Under the control of a toddler

It’s good to feel loved and needed, right? It’s a nice secure feeling when someone, without saying it, demonstrates that they can’t live without you, that they need you and only you, always.  Or is that some kind of emotional abuse? Is it actually a small tyrant exerting control over your life?

Like when your two-year-old will not let anyone else do anything for her, not even open her car door.  If someone like, say, her papa, opens her car door, she screams ‘No, Mama do it,’ and if the door is not immediately closed, breaks down into heart wrenching tears. Because surely, only Mama knows the correct way to open a door (it involves pulling on the handle, in a manner that is – in some undetectable way – different from the way anyone else can do it).

Like when your two-year-old trips and falls, mere feet away from her loving adoring Papa, who wants nothing more than to console her, but she backs away from him, screaming, because only Mama is allowed to pick her up, even though Mama is on the other side of the house, fully occupied with other tasks.

Like when your husband is able to successfully transfer your sleeping toddler from the car, carries her into the house and settles in with her on his lap, staring at her adoringly, but she wakes and sees whose arms she is in, and a full on meltdown occurs, because only Mama is supposed to hold her, and she makes that hysterically clear until Mama runs in to rescue the sobbing mess and the poor man who is trying to deal with both the physical contortions of the flailing child and the stabbing emotional pain of knowing that he cannot console her.

It’s harder for Will than it is for me.  I can sigh and bow to the whims of the little dictator, I can fulfill my role as the only butt-wiper and wound-kisser, and I know it is only temporary, and one day she will be a teenager and reject both of us.  It is poor Will who suffers, poor Will who just wants to be able to interact with his child without being faced with screaming rejection.

Is being two a good excuse?

Me: Mellow, please get out of the bathtub.

No response.

Me: Mellow, it is time to get out of the bathtub.

Mellow: <glaring balefully> I’m not going to do that, so just stop talking about it.

She’s two-and-a-half.  I suppose her response was a bit nicer than the “Tough crap, I’m doing it anyway” phase that Wildling went through at the same age.

 

Wildling says…

Some recent quotes from my Wildling:

Wildling: Papa, Mellow hit me!
Will: If she hit you, it’s because she learned it from you.
Wildling: NO SHE DIDN’T! I was kicking her!

Wildling: I don’t want to invite Carson to my birthday party [in September!] because HE HAS A FRICKIN’ DOG!
Me: I don’t think he’d bring his dog to the party.
Wildling: Yes he would! That’s what people with dogs do. And I don’t want him to bring his frickin’ dog!

Wildling: I’m making this book for Great-grandma Rose.
Me: That’s nice.
Wildling: Yeah, I’m making it for her because I love her, and I want her to love me more than I love her.

Wildling, while looking through a He-Man comic from the early ’80’s: I have a new game that I got from from this page. Let’s play Teela throws a large heavy object at Beastman’s head. I’m Teela. Papa, you’re Beastman.

My Mellow

When Wildling was twenty months old, she was speaking clearly, and in complete sentences. If you asked her how she was doing, she’d say things like “I’m fine, I’m cool.” Mellow is twenty months old. She can ask for ice water, or “icccce wah” as she pronounces it. She can tell us when Wildling is screaming by pointing and saying “Ahhhhhhhh. Wi.” The “Wi” is very calm and deliberate, she wants us to know that she’s not the one actually throwing a fit, it’s her big sister. She can say Mama and Da-da and Wi, and a few other small words. But that’s about it.

I’m not worried about her linguistic development. She’ll get there eventually. It feels like it’s taking longer, because she talks now the way Wildling did at barely a year old. But she’s fine. She’s normal. She’s on track.

What I don’t like though, is how other people reassure me that they’re certain that Mellow is fine, that Mellow will learn eventually, that even if she’s not talking, she’s still clearly intelligent. I know all of these things. I don’t need to be reassured. Mellow is bossy and opinionated and she will lead us by the hand to whatever she wants and then put our hand on what she wants us to do. She dresses herself, and even though sometimes she’s wearing a long-sleeved shirt as pants, that’s ok (also, I fix it). She poops in her potty without fail every single time. She sleeps through the night. She eats whatever we’re eating and doesn’t require special meals. She smiles a lot, and dances and follows her big sister around like an adoring puppy.

Mellow is an amazing child. I don’t need anyone to reassure me of that. I’ve always known.

