Grappling with Junebug’s growing pains, we can’t help but compare our current struggles with similar periods in Munchkin’s development – both to remind ourselves that the rough patches eventually pass and also to compare and contrast.
In many ways, Junebug is an easier child than Munchkin was at this age: she eats a lot better and is generally pretty happy-go-lucky. Certainly, she throws fewer tantrums than Munchkin did. When she does get upset, though, the fierceness of her meltdowns is off the charts. Munchkin, for all his finicky toddler antics, didn’t come anywhere close to the anger and visceral intensity she generates.
And nothing upsets her more than being put to bed. Munchkin too fought sleep, but whereas he would simply bawl his eyes out before tiring himself out, Junebug literally goes berserk, violently fighting her sleep demons. She slaps herself on the head, scratches at her own faces, kicks her legs, bats her arms, and flails around as if possessed, all while unleashing deeply guttural screams of anguish. She stands and bangs her head against the railing of her crib or bites down on it before flinging herself backwards headfirst.
The worst part about it is that once she gets going she is literally inconsolable. The classic sleep-training advice is to comfort the child for a minute or two before returning her to the crib if soothing her inside the crib proves impossible. But what is one to do when the child resists calming as much as she resists sleep itself? Pick her up, and Junebug does her best to try to escape our embrace. She’s slippery too, and has come close to thrashing her way out of our arms on more than one occasion. Trying to calm her while she’s in her crib is also an uphill battle.
S gets the worst of the frenzies because Junebug loathes being separated from S more than anything else. She is fine when S is completely out of the picture, but to have S hand her off and walk out of the room – or put her down in the crib after snuggling her to sleep – feels like the worst of maternal betrayals. It never fails to throw Junebug into a distressed frenzy. A couple of weeks ago she got so upset that she literally tore her pacifier apart.
With D, at least, Junebug allows herself to be transferred to her crib, provided she is not already upset (either at the prospect of approaching bedtime or at being separated from S). The method that works, for now at least, is to put Junebug face down and rub her back until she gets sleepy enough to disengage. When D started doing this a week or two ago, a simple hand on the back for a few seconds of reassurance did the trick. Nowadays, Junebug will reach her arm back, grab D’s forearm, and gently grunt for emphasis to ensure that D keeps stroking her back until she is fast asleep.
With Munchkin, a lot of his early tantrums faded away once he started speaking. Junebug shows no sign that she wants to talk any time soon, and it’s not like being able to put words to her bedtime frustrations would give her a free pass on going to bed. So our only comforting thought is that this, like all phases of childhood, also will pass. That, and the awareness that one must take the bad with the good. Junebug is fiercer than Munchkin was but she is also a lot sweeter and cuddlier. She still loves to nuzzle and snuggle with us; whereas, Munchkin started giving us the stiffarm (D especially) midway through his first year. And one of her snuggles easily outweighs each day’s tantrums.