Free Range Toddler: a bedtime story.

Did you ever have that nightmare where you are naked, giving a speech in front of your entire high school graduating class, during a tidal wave, with 14 vampires chasing you?

It ranks a close second to the one that starts off with your toddler figuring out he can climb out of his crib. (Here is where you grab your hanky and start biting your nails.) 

My two-year-old, ok two-and-a-half-year-old, Hurricane Luka, should probably be in a big boy bed already.

But he gets up before any self-respecting rooster would even think of opening his peepers.

No way was I gonna give that early riser the opportunity to tip toe downstairs and stick Spiderman action figures with no heads up my nose at 5:00am.

So, logically, he was still sleeping in the crib. Or at least that was my desired scenario. And it was no small feat every day for me to actually pick him up and put him in there either – he weighs close to 40 pounds. 

Imagine my surprise when he showed up Friday afternoon in the kitchen 10 minutes after I thought I had put him to sleep in his crib for his afternoon nap (and was ice-packing my back as a result).

"Hi momma, whatcha doin'?"

The nightmare begins.

Immediately you are forced rethink that time line you had mentally set in stone.

"We are keeping that child trapped in his crib until he's in middle school."

After all, you are still a cautious and protective parent, and climbing out of the crib in the dark in the middle of the night could result in broken bones or something, right? Best to just not offer the temptation ever again.

You start trying to channel Jo from Nanny 911. *Oh please let him stay in the big boy bed. Oh please let him stay in the big boy bed.* 

Things go from bad to worse when you brightly explain to Hurricane Luka that "Guess what!? You are a BIG boy now, and you get to sleep in the BIG boy bed tonight!" *Woo hoo*

And he answers your overly shiny enthusiasm with an exuberant "Awesome!"

Mommy is in so much trouble.

When bedtime finally rolls around (after you throw in a game of hall ball, six laps around the house, and an extra half an hour in the warm bath tub just to make sure he's good and tired) we grit our teeth, put on our game face, and prepare for the worst. (But hope for the best.) This is Hurricane Luka we're talking about here. He didn't just get that nickname by accident.

"Welcome to your own personal episode of Nightmare on Nanny 911 Street", I chant as a mantra to help keep the 14 vampires from showing up.

After the bath, and daddy's nightly book reading of "The University of Iowa Baby Board Book" that ends with the ritual singing of the Iowa fight song, Luka is lovingly put in the BIG boy bed.

In his room. Upstairs.

"Goodnight Luka."

"Goodnight Daddy. Goodnight Momma. You have a face like an angel."

My husband's mommy-sensitivity-training has at least sunk in for the time being.

We walk back down the stairs, which suddenly seems darker, longer, crooked even.

Eerie music plays.

Ok, well, that turns out to be "Die Hard" on Encore. Quinn had found the perfect can't-see-it-too-many-times movie to take our minds off the impending doom.

"Mom, if Luka comes down stairs, Nanny Jo says walk him back to his bed without talking, remember?"

"Got it."

"If this happens, let's take turns taking him back" I say, thinking, at worst a couple times each and he'll give up. After all, it's now 9:45pm. He has GOT to be worn out.

Mere moments creep by.

We watch Bruce Willis keep comin' back for more.

"He just never gives up does he?" Quinn remarks.

"Hi Momma!" Luka's tiny pacifier-plugged face magically appears through the crack in our bedroom door as we fold laundry and watch the Nakatomi Tower blow up. Without a word, my husband and I, and Quinn, look at each other and I walk over to the door, take Luka by the baby hand and lead him back up the stairs of pitch blackness and put him back in big boy bed.

Blankie: check.
Giraffe: check.
Turtle Stars Nightlight: check.
Kiss on the head: check.
Point the Darth Mommy Finger at the boy and frown: check.

Back downstairs I go.

Two minutes later, "Hi Momma!"

Husband's turn. I start having that out-of-body experience you get with impending doom-type situations.

TEN minutes later my husband is back.

"I stood outside his door and caught him 6 more times. I think HE thinks I'm still standing there."

Ok, I think, good. That'll work. He won't come downstairs anymore.

10:15pm. It's quiet for a few minutes.

"I think we got him." I say.

Then, suddenly, we hear the creak of Luka's closet door. My turn.

I go upstairs and Luka is removing everything he can reach from inside his closet and is piling it all in the middle of his bedroom floor. In the dark. I trip over this new mountain of Spiderman t-shirts and University of Iowa sweatpants.

I put him back in the big boy bed. I stand outside his door. He is silent, or at least I think he's silent. 

I now realize that somewhere in the past two and a half years, he has developed the cat-like reflexes and stealth sneak of Jason Bourne.


"You've got the magic feather Dumbo, now you can really fly!"

Luka has managed to crawl silently out of bed, cross the room, put in the Dumbo video, turn it on, and is now back in his bed, hands behind his head, legs crossed, chillin'. All while I'm standing right outside his door. 

Suppressing the urge to run screaming from my house, thinking surely now Freddie Krueger is about to show up because we are in full-fledged nightmare mode, I turn off the tv, confiscate Dumbo.


I'd like to say that was the end of it. But this went on and on until 11:08 when the Free Range Toddler finally FINALLY passed out.

By all rights, I should have then been rewarded with a late wake up time, thinking "Surely if he goes to bed this late, he will sleep late."

5:39am "Twinkle, twinkle little star...momma stand up! Milk!"

And the nightmare continues.

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