Some reasons to cry

One of the interesting things about Wildling’s crying skills is that she can go from perfectly calm and happy to screaming hysteria and then back again in a very short time period with no lasting signs of it.  Seriously, she can be happily playing, something will set her off and she’ll be red faced and screaming with tears running down her cheeks and then fifteen seconds later her face is perfectly normal and there is no evidence anything was wrong at all.

I witnessed this several times this morning.  Here are the reasons why Wildling cried this morning between 7:30-8:30 am:

1. She didn’t want to wake up.

2. It was too cold.

3. I didn’t tie a blanket around her shoulders properly.

4. There was a pair of pants in her long-sleeve shirt drawer and she doesn’t like pants.

5. Mellow pointed at her and laughed AND IT’S JUST NOT FUNNY MELLOW!!!

6. The blender was too loud.

7. She spilled her breakfast shake and it splashed on her tights.

8. It took me too long to clean up the spilled shake.

9.  When she was brushing her teeth, she dripped toothpaste on her shirt.

10. I wouldn’t let her wear the shirt with toothpaste on it, even though she claims it was fine because she cleaned it by licking it off.

11.  None of her other long-sleeved shirts were ‘stretchy out’ material.

12.  I had to take her to school in the car rather than by bike because her screaming fits delayed us.

All those short screaming meltdowns, but I dropped off a cheerful, sunny little girl at 8:30 this morning.  I don’t know how she bounces back so quickly (and how she doesn’t give herself a massive headache!).

Awaiting the inevitable

Easter is coming.  That means the invasion of cheap plastic toys is coming too.  I imagine our personal household invasion has already been purchased, sitting in plastic bags (of course!) waiting to be packed in styrofoam peanuts (the non-recyclable kind, though we always are able to donate them back to a shipping store) and shipped across the country, using who knows how much fossil fuel, just so my kids can play with them briefly and then either break or forget about them, so that they can either be dumped in the landfill or dropped off at a thrift store for some other kid to briefly take an interest in and then discard.  There will be candy as well, made up almost entirely of high fructose corn syrup and artificial food dye.

Every year I beg my mom not to send this crap, and every year she does anyway.  Last year, I thought I had convinced her not to send those little plastic eggs that open up so you can stuff them full of additional junk.  She promised she understood my objection and would not send any of those plastic eggs.  I was too trusting, or perhaps I had forgotten that my mother, who insists that everyone always follow her rules, will bend and twist my rules into something recognizable only to her.  She’s great at complying with the letter but not the spirit, which is why last year, after I explained our objection to the plastic eggs, after I begged her not to be so wasteful, after I made another of my endless arguments about our minimalist and environmentalist ideals, she sent my kids GIANT F-ING PLASTIC EGGS STUFFED FULL OF PLASTIC TOYS, CUPS, AND CANDY.  They were the largest plastic eggs I have ever seen.  I almost think she special ordered them  “Hello, plastic egg company? How big can you make those eggs?  No, I need them bigger than that. Can you make them extra thick too? Are there any non-recyclable plastics? Great, use that.”

This is how I imagine my mother interprets our conversations:

I say: Mom, we are really trying to reduce the amount of toys and junk we have in the house.  Please don’t send the kids any toys for easter.  They don’t need them, and they don’t want them.  Wildling has been an active participant in the reduction of her toys, and she is much happier with fewer things.

She hears: Mom, we are trying to stop you from being a grandparent and fulfilling your grandparently duties.  We don’t love our kids, and we would like to teach them about deprivation and suffering.

 I say: We have been asking you for years to please listen to us. We don’t want a lot of cheap plastic toys that were made in China.  We believe that they are harmful for the environment.

She hears: I have a secret list of criteria for toys that I will allow in the house, and I will not tell you what is on it.  But it changes all the time, so what was ok before is different now.  I also don’t want you shopping in any of the stores that are convenient for you, which is why I pretend to be opposed to items that were made in China.  But I once bought Wildling a made in China toy, so I am a colossal hypocrite and you should ignore all of my requests.

I say:  No, mom, stop arguing with me.  Of course we tell Will’s parents the exact same thing.  But they don’t buy toys for the kids anyway, so I don’t know why you keep asking.

She hears: My strict, irrational, and hypocritical criteria only applies to you.  We let Will’s parents buy whatever they want, whenever they want.

