This past Friday morning, something happened that hadn’t before: Lily started throwing a fit just as we reached daycare.
She was riding on my shoulders, as she often does, and she’d been her usual chirpy self on the walk over. But just as we reached the sidewalk that leads to the entrance, she started pitching her body around and crying and saying “No, no, no.” I forged on, thinking maybe she’d snap out of it once we got in her room and she saw all her friends – but things only got worse. She fought being pulled off my shoulders, and tears and drool fell from her screaming, red face.
Her caregivers shooed away the other kids, who were initially anxious and happy to see Lily, then curious about why she was screaming. But Lily wouldn’t calm down, not an inch, so I quickly ran through options in my head.
Since she hadn’t eaten anything yet (which is typical), and because we often have a snack break in front of the daycare center after they finally toss us out at the end of the day (see my “How Lily Became the Norm Peterson of Daycare” post), I said, “Do you want to go outside?”
“Yeah,” she uttered through sobs.
I carried her back outside, and though I initially tried to walk toward the area where we usually sit for our end-of-the-day snack, this set her wailing again. OK. It was time to improvise. Go a completely new direction.
“Do you want to go for a walk and get a muffin at the bakery?”
“Yeah,” she said between jagged breaths.
I scooped her onto my shoulders again, and we started walking around the nearby marketplace. And it was right about then that I remembered: I didn’t have my wallet on me. Because I’m on my own with Lily each morning, I just pull on comfortable clothes that are within reach when I hear her cry out or start singing (it’s always one or the other); on this morning, I’d pulled on a pair of yoga pants with no pockets, so all I had on me are keys.
Crap. I’d just promised my frantic child something I can’t deliver. Now what?
I combed through possibilities while Lily continued to sniffle, but calmed a bit, while riding on my shoulders again. (Fortunately, the sun was out, making for a nice, temperate morning.) I’d planned to make a big circle around the market area, but then I suddenly decided to turn left and take Lily to a grassy area next to the Farmer’s Market shelter. I sat on the ground and held her in my lap as she started to breathe more regularly. I stared at the bag full of food I’d packed for her day. Maybe she’d eat something from that, I thought, and that would help.
“You want some Cheerios?” I asked. “Or some raisins?”
“Muffin?” she said, quietly.
Damn this child’s attention span.
“Sweetie, Mommy didn’t bring her wallet, so I don’t have any money. I’m really sorry. We’d have to go home if you want to get a muffin. You want to do that?”
“Yeah,” she said, but she didn’t move, and I knew she doesn’t fully understand what I was saying. Then, after a minute or two, she said, “Cheerios.”
“Those I have,” I said.
So she munched on those, ate most of a banana and a few grapes, all while snuggling against me; and although I thought a purchased treat might be necessary to shake her out of her out-of-nowhere misery, all she really wanted and needed on this particular morning was a little more time and affection and reassurance from Mommy.
Now, I’m lucky on several levels, and I know that. My part-time job is generally flexible enough that, as long as I do the hours and get the work done, the “how” and “where” and “why” of it are fluid and ultimately up to me. So if Lily was dead-set against being at daycare that day, I could have adjusted. I could have stayed at home with her and adapted my plans. (And unlike when she was a baby, the prospect of spending an unexpected day on my own with her doesn’t scare the bejeezus out of me now.)
In addition, while sitting there, I realized that the local bakery would probably spot me for a muffin that I could pay for later, since we’re some of the bakery’s most regular and loyal customers. (There’s much to be said for frequenting local businesses, especially in a small town.)
But after Lily ate several items from her bag, we stood up, and she turned her back to me and held up her arms – her signal that she’s ready to go up on shoulders.
We walked back to the daycare center, and when we reached her room, I said, “Lily’s arrival, take two.”
And indeed, she was absolutely fine this time, saying “Bye, Mommy” before heading off to sit in a circle with her friends and sing songs. And when I came back later in the day, one of her caregivers said, “It was like none of that ever happened. She was her happy little self the rest of the day.”
Like I said, I’m lucky. I’m in a position where I can “go with the flow” when things don’t go according to plan, usually without serious penalty. And because Lily, an unpredictable toddler, forces me to live daily life as it comes, I’ve had to learn to be less rigid and faster to adapt to changing circumstances. It’s as though my to-do list has become a moving target.
But all this is good for me, I think. Despite a few sloppy habits, I am generally a methodical, neurotic, control freak perfectionist – something toddlers don’t really truck in at all. So Lily – like my weekly yoga practice, actually – makes me live outside my head a little more often and roll with the punches. (In the past, my response would always be, “There will be punches? Could you describe the nature of said punches? When might these occur? What should one do in the event of a punch?”)
Plus, I must confess that the extra time spent with Lily that morning (aside from the red-faced, screaming part) was quite lovely and meaningful – an unexpectedly memorable moment that made me feel as though, on this one day, for a few minutes, I’d done some solid mommy-ing and got it exactly right.
You have to soak up those moments when they come, because there are always plenty of moments of doubt and self-flagellation to come.