Toddlers are notorious for wanting things to go their own way in lieu of throwing a tantrum. Whether it be claiming ownership of a toy, refusing to eat a specific meal, putting sharing of anything at the bottom of their list of priorities, staying in bed when it’s time to get up or indeed, staying awake when it’s time to go to sleep, which I might add is a very popular choice for toddlers between the ages of two and three.
No matter what the situation, toddlers will find a way to test your patience and sanity at every possible turn. And I’m not suggesting that they’re especially conspiratorial and given to plotting while you’re busy preparing tea bottles or making snacks. No, it all just comes completely naturally to them; like breathing and snot production.
A case in point is the golden hour leading up to bedtime. This hour is probably the longest of any of the twenty four hours in any given day for the parents of a small child. The reason is simple. Toddlers possess the ability to dilate time to the extent that if you could bottle what they do, you could probably sell it to varsity students to be used the night before an exam and they’d immediately have enough time to get in a weeks worth of study.
Our toddler, when so inclined, will put the breaks on the passage of time so much so that when you’re in it, you can’t imagine a time before it started nor can you imagine emerging out the other side. From the moment you announce “it’s bath-time”, the barrage of complaint begins and is sustained throughout the disrobing process. This is an activity that would try the patience of a saint I might add. It continues through the hair wash process and increases in volume during the hair rinse process. As an aside, no amount of care and diligence to avoid shampoo getting into the eyes will ever suffice, there will always be tears.
Then as if by magic he is completely content in the moment. Time begins to tick along normally again. It is at this point that he decides he wants to stay in the bath. Naturally. At the exact same time you decide to take him out. Time dilation begins again and now you have to dry and dress an uncooperative, wriggling, frantic little creature that wants nothing more than to get back into the bath. You could age ten years in this moment. Pajama pants are especially interesting items to put onto a kicking child. One leg on, one leg off, repeat.
This continues up to and including the moment he is plopped into his little wooden cot. Or to be more accurate, his prison. He has not yet figured out that he is quite capable of climbing out of the cot and we are really very thankful about that. You see it affords us a way to contain his exuberance (the kind with tears and snot) and allows him the solitude he requires to unwind his clock and to go to sleep. Without this tool I expect we may have contacted an exorcist, hypnotist or therapist by now and as a result would then have failed as parents if compared to the “Joneses”.
The time dilation doesn’t end there though. Once he’s in the cot he immediately issues an instruction to “lie here” which is ignored at peril to ones sanity. The amount of time required to “lie here” depends entirely on whim but can be anything between two minutes and two hours. You can imagine the kinds of antics that occur at the very right hand side of that scale. It is in these moments that time dilates in absolute silence. The vigil stretches out around you like a body of water. Each disruption causes ripples to radiate outward like a stone being dropped in. Even the faintest noise will cause a new ripple to start and then you have to wait until the water is completely still again. Sometimes he’ll throw his own stones in. Those are especially memorable nights.
Time dilation. It’s endearing and it’s funny, but only after the fact.