I say:  Mom, we try not to give the kids foods with high fructose corn syrup or artificial food coloring.  We don’t think it’s good for them, and we don’t understand why those ingredients are in food anyway.  We don’t ever buy anything with HFCS or artificial food coloring, except that one time that I didn’t read the label on frozen fish (of all things! Yellow #5, really?).  We aren’t stopping you from buying candy for the kids, but we would ask that you be mindful of the ingredients.  If it’s something we don’t think the kids should have, Will just takes it to work and puts it in the community candy bowl.

She hears: We made up some ridiculous food criteria because we want to ruin childhood, and also we want to show off our superior label reading skills. Plus we’re hypocrites because of that one time with the frozen fish which we shouldn’t have been eating anyway, because we are vegan (NOTE: No, we aren’t, but my mom doesn’t understand that either).  If you buy candy that is too much fun for the kids, we take it away and Will eats it all, probably in front of them while they cry.

I say: You know, there is a Trader Joe’s near you, and they don’t have anything with HFCS or artificial coloring, so that would be a great place to buy candy. I’m trying to make this easy on you.

She hears: I want you to go to the store a half mile further away than your usual grocery store, because I am a hypocrite who pretends to be an environmentalist but I want you to drive farther to get what I want you to buy.  Also, I am insulting your intelligence since I am implying that you need to go someplace where you don’t need the literacy skills necessary to read a label, which is ridiculous because you never need to actually read the ingredients, you just need to look at the front of the packaging and see if there are any pictures of fruit on it, because that’s how you know if something is healthy.

So yeah, that’s it.  That’s how my conversations with my mother go.  I expect that in the next couple of weeks there will be a box arriving in the mail, and I will grit my teeth and let the kids open it and later I will sit down with Will and a glass of wine and say “Why? Why, why, why? Why can’t I get through to her?”

Wildling’s beauty

Sometimes I look at Wildling, and I cannot believe how amazingly terrifyingly beautiful she is.  I can’t believe that two people as average as Will and myself were able to create a child of such heart-stopping beauty.  Her perfect face, the shape, the angles of it, the perfect symmetry.  Her big blue eyes rimmed with such thick dark lashes.  Her skin, so smooth, so perfect. I cannot count how many times have strangers stopped me to comment on her perfect face, her porcelain skin, ‘like a little doll, a perfect porcelain doll’ they say. I both want and fear that she will keep this great beauty; I want her to stay beautiful because it will make her life easier, but I fear it because she is so much more than her looks and that is all people will see, all people will think of, and I want her to be more than just a pretty face.

I look at her, and I think about her scary near-perfection, and she will look at me, and smile lazily, and put a finger in her nose, pull out a booger, and eat it.

Yes, that’s my daughter.

Tights are Leverage

Wildling has a new fashion obsession: She only likes to wear tights.  She even screamed at me this morning, when I made the mistake of suggesting leggings “No! I only ever like to wear things with feet attached, and those are called tights!”  She was properly enraged, because I told her she could not wear just tights and a long shirt, and had to wear a skirt or shorts, when she thought the long shirt was sufficient.

I don’t like these morning battles, but I have to admit that I like how picky she is about her clothes and how insistent she is on wearing specific things.  It’s the first time in four and a half years that we’ve actually had leverage on her.  We can actually get her to do things now.  She even cleaned up the entire playroom to earn a pair of black tights that she clearly desperately wanted.

I remember trying (and failing) to discipline her when she was younger.  On one particularly horrendous day, I had threatened to take away her favorite toy if she didn’t do what she was supposed to do.  Not only did she refuse, but she started adding stuff to the pile of what I was taking away.  She started bringing over more and more toys, and finally I had to cart it all out to the shed and wonder where I had gone wrong (incidentally, that was the inspiration to our eventual massive toy reduction).  Taking away toys never worked.  She wasn’t attached enough to them.

It feels a little strange to gloat that we have leverage over a child.  But it’s so nice!! We don’t use the power abusively, but it helps when we’re trying to get Mellow to sleep and Wildling is jumping on the bed and shouting song lyrics about how Saturn’s party is Saturday and she won’t lay down and she won’t be quiet and she won’t listen to us, and we can just say “Wildling! Lay down and be quiet or you won’t get to wear tights tomorrow!” and magically she drops to the mattress, closes her eyes, and is asleep within minutes.

I hope tights stay in style for a long time.

De-fragmenting My Life

I have developed a new sense of optimism and contentment. I am at peace with the choices I have made in life, and I suddenly feel more free than I ever have before.

