Transitions: on switching to toddler beds

The truth about living abroad when you are a parent is that for most things, you could be anywhere. Details will be different (what kinds of diapers, what kinds of medicine, what size cribs, how often do you have to shop to stock the fridge) but all the rest is much the same. There is nothing exotic—nor particularly adventurous—about potty training or transitioning to a bed. Those days come whether we are in Dublin or Paris or Brooklyn or Los Angeles or suburban USA.

We talked about it, and rationalized how long we could put off switching the boys to beds. I thought age seven sounded good. At what point would they be cages and not cribs? We are hanging on to sanity by the thinnest of fraying ropes. We didn’t want bedtime to turn into bedlam any more than it already is. Twin behavior can be kind of contagious, meaning if one is amped up, the other one tends to get amped up.

So much depends on sleep (theirs, ours).

Last Sunday night, (of a bank holiday weekend), the day we feared for some time arrived. At 8pm, to be precise. We heard a distinctive ping! pop! crack! and then discovered the bottom of the C’s crib had completely broken. Our only solution for that evening: have them share a crib. G at first was really excited about this idea. He pointed to where C could sleep. His brother got in. The usual wrestling matches and giggling ensued.

When it came time for lights out, G changed his mind about the whole sharing thing and was furious that he didn’t have a choice. Screams and crying, “No!” “Don’t”  “Out!” dragged on for an hour and a half. At one point, I heard muffled screams and panicked, thinking one was smothering the other. I opened the door to check on them.

C: “Dajuta pushed me down! He’s steppin on me.”

Me: “G, did you push your brother down and step on him?”

G (breaking into a huge smile): “Yeah!”

Me: “We don’t do that.”

C: “I pooped!”

After I finished changing C, G announced he had pooped as well. Sometime after 10pm they conked out.  They woke up twice in the night.

DAY 1

Monday morning they were up somewhere before 6am. Sascha and I looked at each other with resignation. The day had begun, like it or not.  We were facing a trip to IKEA and flat-pack furniture assembly on poor sleep with two toddlers on even poorer sleep.

I asked G if sharing a bed was fun or hard. G said, “It was hard.”

By 9:30am, we were in the car and bound for IKEA. Inside IKEA, just as we were about to get into the lift, an alarm went off and the power shut down. I blanched. (IKEA, you may recall, triggers mental instability in me.) Would they shut the store down? I really didn’t want to get into the IKEA maze and daze if we were going to be cast out halfway through. A manager told us they had been having power outages. We looked at the perilous floating staircase and our massive double stroller. He helped Sascha carry it up.

Guess where families go in the recession on a bank holiday? By the time we hit the children’s section, there were swarms of families and poorly controlled children everywhere.

We made a really big deal about them picking out beds. I knew it really came down to the sheets (they picked cars over animals) so I told S whatever was in stock in the self-service was fine. Oh, and we had to buy completely new mattresses, because the crib mattresses are different sizes than the toddler or junior beds.

We arrived back just as it was naptime. The boys were exhausted and cranky but there was no way to get the beds set up in time, so they had to share a crib again. This time, they were enraged from the get-go and did not sleep at all. After an hour and a half of crying, laughing, singing, and chatting, I got them up and S set to task of putting the beds together, only to discover he had forgotten two essential parts. Back to IKEA he went.

It is early evening when he returns and the boys are predictably irritable. I try to keep them busy while S sweats out the incomprehensible IKEA directions. Pre-screwed holes were slanted, the materials shoddy. It was suddenly 8pm and I needed to get two over-tired children to bed.

It was probably a huge mistake to leave one crib in the room, but we were all exhausted. There was no time to deconstruct it.

G squealed with delight when he saw his bed. “My cars!” he said. We read books on them before C informed me he didn’t want to sleep in his bed. “Kib,” he told me. I decided not to push it. Everyone needed sleep.

G and C fell asleep pretty quickly. G in his bed, C in the crib.

DAY 2

I wake up at 7am to G calling. I am relieved. This went wonderfully! Phew. Why were we worried? We make a really big deal about G sleeping in the bed and he seems proud. We call it the “big boy” bed (I later discover this is a mistake.)

Today at naptime G was very excited about his bed but it took about an hour for him to settle down. He insisted on the door being open. When I went to wake them, I found G fast asleep.  On the floor.

Night time. Lots of protest, night wakings. How many? What day is it?

DAY 3

I try to prep C: “In a few days, we’ll have to say good-bye to the crib because there’s a baby who needs it.”

C fixes me with his enormous blue eye, purses his lips a little, crinkles his tiny nose, and drops his head to one side. This is the signal that we disagree.

