Sticker shock

After two difficult, frustrating, tears-inducing mornings of battling with Lily (more specifics coming in another post), I got an unexpected break yesterday morning – suggesting that perhaps the universe responds when you desperately need a moment of grace.

It’s comforting to think that, anyway.

We read books yesterday morning, which was wonderful (she’s getting very into Curious George stories just now), but then she came across a sheet with more than 100 small, white circular stickers with numbers on them. She pointed at specific stickers and sweetly (saying “peez!”) asked me to get them off for her. I did, and she began planting them in a long stripe up the leg of her capri pants, as well as on her leg.

Huh. OK. Not what I would have done, but then again, I’m not two.

She continued to do this on her other leg, and I wondered: should I have cut this off from the get-go? Said “No, don’t do that”? It’s always a judgment call with these bizarre, spontaneous toddler notions. The bottom-line test for me is always, if she’s not hurting herself or anyone else, and she’s not damaging anything, I’ll indulge her in these passing whims.

But as she plastered her legs and pants with 50 stickers – and I’m not exaggerating, since the stickers were numbered and she went through half the page before her enthusiasm flagged – I wondered about the endgame. Would I take her to daycare as is, and let them deal with peeling these little circles off? Would I try to take them off myself, which would be sure to set Lily off on a fit? (Toddlers are primal little humans, and the moment they want something passionately, beyond all reason, is the moment someone else threatens to take it away.) Would I just hope that the wind would just blow them off her legs during our walk to daycare, leaving a Hansel-and-Gretel-like trail of white circles in our wake?

As I pondered this, Lily studied her disposable body art, then began peeling the stickers off, one by one, by herself.

I hadn’t said a word, but she kept at it with the same level of engagement with which she’d stuck them on, singing the alphabet and sticking the now-less-than-sticky circles on the floor in the shape of a long snake. She even asked me to help with the last ones, which I was more than happy to do.

I couldn’t believe my luck. Here I was scrambling for a solution, none of them ideal, when she simply changed course and took care of it herself.

Maybe there’s something to be said for dithering while mothering – or at the very least, giving your kid some space to let her freak flag fly. Sometimes, of her own volition, she’ll bring the flag down for the night all on her own.

Slightly tardy 2nd birthday letter to Lily

It’s hard to believe you’ve just turned two, kiddo. In some ways, the time’s flashed by in a blur of wonderful and awful (often in the same day); yet it also seems as though my memories of life before you were here among us are already distant and hazy.

And while I’ve hemmed and hawed about this letter, and what I would say to you, I’ve decided that the best, most honest thing I can offer you is a description of what the day of your birthday, as well as the day we celebrated your birthday, were like, since both examples demonstrate the joys and struggles of trying to be, at the very least, an adequate mom.

First, let me confess that I had to work on the evening of your birthday – and not just the garden variety “pick you up from daycare and play with you for a couple of hours before leaving at 7 p.m.” assignment; no, no. My assignment involved the much-anticipated underground sensation, “A Very Potter Sequel,” which began at 7 p.m. at U-M. And because I was under strict orders to not release information about the show, I needed to arrive early and talk to show attendees – which meant I wasn’t going to get to see you at all, on the night of your second birthday. (We’ve found that me seeing you briefly before taking off for the evening is a recipe for disaster; you’re much happier and better off if just left alone with Daddy for the evening, sad as it makes me to not see you.)

This made me feel unbelievably guilty and a bit sad, even though you are too young to really take much stock in me having to work on your birthday. And this was made worse by the fact that I absolutely had to get you to daycare during the day in order to get you your birthday gifts (I’d tried and failed to get them earlier in the week).

With this in mind, I thought I’d possibly take you out for breakfast, for pancakes, before taking you to daycare. But after you got up, you snuggled with me in the yellow chair in the living room for a while, preparing yourself to face the day. I told you it was your birthday, that you were now two years old, and I quietly sang to you. (This was a sweet little kick-off to an otherwise unsatisfying day.)

Soon, you asked to watch videos of yourself (as well as Mickey Mouse and Elmo, etc.) on my computer. Since it was your birthday, I indulged you this request for a while. Eventually, though, I told you the video you were about to watch would be the last, and when it ended, I snapped my laptop shut.

You launched into a raging tantrum, trying to open my laptop back up, sobbing “Again! Again!” endlessly as I tried to explain that I’d show you one more if only you’d let me get you dressed. This ploy worked not at all, and things ended in a couple of extended time outs. Oof. Not how I wanted the morning to go, for you or for me. Continue reading

If you could need me just a little less, that would be fabulous.

Lately, when I’m home and have to go to the bathroom, I’ll try (and I’ll fail) to sneak away for a moment, and then Lily will drape her little three-foot body across the bathroom door, weeping and screaming for me while in the throes of utter toddler despair.

Never before in my life have toilet breaks been so rushed and fraught with stress and anxiety. I mean, this is a LOT of drama for what amounts to about 45 seconds of separation. (And I refuse to just open the door and let her in. I understand that more sharing in this regard may be in store when we’re potty training, but for now, this small increment of private time is non-negotiable.)

I will talk to Lily throughout, tell her I’ll be right back out to see her, while Joe tries to distract or comfort her in various ways – all for naught. 

At this point, I always think, “OK, little one. You might just need me a little bit TOO intensely.”

Maybe it’s more a toddler thing than anything else, but a child’s need can be voracious, all-consuming, and overwhelming. I certainly knew this lay in store for us as parents – I was ambivalent on the child-rearing question for years, primarily because of this concern (I’d dumped a few boyfriends because they needed me too much, and I’d never succeeded at even keeping a plant alive before, for God’s sake)  – but perhaps what I didn’t know was how uneven the scales were in terms of the child’s obsessive need for Mommy and occasional desire for Daddy.

Yes, in some ways, it’s positively lovely to be the center of a child’s universe. When Lily spots me at the end of the day at daycare, she gets a big smile, yells “Mommy!” and sprints toward me for a big hug. And being the one who can kiss a boo-boo and make everything better, or read to her before bed, is fantastic. I’m pretty sure this is one thing that grounds parents and makes them feel like they have finally found their purpose in life. I mean, here’s this little person whose happiness and very survival depends on you.

But the dark side of this is how oppressive this need can feel at times (see above bathroom example, as well as Lily wailing to sit in my lap instead of her highchair at meals, and screaming if I try to drive somewhere rather than sit in back with her). In those moments, it’s tempting to flee, just to break free of it for an hour or two.

And of course, thanks to Joe and the nature of my job, I do just that. I sneak in a run and a shower here, a few minutes to read the paper there. These temporary respites help. But it’s still too much to take at times.

At a recent meal, I actually just said out loud to Lily, “If you could need me just a little bit less, that would be fabulous.” She doesn’t understand what I’m saying, but I felt compelled to be honest nonetheless.

The cruel truth of parenting, of course, is that from what I can tell, children go from needing you with maddening ferocity to constantly rejecting your presence and/or help.

I’m hoping that there will be a few years in between where Lily’s need for me is pleasant but doesn’t eat me alive.