It usually happens at bath or bed time…the parental ponderances…you know…the…“Am I screwing her up? Why is she whining AGAIN about NOTHING? Am I a good parent? Is she growing up to be a good person? How do you teach your child to be a good person? What the hell am I even trying to teach her?”
It’s the last question that I’ve been hung up on over the last few months. When I had a newborn/infant and I was up every two hours to feed her and burp her and change her and…repeat…I recall a number of people telling me, “It does get easier, but it will also get harder in very different ways.”
I had absolutely no idea what the hell these people were referring to at the time, because honestly, I couldn’t see beyond the difficulty of where I was at that point in time. I was worried about the mounting expense of diapers and childcare, along with the fact that my baby was born resistant to sleeping through the night. (“crying it out” takes on a whole different meaning when you are trapped in a 365-square-foot apartment with your infant, ALONE, and you have to get up to go to work at 5am. Every day.)
Harder? How the hell could it get harder than that?
Well…now…I get it. Sort of. It’s not more difficult to parent a toddler, it’s just, more…trying. My brain is tired at the end of the day. The constant boundary testing is just…like nothing I have ever experienced, ever, in my 34 years on this planet. No one told me that they would test every, single, boundary you put in place. All day. Every day.
So tonight, when I was giving Ellie a bath and she wanted to put a bandaid on the blister that she has on her ankle WHILE she was in the bathtub, despite my repeated insistence that this wasn’t how it was going to go down…and she carried on…and on…and on…and on…I walked out of the bathroom, sat in the hallway and wondered, “This kid does not quit…once she gets her eyes set on something, she will. not. let. it. go. Am I creating a monster?”
The short answer is…No. I don’t think so. Once I committed to ignoring the nonsense – she stopped. But when I sat down on the couch tonight, I started to wonder if I am doing a good job. I mean, what, after all, is a good job?
Without knowing what it is I want to teach her, I can’t exactly gauge if I am doing a good job or not. I am the type of person who needs to know what the hell it is I am trying to achieve so I can plot out a way to accomplish it…So what the hell is it that I am trying to teach Ellie?
Well, here is what I have come up with…
1. You are loved.
Man. This one should seem like an obvious one, but as a solo parent I have often worried if I can love Ellie enough for two. And at some point, over a lot of wine, with the help of a number of friends and family, I have realized that’s my sh*t, not hers.
She is loved.
When she doubts that (as well all do from time to time) my job is to point to examples of love in her life. Of which there are many.
Our family is her safe place, and will always be, filled with hugs and kisses. Ellie will always have a soft place to land and a firm foundation.
2. Use your words and be kind with them.
Ellie’s tongue is sharp (full disclosure, so is mine – I’m working on it). She knows how to instigate and aggravate a peer with a few words, and it drives me insane. A mean comment can hurt far worse and for much longer than a major punch in the face.
No one likes a mean person…actually no one really likes a a nice person who says mean things from time to time, so it’s just best to lay down the nonsensical non-niceties and be kind. And when you are mean, the person who actually gets the most hurt is you because you get alienated – for being mean.
3. If you whine, you get nothing.
We are in a MAJOR whining phase. Major. To me, whining is pretty much the toddler equivalent of cluster feeding. It pushes me to a point where I cringe when I see it coming on. I physically feel my body beginning to tense up, as I brace myself for the onslaught of nonsense…in a grating melodic tone. “You made my waffles BEFORE I asked for them…I need to put the bandaid on WHILE I am in the bath…brushing my teeth hurts…I don’t want to wear underwear…I want straight hair…I want long hair…I want M&Ms for breakfast…”
The list of things Ellie finds whine-worthy is so long that it is, on really bad days, quite troublesome to me mentally and emotionally. The easy solution is always giving in. Without a break from being the primary parent, it is VERY VERY tempting to just give in. But I have zero desire to raise an assh*le. Again, the biggest loser would be Ellie…so… I have begun to…as someone close to me suggested…quietly disengage when she begins to act like that.
It’s not easy, I don’t succeed every time…but I seem to be making some progress.
4. This is not your world and we are not all privileged to be living in it.
“I want the blue towel…I want the princess chair…I want to sit there…”
Yea…okay…so life doesn’t work like this and the sooner a little person accepts this, the better off they will be. I know, I know…at this age they are developmentally ego-centric and that is all normal, but it doesn’t mean that I can’t impart some of my hard-earned life wisdom which is boiled down to, “You don’t always get what you want…no matter how badly you want it.”
It sucks. It will always suck. But accepting that gracefully is better than going down whining about it. Because if you accept it gracefully, when you are grown up – and you don’t get what you want, at the very least there will be one or two people to grab a beer with you…people to cheer you up about the fact that you didn’t get the job, you didn’t get the guy or girl, that you didn’t get the raise or the promotion or the apartment.
And some of the best days of my life happened as a result of something really disappointing transpiring. In my instances, I learned a life lesson and learned how great my friends really were. I want Ellie to be as fortunate.
5 .You will be fine without me.
Gulp. I can honestly say that there has not been a day that goes by since I found out I was pregnant, that I have not worried about how Ellie would do without me.
When I had to travel for work a couple weeks ago and leave my apartment at 3am, my neighbor offered to babysit Ellie. This is the same neighbor who’s house Ellie asks to go over to EVERY SINGLE DAY AFTER SCHOOL. But once I told Ellie the plan – which included me traveling and the neighbor bringing to her to school in the morning – Ellie decided this was not from her and tried to climb back into my womb.
At 10:30pm, 4.5 hours before my train was about to leave, I was in full-blown panic mode, texting those close to me asking what the hell I should do…
I needed to leave for a work trip, I needed Ellie not to wake the entire family up with her whaling about wanting her mom and I needed her to understand she was safe even when I wasn’t around.
I wondered if I should cancel the trip…quit this job…call off my life…not go to the out of town wedding I was invited to the following weekend…anything to ease my guilt. At 11pm, Ellie calmed down, and I quietly walked her over to my neighbors house, gave her a kiss on the forehead and handed her off, feeling a level of guilt I have never felt in my life.
She fell asleep within 3 minutes.
Ellie was acting like a clingy toddler, but a lot of this…well it…was my sh*t.
This parenting thing is not easy…no one said it would be. There is a complexity of emotion that comes into play with both parties (parent and child) that is beyond anything I could comprehend before I had Ellie.
It is so just the beginning. But I think I will sleep a little bit better tonight knowing that I have a framework within which I am operating.
Or at least I can hope so.