“It’s not what it looks like!”: One parent’s lament

Neve, playing happily on dry land

Neve, playing happily on dry land

There are so many things about parenting that, from the outside, look entirely different from the inside.

Subtle things. Like, one day, I’d herded both girls (because the little one wanted to tag along, of course) into a restaurant’s single restroom, and when, after everyone had washed their hands, Lily pulled multiple paper towels from the dispenser – after I told her she only needed one – I got surly and sharp with her.

“That’s a waste! We need to create as little waste as possible! It’s terrible for the environment! And I asked you to take one! You took FIVE! You don’t need five!”

In this moment, even as I’m saying the words, I hear them through the perspective of a 5 year old (or my calmly blinking spouse, to whom I repeat my grievance moments later), and they sound like the ravings of a crazy person. What is she talking about? Why is Mommy losing her s*** over paper towels?

A pretty reasonable question, really. And I don’t honestly know the answer. I wasn’t more sleep-deprived than usual. I’d had a decent day up until then. But out of nowhere, this ugly anger just poured out of me, and I snapped. What the what? Continue reading

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“Rapunzel dollie!” = Kill me now.

My long-haired, sweet nemesis

To tell the story I want to tell, I have to backtrack a little in order to provide context. So bear with me.

Lily is just now getting her first experiences with money. At a neighbor’s suggestion, we recently encouraged her to help us pick up sticks in the yard, and we gave her a penny for each stick. After a while, she’d earned $3, so we took her to the nearby CVS and told her she could pick out something that cost that much or less. (She chose glittery gold nail polish, naturally.)

Plus, a couple of weekends ago, I took her to Toys R Us to pick out a present for a preschool friend who was having a birthday party. In the past, in similar circumstances, Joe had also let her choose something small for herself, so I did the same. But the first thing she gravitated to was a Rapunzel doll that costs $20 (“Tangled” is probably her favorite movie). I told her it was too much money, and she didn’t cry, she didn’t throw a fit. She found other things, and each time, when I explained they were too much money, she put them back without a fight and looked for something more appropriate. We finally settled on a lower-key doll that was $8 – more than I initially intended to spend on her thing, but she’d been so good about all the “nos” that preceded it that I cut her some extra slack – and I told her that Hanukkah and Christmas were coming up, so maybe she’d get the Rapunzel dollie then.

“Rapunzel was too much money,” she said several times on the drive home, lovingly stroking the red hair of the doll we actually purchased. “But maybe I can get it for Hanukkah. When is Hanukkah?”

“Well, it’s several weeks away yet,” I said, looking at her in the reariew mirror. “But if you’re a good girl, like you usually are, I think you’re chances of getting a Rapunzel dollie are good, sweetie.”

OK. A lovely experience, generally, and I was proud of Lily. She hadn’t acted like an entitled brat in the store, and she seemed to be in the early stages of learning the value of money. All good.

Then, last Wednesday night, I’d wished I’d never had this conversation with her. Continue reading

Mommy’s got something to prove – to whom?

When Lily was a newborn, one of the only things that consistently soothed her was being toted around in a sling – so we walked around town with our “baby in a bag” quite a bit.

On one occasion, a neighbor, after peeking inside the sling to see our then-sleeping new addition, admonished me and Joe to “cherish this time,” because we’d never get it back, and it would all go so fast.

We nodded gravely, but Joe and I exchanged subtle glances that conveyed that we were both mentally circling a pointed finger aside our heads in a “cuckoo” gesture. Was this guy meshugge? Having your sleep constantly and randomly interrupted; being screamed at for long stretches, and feeling absolutely helpless to soothe your child; being shat and spit up upon regularly; and not being able to eat a meal together in peace (let alone eat a meal, or take a shower, when flying solo with the baby) – this was the apex of parenthood? Seriously?

Joe and I shook our heads while walking back to our house, agreeing that, from what we could tell so far, the baby phase was something to be endured rather than “cherished.”

Now, of course, our family lineup has changed, and we have a boundary-pushing 3 year old as well as a newborn in the house. And this long-past, casual conversation with a neighbor has come to have far more resonance for me.

This is partly due, surely, to the fact that Neve is a low-key, sleepy, easily comforted baby, and I’ve enjoyed the baby phase much more the second time around (when the anxiety is generally lower, anyway). But I think the primary reason I’m recalling this exchange lately is because I’m realizing that handling a newborn, despite its challenges, is relatively simple when compared to the self-doubt/guilt/misery spiral involved in disciplining your average, volatile 3 year old, who’s prone to operatic, irrational tirades. 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

First a Broadway baby, then hell on wheels

Though I’d planned on Lily being at least four or five years old when she saw her first live stage musical, some extraordinary circumstances led to her getting a crash course in theater etiquette on a recent Sunday.

Rarely do I have to see a show on Sunday afternoon for a review, but in this case, I needed to get to Dexter to see “Damn Yankees” at the Encore Theatre. Because Joe and I had gone to the U-M/MSU game the day before, leaving Lily with her grandparents for a few hours; and because I’d had to cover a local movie premiere on Friday night; I was loathe to miss a four hour chunk of my Sunday with Lily, too. It seemed there were no other options, though, unless she and Joe came with me to the show. And because Joe had never seen “Yankees,” despite knowing its songs, and because he really wanted to check it out, we decided to go ahead and give Lily a chance at being a Broadway musical baby.

I’ll confess I was utterly stressed on the drive to the theater. Lily hadn’t had her nap, so we expected her to konk out for the duration of the ride, but she didn’t fall asleep until about 10-15 minutes before we arrived; because toddlers are impossible to rush, and because of packing, we were going to be cutting it close, time-wise; we’d planned for Joe to take Lily out to the park and a nearby Dairy Queen if/when she got restless during the show, but I couldn’t find my phone in my backpack, and Joe’s new phone was rendered unusable because it was “locked”; and because we didn’t make the final call on taking Lily until just before leaving, I needed to try to purchase an additional ticket for her next to us, yet I couldn’t call (see phone disaster above) to make the potentially-tricky arrangements ahead of time.

These are not good signs, I thought, trying to keep from having a full-on anxiety attack while sitting in the back seat next to Lily. But we were all in now. No turning back. Continue reading