“No buh-bye,” he finally says, shaking his head. “We need it.”

He clutches at my heart with this. We both know what he is really saying. I am not ready. I am still a baby.

And he is. He is 26 months old. He runs and tries to pump his arms, twisting side to side and looking more like he is doing some Jane Fonda aerobics move from 1990. He uses a fork and drinks from a cup and can take his clothes off before the bath. (In fact, another IKEA purchase is the boys’ own laundry bin, so they can put their dirty clothes in. C took this job very seriously, and began to take clean, folded clothes out of his dresser and dump them in. I explained that those were clean, and that only dirty ones went in the hamper. At which point C took the clean pjs, one at a time, and wiped his nose on them. He then pronounced them in his vaguely British accent,“DUR-tee.”)

Toddlerhood is so difficult because it is an in-between age, and at some level, they know. One minute they insist, “I do myself.”  The next it is “Up! Up, Mommy!” and you are carrying them. C ran out the open door the other day and halfway down the lane. They are both making leaps in development but they want to decide on the steps. The wild vastness of a bed without bars is seemingly too far out of C’s control.

S lays down with G for a long time to get him to go to sleep.

DAY 4

I get in bed with G at naptime. He is very chatty. Every few minutes he says, “Hi! Hi Mommy.” He requests songs. He grabs my wrist and asks what it is. C is sleeping the whole time. I try to get G to be quiet. We nuzzle noses. We pop each other’s puffed up cheeks. I am not helping him get to sleep but I sure am amusing him.

“I not a big boy,” he says. At night he points to the crib and says he wants to sleep there.

DAY 5

Things seemed to have gotten worse, not better. All our work sleep training in the early days is shot. Night wakings. Refusals to nap. We have not experienced this level of sleep deprivation since the early days of their infancy, but even then we didn’t have to spend our waking hours chasing them the way we do now. Last night they went to sleep some time after 9:30 and were up at 5:30.

I tried to leave the boys alone at nap time. The door would open and slam shut every few seconds for about an hour, and I just let them be, until I realized C’s voice sounded too close. I went down and found them both jumping on C’s bed, with one of the beds moved across the room. G had obviously pushed over the bed to help C climb out. Now the bed, which was pushed up against the crib, provided a convenient ledge up on which they climbed, and then would hurl themselves into the crib before climbing out on another side and running around the bed to do it again as if they were on a jungle gym.

At bath time, they both tell me they are “babies.”

S dismantles the crib. I check a sleep book. It recommends not switching them until they are closer to three, unless their safety from climbing in and out was a concern. (It is, as this afternoon demonstrated.) It also says to call it a “new bed;” do not label it a “big boy” bed. Oops. No useful tips for twins as usual. And it helpfully points out not to switch if anything else major was going on, like say, daylight savings time. Guess what tonight is in Ireland? We are losing an hour to jump forward in time. So many lost hours this week.

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Abandon all hope, ye who enter here

Part and parcel of our frequent relocations seems to be a pilgrimage to IKEA, the prospect of which wrings my stomach into a cold knot. Nothing induces an existential crisis in me more than a trip to IKEA. The catalogue can make me nauseous, because it is filled with happy-looking, multi-ethnic families that look so…settled, so…organized. They do not look like the kind of people who move by plane with eleven bags, pulled from the triage center (storage, donation, ship, pack in bags) of one’s parents’ garage just the night before.

Once, IKEA was a novelty. When I was in college, it was a trek to get to the one store, an EVENT. The first time, I was dazzled by the seemingly affordable furniture that I thought might make me look more like a grownup that the plastic milk crates I was using as a nightstand/bookcase. The Swedish meatballs and the Glögg! It was all so tongue-in-cheek, with those umlauts. I’m pretty sure we served the Glögg at a party. It may or may not have been the party where a homeless man wandered in, whom I had to confront and manhandle out the door, and kick out the last guest at 4am. We had invited the entire film school at UCLA, and they all came.  This was also during the era that Val & I covered our sofa (free from a grad student) with a fuzzy, green fabric (my friend was dating the son of a fashion designer and he would bring me bolts of fabric) that gave the appearance of grass after Jasco-ing off the ugly orange finish on the wood frame.  IKEA, then, seemed a huge step-up from these other modes of furnishing our college and post-college apartments, i.e., free from friends, found on the street, or Goodwill purchases.

