Mommy’s temper tantrums

“I wish I hadn’t done that.”

This goes through my mind every time I lose my temper at Lily.

Of course, I was predictably arrogant about the kind of parent I would be before actually having a child. (Aren’t we all?) Yes, I knew myself well enough to know I wouldn’t be the perpetually cheerful, meet-every-situation-with-a-laugh-and-a-smile mom. But I did harbor delusions of unflappability. For I’d always been a driven but generally pragmatic, patient person; so I’d long pictured myself as a woman who would, in the end, be a zen/yoga mommy who’d never lose my cool – who, in the face of a kid’s irrational screaming and baiting, would just take a deep breath and let it all roll right off me, like so much white noise.

I’d never become one of those miserable harridans who loses it at her kid over nothing. Would I?

The problem with picturing what kind of parent you’ll be, before you actually are one, is that you don’t quite realize how much sleep deprivation, domestic tail-chasing (laundry, dishes, bills, etc.), job stress, parenting anxiety, and the struggle to maintain closeness with your spouse while still making a little time for yourself all play into your mood and your responses to any given parenting situation.

And if you bring it down to an even more basic level, I think, underlying a parent’s short temper is an anger with yourself because, ultimately, you CHOSE this chaotic, challenging, all-consuming path. Continue reading

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Sweet, comic valentine (for infants!)

After spending about 90 minutes of my precious and rare free time this evening tearing “Toy Story” and Disney Princess valentines apart; and doing the same with accompanying sheets of stamp-size stickers; and inserting the stickers – with surgeon-like precision – into tiny, diagonal tabs on the valentines; and folding the valentines in half; and affixing a heart-shaped sticker to keep them closed; and signing Lily or Neve’s name onto each one, I finally wondered, “What the hell am I doing?”

The answer, of course, is that for some inexplicable reason, I’m choosing to participate in the weird, self-perpetuating, down-the-rabbit-hole annual holiday ritual of parents – OK, fine, mothers – who have little ones in daycare, and thus have kids that are “instructed” in the ways of Valentine’s Day before they can even crawl. (I’ll add here that I love the kids’ daycare center, and my guess is that these rituals were likely, ironically, parent-driven originally more than driven by those who work at the center. I’ll also submit that I should, in the future, by kids’ valentines that require less assembly.)

Consequently, tomorrow, during a preschool Valentine’s Day party, Lily will randomly distribute 55 impersonal, unaddressed, grocery-store-bought valentines to kids who will probably look at them briefly, if at all, before they end up in the trash or recycling (all that painstaking sticker insertion for naught!); and Neve – presumably with the help of her caregivers, since the extent of her powers just now max out at “drooling like a waterfall” and “sitting up unassisted” – will give out 16 of the same cards to her cooing comrades in the same daycare center’s baby room.

So much effort – for what, exactly?

I was all uber-rational about such things when Lily was a 9 month old in the baby room. Yes, I got the pre-emptive Valentine’s letter that stated how many kids were in each class, and how we shouldn’t send candy or treats, but I ignored it – as I assumed the other “baby room” parents would – and brought a big fat bowl of nothing on Valentine’s Day.

Now cut to me picking Lily up later that day and finding a brown paper bag full of little valentines, signed with the name of her classmates (these babies had astonishing penmanship, I might add). After we arrived home, I stared at Lily’s pile of valentines with a mixture of bafflement, guilt, amusement, gratitude, and anger. For there was something undeniably sweet about this adults’ game of pretend – this puppet show of affection and good will that we parents played out through our infant children. Continue reading

Freedom Burger

In early November, Joe and I drove to the Fillmore Theater in downtown Detroit to see the Indigo Girls in concert. We hadn’t had dinner, and we had some time, so we tucked into the bar/restaurant next door first.

I got a cosmo, Joe got a beer, and we ordered burgers. As we talked during the meal, I said, a couple of times, “Wow, my burger is REALLY GOOD,” and I ordered another cosmo. Now, this was the most I’d had to drink in one evening since before I was pregnant with Neve, so I was feeling pretty tipsy, but I was also really enjoying myself.

And I had a great time with Joe and friends at the concert, so it was a fabulous night overall. But for days and days afterward, I’d think about that burger, and my mouth would water, remembering how good it was.

