I’m not sure what else to title this post, since it deals with the seemingly endless and impossible struggle I had with Lily on Tuesday morning.
Things started calmly enough. Lily had slept in a bit, and Joe had to get to an 8:30 a.m. meeting, so he only had time to bring Lily downstairs and serve her her standard breakfast order (Cheerios).
As usual, she was only moderately interested in eating – the world is a palace of constant distractions for a 2 1/2 year old – and while she’s done well using a “big girl” juice glass of late, she stopped paying attention long enough to drop, and consequently shatter, one that morning. I picked up all the pieces I could find, making a mental note to vacuum around the area later, and stayed calm while telling her that that’s why she had to be careful with the “big girl” glasses; they can actually break. (You know. Like Mommies.)
Soon after Joe left, Lily pulled her chair to the nearby stereo to engage in one of her favorite pastimes: pulling CD cases out one by one and handing them to me while also insisting on taking some of the CDs out and putting them into the stereo (where she randomly pushes buttons until the stereo does what she wants). I hate this game. And because Joe had had to leave before she was dressed, I was suddenly feeling quick-to-anger. So when CDs came toppling down, my voice rose, in volume and register. “Lily, PLEASE BE CAREFUL.” And when she told me to pick something up, without saying “please,” I yelled, “For the 5,000th time, how do you ask nicely? I really don’t like to be ordered around like a servant!”
I knew I was being irrationally short-tempered. Here Lily was, in a good mood, and I was steaming. But I couldn’t help it. I was just destined to have a shorter-than-usual fuse that morning.
“Can’t we do something else?” I pleaded, still stuck stacking CDs on the table as Lily handed them to me.
“No,” said Lily.
“Why don’t we get you dressed?”
“In a few minutes,” she said. There’s a phrase I wish she hadn’t picked up on quite so quickly. She moved on to removing the used up candles from their holders on the table (for Shabbas dinner each week), and then ordered me – once again, I uttered a clenched-teeth plea for a “please” – to open another nearby candle in a jar, which she promptly dug her finger into and tried to rub wax on her face. “Whatever,” I told myself. “Who cares? So she has lavender candle wax on her face. Bigger fish to fry, right?”
She urged me to dress up in a tutu with her and dance around the kitchen to music, which we did for a few minutes while I tried to assuage my guilt.
And eventually, I got her into the living room, where we sat in an armchair and started to read a couple of books. But Lily soon reached for the nearby jar of petroleum jelly, which Joe leaves out to apply to his lips after practicing the trombone. Lily picked up the jar and said “Daddy’s medicine?” and I said, “Yes, that’s Daddy’s medicine.”
“I want some,”
“No, sweetie. Let’s leave Daddy’s medicine alone.”
But the top was off, and her little fingers were wholly submerged, before I even finished speaking. And on a typical day, in the pick-your-battles world of parenting, I would have likely shrugged this off and decided this just didn’t make the cut as worthwhile. Yet I suddenly felt like every single thing I said was being patently ignored, and this infuriated me. Here was Lily, at age 2, seemingly demonstrating that she didn’t take me at all seriously, despite my best efforts. (Duh. Two year olds aren’t exactly famous for heeding ANYONE. They’re in their own little world; but in the heat of the moment, you forget that.) So I thrust her gingerly from my lap and the chair, setting her down on the floor roughly, and said, “Fine. Do what you want. I don’t care.” And I left the room.
I tried to do the breakfast dishes and generally engage in mindless tasks while seeing red. But here’s what’s truly hilarious: I honestly thought just then that Lily would come to feel guilty for what she had done and seek me out for reconciliation. Please. (I’d made the same dumb mistake before, and likely will make it again. It’s some core passive-aggressive reflex I have.) Such ploys might work on an adult, but if you tell a 2 1/2 year old that you’re washing your hands of a situation, the toddler will most likely think, “Finally! Now that they’re out of my way, I can really get down to business.”
And indeed, despite my petulant banging around the kitchen, Lily kept on keepin’ on in the living room, probably applying petroleum jelly all over her face. And the fact that she didn’t come seeking forgiveness from me made me all the angrier, of course, prompting me to finally stomp to the entryway and brusquely announce that whether she wanted to or not, I was going to dress her in two minutes. More stomping around by me, more tossing things around the house just to hear a satisfying crash, and to externalize my inner boil.
She didn’t want to get up on the changing table, of course, and instead begged me to change her and dress her in the room’s armchair. Dear reader, I caved. You get so desperate at times that you think, all right, we’ll do it her way, just MAKE. IT. HAPPEN. Any way you can. So she laid herself out while I struggled to put on a new diaper, and we both pulled on her pants, shirt, and socks.
The house rule is that Lily has to be dressed and have eaten breakfast before she can watch up to 30 minutes of “Sesame Street” in the morning. Since she’d fulfilled the requirements, we settled in to watch it for a bit. Maybe things are settling in for the day, finally, I think. We’ll cuddle in the chair for a while, then make our way to daycare, so I could make my interview appointment in Ann Arbor at 11 a.m.
First, though, came her crying, whining protest at me turning off the television, though I’d warned her when only a few minutes was left. This set me off again instantly, and as if talking to a rational person, I said, “You know the rules. And when there were only a few minutes left, I asked you if you understood that, and you said, ‘Yes.’ Remember that?”
Her response? Weeping cries of “TV! TV!”
“No. No more TV. We’re done. And if you keep this up, you’re not going to see any TV at all.”
