By Ashley Lefrak
Walk your toddler back to bed for the twenty-seventh time.
Start reading on-line parent forums about what to do when a toddler keeps leaving his room after bedtime.
Read about people claiming to have solved this problem through the purchase of special sheets and fun tents! Read posts accusing these parents of either lying or having simple children. Read the sheet/tent parents telling the other parents to shut it about their kids’ intelligence.
Walk your child back to bed.
Note the number of people publicly losing their minds online due to powerlessness in the face of toddlers. Commend yourself for not losing yours. Worry briefly about how you’d know if your mind were unraveling.
Read about those for whom calmly walking their child back to bed worked after two nights. Curse them loudly into the computer.
Read one woman’s post that says, “They grow up so fast cherish this time!” Admire her briefly. Accuse her of lacking an inner life.
March your child back to bed.
Start counting something besides the number of times you, or your husband, have done this. Focus on the tiny hairs on your fingers or the not so tiny ones sprouting from your toes.
Don’t think too hard about toe hair and whether your amount is normal.
Learn about people locking the door to their child’s room and wondering if it qualifies as child abuse and other people saying no it does not and still others claiming, “If you think it may be child abuse, it probably is child abuse.”
Notice your son, no longer standing in the doorway.
Remember you have a husband. Attempt conversation with him unrelated to children or bedtime or exhaustion level. When this fails, contemplate his toe hair.
In a sequence you can’t later recall, fall off your chair and realize you are asleep.
Startle-sit to the full upright position. Your baby has woken to find himself in the comfortable confines of his crib and is screaming as if someone just removed his liver with a soup spoon.
Try soothing him using the many methods you have devised. Listen to him wail and wonder what could possibly make anyone being held in the arms of a familiar, milk-scented giant this unhappy.
Imagine, for momentary comfort, that you are being held by a friendly milk-giant.
When the only thing that gets the baby to sleep involves clutching him to your chest while bouncing in the dark, or spinning in a circle while rhythmically lifting your heels off the ground while trying not to fall, commend yourself. If you cried a little bit while bouncing or spinning, don’t worry. You will have another opportunity to not cry in less than hour.
Roll over. Grab your husband’s shoulder. If he doesn’t wake, start finger jabbing him directly in the rib cage.
If he still doesn’t stir, say something concise like, “Can you seriously not feel that?” If he still doesn’t move, there’s a chance he’s dead.
Have a delirious conversation with your partner in voices laden with misdirected accusation regarding whose turn it is to go to the baby.
Feel a sweaty palm, heavy as a wet towel, on your shoulder. Shove it away only to discover your toddler softly sobbing, clutching his arm to his chest like a wounded wing.
Walk him back to his bed. Stay with him until he falls asleep or you begin to drift off on the thin rug beside his bed indifferent to the feeling of your spinal column, disassembling.
Limp to the door while avoiding heel puncture from plastic toy anatomy strewn in your path.
Tell the small child chanting, “Morning time! Want. Mine. Breakfast!” two inches from your bubbling saliva that it is, in fact, despite sunlight, still bedtime.
Observe your toddler, bed height, exhaling CO2 directly into your mouth. Propose that he return to his room and make a tower out of his diapers, or play “eating breakfast” with his diapers, or any other task involving his diapers because you’re pretty sure he can reach them.
If he is still staring at you, give your voice the cadence of a new and exciting challenge. Ask if he wants to try something new and exciting. Come up with a developmentally inappropriate and therefore time-consuming task.
When he says he “Don’t want to!” at a volume that explodes molecules formerly nestled in your brainstem, tell him he can do anything he wants.
Contort yourself into an exaggerated “C” to accommodate the thirty-pound body now lying perpendicular to yours.
When the self-deception that you are getting anything approximating sleep ends, beg your husband to take the toddler to the kitchen. To Madagascar. Make wild and impractical promises in exchange for five more minutes of sleep.
Give the crying baby milk. Negotiate with him in your mind. I give you nutrients, you give me sleep.
Briefly become a human hurricane powered by coffee strong as crack. Stay in motion or risk collapse.
If you are waiting for a free moment, don’t. Go ahead and sit with the baby atop your thighs while trying to use the bathroom.
Prop the baby on a hip with one hand while jogging up your underwear with the other while flushing the toilet with your foot.
Exit the bathroom to confront the mounting sounds of your toddler trying to speak over your crying infant trying to cry over your speaking toddler.
Hide somewhere. Tell your toddler you are playing “hide and seek” but neglect to tell him what “seek” means.
Overhear your toddler singing to the baby a lilting tune in his impossibly high voice about tinkle tinkle. About widdle. About tars.
Ashley Lefrak is a writer and photographer. Her work has been featured in n + 1 and The New York Times. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.