I didn’t expect philosophical conflict quite this early

Anselm and Perpetua were born a mere 20 months apart, and so it’s been easy to predict most of their conflicts. They squabble over toys and compete for our attention — all par for the course at this age, really. What I hadn’t anticipated is that they would be engaging in philosophical debates. And yet —

It all started yesterday, towards lunchtime, when we were taking a long, meandering route home as I tried to find a gas station with a working air pump for my tires. Perpetua started complaining that she was tired.

Anselm objected: No, it’s lunchtime!

Perpetua: I’m feeling very tired!

Anselm: No! It’s time to eat lunch!

Apparently one is not allowed to feel tired before eating. Anselm prefers things to be in their proper order, thankyouverymuch. And as everyone knows, nap follows lunch instead of the other way around.

But it didn’t stop there. I will admit that I was doing my best to tune them out at this point — but when I tuned back in they had begun arguing the root issue of their respective positions on sleep vs. hunger: whether it was day or night.

I ask you.

I had been prepared to side with Perpetua on the issue of whether one is allowed/capable of experiencing sleepiness before taking the noon repast. Unfortunately she was now the one who had taken the unreasonable position, arguing vociferously that it was not day, but night. (I do have to admire her commitment. Nobody sticks to their guns quite like an almost-two-year-old.)

Around this point I was finally able to air up the tires, and the argument had petered out by the time I got back in the car. Anselm was right on its being day, of course, but Perpetua struck a final blow for her side by falling asleep in the car before he got any lunch.

I’m going to call this one a tie.

Help me to be helpless

There are few things on this earth that ratchet up my anxiety faster and more completely than when my children don’t sleep. Like when Perpetua goes down for her morning nap fine, but wakes screaming 25 minutes later. Or when Anselm resists his nap entirely (which is happening more and more often these days). Or when Perpetua is sleeping nicely but then Anselm wakes her up — and in that scenario we end with not just anxiety, but also a fair measure of rage.

I get anxious when they don’t sleep because I know how badly it can pooch the rest of the day; when my kids aren’t rested they’re miserable. I get anxious because I usually reserve their nap time for getting projects done that I can’t do with two kids underfoot. I get anxious because when they are sleeping is my only chance for a break during the day, for a chance to sit and just be myself for five or ten or thirty minutes. But mostly I get anxious because I don’t like not being in control.

It really grinds my gears that I can’t make my children sleep. I can encourage, I can model, I can cajole, I can do everything I can think of, but ultimately it’s up to my kids to close their own eyes and relax their own minds and drift off by themselves. This makes me crazy. And sure, I feel a little weird about being frustrated that my children are autonomous beings. But there it is all the same.

I think that we are more helpless than we like to admit. Every day there are dozenss of situations that affect me but are completely out of my control: the weather, the traffic, whether my toddler will actually eat the meal I’ve cooked, the exchange rate, whether my kids will sleep, whether I can get done in a day the things I want to get done, whether it’s humid or not. But somewhere along the way I seem to have come up with expectation — which is completely unfounded, I will readily admit — that these things are at least nominally under my purview. And when that (irrational) expectation is violated, well, that’s when I get upset.

I need help being helpless. I need help relinquishing control, especially the kind that’s imaginary in the first place. This is a lot harder than it should be — but I suspect that I will be a lot better off for having done it.