Like an addict at the end of her rope, she collapsed, repeating the word “TV!”
Oh. My. God.
“Lily, I’m getting my coat and shoes on, because we need to go to friends.” (Lily refers to daycare as friends.)
Back in stomping mode, I pulled on my coat, scarf, and hat, and she entered the room wailing, saying, “No! I don’t want to go to friends! I don’t want to go to friends!”
“I’m sorry, but sometimes we all have to do things we don’t want to do.” I placed her coat on the floor and said, “Do your coat flip, please.”
“Nooooooooooo!” she screamed.
And I’m not proud of this, but at this point, I screamed back. That barbaric yawp of a scream that comes out of you as a parent when you’ve reached your lowest point. The one that scratches your throat even as you utter it, and you know it will hurt the rest of the day, reminding you of your lack of self-control, your inability to stay above it all. But I’m convinced it happens to the best of us. And so I screamed a few times, trying to drown out my two year old’s screams.
“I don’t want to go to friends!” She repeated.
“We have to. Do you understand? I have to go to work!” I screamed, veering into crying at this point, too. I love my job and generally don’t feel remotely guilty about staying with it. And the more rational part of me knows that Lily has thrived in daycare and has a great time with the other kids and her teachers. But the immediate emotional sting of seeing your kid scream and fight against it, even momentarily, tears your prone-to-guilt mother’s soul to cheesecloth.
“No!” She screamed. “No!”
And it’s as though she was saying, “You’ve made me a miserable child. If you loved me, you’d stay home with me.” I know in my heart that I just can’t be that mom. I can’t. So a feeling of failure and hopelessness and anger washed over me as I picked up her coat and pushed her arms into the sleeves, forcing the zipper up the front as she fought, flailed, and cried. She took it off immediately, of course, at which point I said, “You want me to just pick you up and take you to daycare without a coat or shoes or anything on? Because I’ll do it!” To demonstrate, I picked her up, walked out the back door, and stood at the side of the house.
“No!” Lily said. “I don’t want to be cold!”
“Then let’s go in and get your coat on. Because either way, we’ve got to go.”
Of course, when we got inside, she refused to put her coat on again, and we found ourselves outside again, with her wailing while slung over my shoulder. What a fantastic morning this had become. But this time, when we went back inside, I put her down in the living room and went to get the phone and call Joe. (Yes, my “I’ll take you over my shoulder, without a coat!” threat ended up being completely empty, making me think, wow, every parenting instinct that I have when things get tough is completely wrong and without follow-through. No wonder she doesn’t listen to me.)
Utterly defeated, I told Joe, when he answered, “So Lily doesn’t want to go to friends.” It’s almost 10 a.m. at this point, and I start panicking about doing my 11 a.m. interview in Ann Arbor. But Joe, not having lived through what I just did, talks to Lily directly and tells her, after a moment, that if she goes to friends, he’ll bring home a little surprise for her. And then, all the sudden, she decides she’ll go. “Seriously?” I think. “After all the screaming and crying and gnashing of teeth on all sides, the answer’s as simple as this?”
Now, of course, I think it was this simple because Joe was outside of this battle, and Lily was ready to give in – just not to me. And so the madness goes.
Tears streamed my face and Joe finished talking with Lily, who looked sad and ordered me to “Stop crying, Mommy.” “Why?” I asked. “Because,” she said, which is pretty much the standard answer of a 2 year old. But I do think she was realizing more fully how much pain I was in just then, and wanted us to get past this patch just as badly as I did.
So we got Lily in her coat and hat and scarf, and we walked to daycare. “You screamed at me,” she said at one point. Crap. When I occasionally lost it while she was a baby, she couldn’t report it, and now she can. Oops. But I still stood my ground anyway and said, “And you screamed at me.”
“Yes,” she said.
“So let’s try not to scream at each other anymore. OK?”
We got there, and she asked me to stay for a few minutes, which I did, and then we gave each other a hug and kiss goodbye. Stressed about the time, I jogged back home, grabbed my lunch and backpack, and drove to Ann Arbor. When I’d just about arrived, I realized, with horror, that in addition to being inevitably late for my 11 a.m. appointment, I had left my laptop at home, making me fairly useless at work; plus, I’d have to wing it through my interviews that day, since my questions were on the laptop, too. Are you kidding me?
But I muddled my way through the interviews, used one of the computers available to the public in the community space, and made my way home to work the rest of the day from there. (I later found out, too, that I’d missed an appointment with my OB-GYN that afternoon. Fan-tastic.)
Fortunately, Joe took great pity on me, coming home early and picking up Lily from daycare; scrapping his cooking plans so we could order pizza (and thus he’d at least share in Lily-duties until she went to bed); and Lily’s surprise? A sucker, while I got a bouquet of, of course, stargazer lilies.
And Lily had been fine. She’d reportedly had a great day at daycare, and she was well-behaved the rest of the evening, nibbling happily on her cheese pizza bites and mushing through the snow with us to the nearby library. She seemed to have moved on and made a good day of it. I’d tried to do the same, but was still licking my emotional wounds. These spirit-shattering days had become rarer since Lily has moved out of the baby phase, but they still happen. Every once in a while, the floodgates open, all my doubts and insecurity explode, and that throat-scorching yawp escapes my body.
But I have to believe that every parent has these dark days, wherein they don’t respond as well as they’d like. We just have to push through them. Yes, Lily has since said, a couple of times, “You screamed at me,” but I’ve been sticking to my original response. “And you screamed at me. Let’s do our best not to do that anymore.”