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.