloane. I roamed around placing our Sunday calls to different family members with the big girls, while Samantha carried the load of managing Sloane’s meltdowns. It was a terrible tradeoff (I definitely got the easier end of the bargain). Finally, Samantha bathed her to calm her down, brought her down to eat dinner and passed the baton to me.

It was my turn to see what I could do. I tried putting her down like usual after dinner by simply laying her in her crib and walking away but that didn’t work. I ended up returning several times to no avail, each time she was standing up and screaming louder. I was prepared to put in earphones and go back downstairs to wash dishes and clean up when Samantha asked me to go check on her one more time. I think that was her gentle nudge to get me to not simply ignore the problem but instead pro-actively do something about it.

It was a good call, because as I’ve mentioned, I had no intention of returning after that third visit. I figured she just needed to cry it out at this point. That could have been one way to go (it would have been the wrong way). Fortunately for all involved, I instead went upstairs, picked up the crying toddler and began to rock her in the now seldom used rocking chair. This chair has survived 10 years and 4 baby girls. It’s in semi-retirement now. Holding her in my arms, I had a few realizations. First, she’s actually still a baby huh? Sometimes I forget that we have an actual one year old. She seems so mature for her age! I guess sometimes we forget to treat her like the baby that she still is, our parenting can sometimes tilt towards the older kids. Second, it’s been a while since I’ve rocked a baby to sleep. It felt kind of nice, and it didn’t last long either. This realization made me a little sad, because Sloane is our baby, and it’s likely (ok definite) that she’s our last child. I better soak up moments like these while they last (even if they come with a price tag).

It’s this reflection last night that reminded me of the lesson from church earlier in the day, the fact that we’re all stewards of the opportunities placed in our lives, so what are we doing with them? We can spend our time comparing and complaining about the cards we were dealt (even when the deck is stacked against us), but at the end of the day, we’ve all still got to play the hand. So what do we do with that? We learn, we grow, and we live to fight another day. Yesterday’s toddler meltdown debacle was definitely a lot of my own making, my poor choices and poor planning. But, at least it wasn’t all bad. I still got to hold my baby girl in my arms and be reminded of the fact that she’s actually not such a terror when she’s calmly sleeping in my arms. Every moment like this comes with a price tag, I’m just glad I was able to recognize it while it was happening.


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