But then somehow, IKEA stores began following me where I moved and IKEA became the go-to place to fill-in the gaps of whatever temporary situation I was in. It appeared oppositional to growing up and settling down. The logic is insidious: here we are for example, living in a fully-furnished house in Dublin. But yet, it is not really our house, so we do not have our mixing bowls or desk chairs or the plates we received as a wedding gift. So we must re-buy these things, but we shouldn’t spend much because they will not go on with us. At this stage in life, I see IKEA for what it is: landfill crap. I would much rather have sturdy, well-made, thought-out purchases that will be in our home forever, like my great Aunt’s writing desk. Only we don’t have a home, in the traditional sense. So upon entering IKEA, I find myself having to face up to the reality of our lives, which is: we have no real plan about the future, I have no idea where my children will go to school and if I should be on the waiting lists in a few states and countries as a back-up, and I don’t know if I will ever have a home that has space for my beloved books that have been in boxes for years now.  I know this is a freedom some envy, and I try to focus on that, especially because now home ownership has become a trap for so many, including some of our friends, who are underwater and left owning homes that are worth far less than what they paid so that they cannot leave them even if they wanted to. But still on bad days, I am jealous you are HOME.

Factor all of this into my tired brain and more tired body on the day we decide we must get to IKEA. (The day after Sascha’s memorable grocery shopping experience.) It takes two buses to get us there, and we fold up the stroller and the boys stand up on the seats to check out everything. They are double-decker buses, and the boys are finally able to contextualize “The Wheels on the Bus.” I see the realization crawl across their tiny faces (hey, our mama wasn’t just making this up like a crazy lady, the people on the bus are going up and down, up and down.) Each time the bus slows down, G demands “More! More!”

C watching the wipers on the bus go swish, swish, swish

The blue-and-yellow big box comes into view on the horizon like we are getting off at the end of the world. It is the last stop on the bus, in any case. It is 4:30pm, and the website says the store closed at 6pm. I am extremely agitated that we will not be able to get through the Skinner’s box-like set-up of two levels plus have dinner there, since it will be the boys’ dinnertime soon. The plan (oh the plans, why do I even bother?) was to have one of us stay with the boys in the play area, while two others zoomed through to get the shopping done, then meet in the café for dinner. Unfortunately, the Smäland (I think there’s an umlaut in there) is fully booked for the evening. That means the boys and the double-stroller are coming with us. Oh yeah, and there are returns to be made as well.

Now in the States, a late Sunday afternoon/early evening would have been a slow time, because most people are home with their families, making sauce for Sunday dinners. So we thought, silly Americans we, that it would be fairly low-key. Sascha peeled away to handle returns, and my mom and I took the boys up into the lift to set off on the path to Oz. The narrow, winding path through the showroom is like a crowded conveyor belt and I quickly understand that we are not going to get to the see the Wizard, no, but we are actually in Dante’s Inferno. It is growing hotter by the minute, and I must pull off the track where we are just getting herded along like cattle to get my coat off and shove it in the bottom of the stroller. If we stop, we cause an angry back-up of families from all over (eastern European languages are what I hear predominantly). I dash off into the 85m2 apartment and wonder, “Am I home yet? Could this be home? Could I just take off my coat and put on the kettle in the kitchen?” I am becoming increasingly disoriented and overwhelmed. Sascha texts to say we have until 7pm, the website was wrong. When he locates me in the store, I am nonresponsive. I have started thinking we should buy everything, or nothing. The list is balled in my sweaty palm, and I seem to be unable to make any kind of decision. I am baffled as to why the things I want aren’t really for sale here and why oh why did we go to the showroom when we just needed the market-place? We decide to take a break and eat and do our best to keep the boys out of the play area in the café, which seemed malevolent–a violent mosh pit, too close to The Hunger Games. The clock is ticking and we haven’t bought a single item and I never, ever want to come back here again.

The dark underbelly of IKEA: the self-serve warehouse where our dolley will remain empty.

Brave Sascha stays with the boys and my mom and I dash down to the marketplace to quickly look for glasses, cutlery, storage items, lamps. S reports back from the self-serve warehouse that the extra chairs we need are not in stock, oh and guess what, you can’t just order them and have them delivered.  You’d have to come back and see if they were in stock.  The boys are starting to lose it. We get to the checkout area and I am the last person allowed in the line to buy a token for the ice cream machine. This alone can save us, I know.

"Happy!" as they call ice cream, in a very appropriate conflation. We had run out of wipes at this point.

We call a taxi for the journey home, the boys now drooping over us with exhaustion, dark gathering outside. On my way out, I see this in disbelief:

A little hard to make out, but the late afternoon-close Sunday hours are marked with the red man. The code is as follows: green man=peaceful, yellow man=room to move, red man=mingle/busy. "Mingle" I think is a euphemism for "so packed that others' breathing will create a micro-greenhouse effect." I'm surprised there's no umlaut.