Toddlers thrive on routine. It gives them confidence; it allows them a sense of power over their unknown lives. If they know what is coming up next, and they can predict it, they feel as if it is something they have decided for themselves. That sense of independent decision making, while false, is excellent not only for their self esteem, but for tantrumless days for the caretaker.
When routine is broken, as it sometimes must be, you can expect your toddler to rail against the unfairness of life, not out of spite or anger, but more out of fear. Suddenly, all they thought they knew has shifted, has changed. Change is scary, even for adults.
This unfortunate occurrence has the effect of ruining the first night of any “vacation” my husband and I have ever tried to go on. The new surroundings, combined with the adventure of different sights, sounds and smells, accumulate with such dramatic effect that by the time we all turn in for the night, our children, in a cloud of muddled and confused rage and fear, explode into quivering, wailing toddler puddles in their new room.
They wonder if mommy is gone forever. They wonder why it’s so dark in there. They wonder where their own beds are. They’re so tired, and, yet, nothing is right. They cannot sleep when nothing is right. So that even when I give in and go to them, laying in between them the wrong way on a double pull-out couch, they cannot rest, instead jostling me, climbing on me, trying to be as close as possible to me, in case, of course, I should try to sneak out again, and leave them to face most certain death alone. I can only imagine all life is this dramatic to a toddler.
They were scared. So many times we forget to look at things through our babies’ eyes. Their antics annoy and irritate us because they cannot see the world as we see it. They are not crying out in order to stay up longer or to get us to come in and play. They are crying out of fear. Out of loneliness. Sometimes even out of anguish. For even though they cannot speak clearly, their imaginations are quite developed. I shudder to think about what they must make up in the dark of a strange room with only silence to greet their panicked shouts.
This chronicles our first night of vacation. The second and third nights were much easier. Not only were the babies a bit more used to the room in which they would sleep, they also had the comforting knowledge that they had made it through the first night no worse for the wear, if a little more tired.
But the real difference came by chance. Instead of all going to bed at the same time, I put the babies down first. Then the adults settled into dinner and conversation around the kitchen table. I found myself annoyed as my step-father and husband continued to banter, wondering if they even cared that the babies needed to sleep, thinking, surely, their voices must be keeping them awake, tantalizing them. But I was wrong. Their voices soothed the babies, comforted them. So that after a few jovial shouts, the room fell silent. In listening to sounds to which they were used, the babies were able to fall seamlessly and comfortably to sleep. While we may not have been in the room with them, we were still here. It made all the difference in the world. Simply the voices of those they love can soothe them to sleep. It proves to them we are still there.