Why leaving the room while two kids weep is sometimes the best thing you can do

Lily, Joe and Neve (and Barbie?) in a more peaceful moment…

On Wednesday, I had the kind of experience every parent fears when (s)he’s on the verge of having a second child: you’re on your own, and both kids are crying and miserable. But I lived to tell the tale, which goes like this:

I got the kids home from preschool a bit earlier than usual, and Lily asked if she might apply her 30 minutes of TV time to watching “The Little Princess.” I agreed, so I played with Neve on the floor while Lily settled into an armchair, focusing intently on the Shirley Temple movie that I also ate up as a kid.

When her time was up, she asked me to read the new books that arrived that day through her school’s book order. Neve pulled on me – wanting my attention, too – and of course, she won’t just sit and listen to the books that Lily likes at this point. So I was stuck.

“Please, Mommy,” Lily kept begging. “Please just try.” So I tried. Neve kept reaching out and grabbing the book to close it, and when I pulled it out of her reach, she screamed and cried. So I tried to find things to distract her while reading loudly from a book I held high up in the air.

Less than ideal reading conditions.

Somehow, we got through the first book, and Lily pulled the next one off the top of the small pile. “Sweetie, I can’t. I wish I could. You know I love reading to you, and I know you’re excited about your new books. But Neve isn’t old enough to enjoy these kind of books, and she’s pretty unhappy.”

“No, no, Mom, I’ll hold up the book. Like this.” Lily proceeds to turn to the first page and hold the book high in the air, as I had done.

So I tried. And Neve got frustrated again, reaching to close the book, and cried and yelled in my ear. After a few pages of this, I told Lily I couldn’t do any more.

“I’ve got to take care of both you and Nevie by myself until Daddy gets home, and Nevie’s really unhappy. So I’ll read every one of these books later, but right now isn’t a good time, sweetie.”

“But I want you to read to me,” she said, a plea I almost never reject – and she knows it. “Please, Mommy. Please!”

At this point, I stood up to physically untangle myself from the situation; Lily had flung herself across the armchair, screaming, the very picture of child-grief; and Neve sat on the floor, red-faced and crying, holding a half-empty milk cup.

So I did what any self-respecting parent would do: I called my spouse and pressed the “speaker phone” button. Continue reading