Our 2-year-old has lately been terrorizing us, not only by day but also at night. When we put Jane to bed, she comes back out of her room, on average about 24 times. We can hear her before we see her, as she struggles to burst through her sticking door, carrying books and dolls, and plunking them on the floor. When Jane emerges, her hair standing at crazy angles from her head, she’s often smiling. We are not.

 

“Into your room!” my husband and I cry. We gather up Jane’s hand and goods and bustle her back to bed.

“Awwww!” she hollers. “I don’t want to go!”

 

By about 8:30 or 9 p.m., she is usually sucking her fingers, nestled in her covers, pleasantly passed out. My husband and I sit shuddering as we try to recover our wits. I, for one, find it exquisitely difficult not to erupt at Jane. I sometimes end up yelling things like, “If you don’t go to sleep right now, I’m going to take away all of your books and dollies, forever!” And I always feel awful later.

 

“I’m sorry I yelled so loud,” I say.

“It’s ok, mommy,” she forgives me. “I’m sorry, too.”

 

But then she does it again. And again. And again. “I just don’t know what to do,” my husband has muttered more than once.

 

And lately, Jane has been pulling her antics not only at bedtime, but also in the wee hours of the morning. Last night was particularly trying. Between 1:30 and 3:30 a.m., Jane made a run for it approximately 13 times. We confiscated stuffed animals and books, small pile by small pile. I threatened to keep her home from her grandmother’s apartment on the morrow if she didn’t stay in bed, which would have also been punishing me. I made her promises I wouldn’t keep. “I’ll buy you your very own dollhouse,” I said, “if you’ll just go to sleep.”

 

Eventually, I closed our bedroom door, turned on our noise machine, and smashed a pillow over my head. I think my husband slumped in Jane’s chair until she finally drifted off. And when she clattered back into our room at 6:32 this morning, Jeff and I rolled over, looked at each other, and groaned.

 

Some of our 2-year-old’s, and our, sleep disturbance is due to her nightmares, which she recounts to us as a “dinosaur making noise” in her room. We also know that at Jane’s developmental stage, children are often afraid of losing the gains they have made during the day. My husband and I have started intoning to our little one each night, “Everything you did today, you’ll be able to do again tomorrow, so it’s OK to go to sleep—and stay asleep!” At times this approach seems to work.

 

But other nights, nothing seems effective, and we throw up our hands and tear at our hair, in an effort to keep from hitting our child. Sometimes Jane makes such a racket that she awakens her slumbering twin 6-year-old siblings, and then they’re up, too. Or they report, in their grumpy states the next morning, that their younger sister’s antics fractured their sleep.

 

The most aggravating aspect of this crisis, however, is how chipper Jane always is the following day. “I like your rug,” she told me this morning. I felt like rolling her up in it. Instead, I fed her breakfast.

 

“I don’t remember it being this bad with the twins,” my husband said this morning, as I gulped down my second cup of coffee. I don’t remember it being this bad, either. But that’s not because it wasn’t this bad. It was probably worse, because we were contending with two 2-year-olds. The situation may have been so unpleasant, in fact, that we’ve simply blocked it from our memories, like victims of post-traumatic stress disorder do after a terrifying event.

 

“This too shall pass,” I tell myself lately, as I peer into the morning mirror, inspecting the gray hairs exponentially sprouting across my head. If I could put in my notice, I might seize that option. But since I can’t, I have to hope that maybe, just maybe, tonight will be the night we all get some sleep.

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