“I don’t know what it was,” I said to Joe one night, “but that burger I had before the concert tasted amazing to me. Were the burgers that good?”

I’d questioned this afterward, because the place wasn’t a cult local favorite for burgers – just a run-of-the-mill bar in an advantageous location. And my suspicions were confirmed when Joe said, “They were good, but not that special.”

So I finally figured out that although I may have had cosmo goggles on that evening in regard to the food, the main thing that was heightening my enjoyment was the sense of freedom I felt (or “tasted,” as it were). Freedom to have a couple of drinks; to spend time with Joe and some dear old friends from college, listening to music that I love; freedom from absently, mechanically shoveling food down in order to feed an increasingly disgruntled baby or comfort a sensitive 3 year old; freedom to re-visit the person I had been before I became “Mommy.”

It was such a relief, and a release, to find that I could still locate that person within myself. But the opportunities are few and increasingly hard to come by. Continue reading

Field notes and follow-ups

* Joe and I took Lily to see “Tangled” this past weekend at the nearby, second-run theater, and the basic premise, of course, involves a witch stealing Rapunzel as a baby from her parents (who are the land’s king and queen). In the movie version, the beloved king and queen, as well as their subjects, release glowing lanterns that float up into the sky each year on the girl’s birthday, in hopes that she will return. By Rapunzel’s 18th birthday, after being shut up in a high tower her whole life, she ventures out to see this ceremony in person; and simultaneously, we see the king and queen briefly behind-the-scenes, just before they step outside to release a lantern once again.

It’s probably about 30 seconds of film, and involves the father looking inconsolably sad, while the mother touches his cheek in comfort. And at this point, I completely fell apart, quietly crying while Lily sat attentively on my lap.

This throwaway little scene that would have passed me right by a few years ago. But the difference, I’m sure, is that while I would have empathy for these characters before, and would have vaguely imagined what the loss of a child might feel like, Lily makes these kind of scenes powerfully concrete rather than merely abstract. There’s not a blank, faceless child in my mind; it’s Lily’s face, and cry, and laugh, and smile, and voice. The thought of her, and the very specifics that make her who she is, being suddenly taken away is too devastating to even imagine. 

Hence my turning into a weepy mom during a Disney movie – despite the fact that in the past, I established a reputation for being pretty stony while watching movies and plays. (The phrase “dead inside” has surfaced more than once.) But apparently, my falling head over heels in love with this little girl has endowed me with a new Achille’s heel. Continue reading

Oof. (Or, anatomy of a really crappy morning)

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. Continue reading

I’m dreaming of a “White Christmas” sing-along screening

Early this past fall, I took Lily to the nearby second-run movie theater to see if she might sit through “Toy Story 3” (we’d previously had a failed attempt when taking her to “How to Train Your Dragon”). I thought it might be a good option for the post-nap, pre-dinner portion of the day because, A, Joe had to work and prepare for his upcoming trial; B, the weather was expected to cloud over; C, it seemed more her speed than “Dragon” was going to be; and D, I really wanted to see the movie. (Yes, I’m that selfish.)

Amazingly, though the theater was already dark when we entered, and I had to feel my way carefully to a couple of empty seats, Lily sat in my lap and watched the movie in its entirety.

Now, she didn’t respond to things in the movie; she didn’t laugh at things, or even smile, from what I could tell. But at the same time, she didn’t get scared at times when I worried that she might (when the toys are headed toward an incinerator, for instance) because she didn’t understand enough to BE scared.

And generally, because Lily wasn’t reacting to the movie, I ended up feeling really guilty for taking her before she was probably capable of enjoying it. Had this been about me and my intense desire to watch a movie in a theater again – an event that’s become a rare treat? Did I let that yearning cloud my judgment as a parent?

I grasped at straws later, to make myself feel a little better. When Lily saw her Mr. Potato Head and said, “He was in the movie,” I thought, “YES!!” and asked, like a desperate, smitten teenager, “Did you like the movie?” “Yeah,” she said. But keep in mind, that might be her answer, too, if I were to ask her, “Do you think we should stay in Afghanistan?” or, “How about a toddler enema?” Continue reading