I’ve written before about my attempts to declutter.  I’m still working on that as an on-going project, but I don’t need to just declutter my possessions, I need to declutter my mind. I’ve been trying to simplify.

Right now, at this point in my life, the thing I need to simplify is my career.

Here’s the problem I’ve been having: when Wildling was a baby, I started working part-time.  However, in my field, nobody accepts that you are only in the office part-time.  Things are always dictated by other people’s schedules, and I was stressed out a lot trying to manage childcare while giving my clients the impression that I was completely competent and had it all together. For awhile, it worked, and I was optimistic.  But then I got pregnant with Mellow.  I thought I could still do it all.  I thought I could still work, have Wildling in school, and use some child care (thank you, in-laws!) for Mellow.

But everything is so fractured all the time.  I feel fractured all the time.  Everyone has conflicting needs, and my needs have always been secondary.  I felt like I was always being torn in a million pieces.  While home with Mellow, I worried that I wasn’t working enough, that my office bills weren’t going to get paid, that I’d miss an important call because I was changing a diaper.  While at work, I was often sitting at my desk too overwhelmed by all my commitments to be able to function well, and I would fall behind in everything I needed to do.  Meanwhile, my need for regular consistent childcare became a problem.  Every time things started going well, something would happen.  Great-grandma would get sick, so my mother-in-law had to go take care of her, leaving me with nobody to watch Mellow.  Wildling would get sick and have to miss school, so guess who had to take care of her?  The in-laws went on vacation for a couple of weeks, so Will had to scramble to take off from his work to cover Mellow so I could go to client appointments.  Things like that just kept happening, and I bore the stress of all of it, because I wanted to work.  I wanted to feel successful, event though I obviously wasn’t.  I wanted to feel like having children didn’t make me give up my options, give up my dreams, my plans, myself.  But it did.

I’ve come to accept it. With all the recent illnesses in my family, and all the frustration that my needs are always secondary to everyone else’s. I’ve realized that I can reduce my needs.  I can minimize my stress.  I can quit my job.

The lease on my office is up at the end of June. I will not renew it, even though the idea of giving it up makes me sad.  I love my office.  I love my office furniture.  I love my client chairs, that I recovered in blue flowered fabric.  I love my filing cabinets that are painted bright blue.  I love the paintings hung on the walls, and the row of framed diplomas that contribute to the illusion of my success.  I love sitting in my chair and looking around and thinking “I did this. This is mine.”

I’m planning to take a year off, until Mellow starts preschool.  Then I can go back to work.  I’ll do some volunteer work in that time, and I will maintain my professional relationships and continue to attend events (I kind of have to, since starting in May I’ll be board president of one of my professional organizations). I’ll maintain my professional blog, though I won’t stress over getting posts up all the time.  But that’s it.  I won’t be advertising, I won’t be bringing in clients, I won’t be worrying about having enough money to pay rent and insurance.

Since making that decision, I’ve felt like a burden has lifted.  I feel lighter, freer.  I know that I’m making the right choice for myself and my family.  I gave it a try, it didn’t work, and since we are in the fortunate position that I don’t have to have a second job (child-rearing and supervising Will being my primary job), then I won’t do it right now.

I feel an optimism now, one that I haven’t had in a long time. I feel like giving up my work, which a year ago would have signified failure, now signifies success: I will be able to successfully manage my life and pull the fractured pieces back together.  I will no longer have the burden of having the stress of managing my business hanging over me, and I will no longer feel so torn trying to get everything done.

Aspirations VS Actuality, Art Fair Edition

Sometimes Will and I have foolishly high aspirations.  Today, there was an art festival in a nearby town, and we took the girls.

Here’s how we thought/hoped it would go:

We arrive at the art festival.  We look at booths of beautiful art.  We make sure the girls do not grab and break anything.  The girls enjoy looking at things. The artists comment on how adorable and well behaved our children are.  I buy kettle corn, and we sit in the shade and enjoy it.  Mellow gets tired, and naps in her stroller.  We buy delicious food from some vendors, and Wildling eats what she ordered without complaining.  After a fun day of looking at art (and maybe buying something for the garden?) we drive home.  It is an hour drive, and the kids nap peacefully on the way home.  What a lovely day!

Here’s how it actually went:

We arrive at the art festival.  Mellow does not want to ride in her stroller.  Wildling does want to ride in Mellow’s stroller, but then she straps herself in, can’t unstrap herself, and freaks out.  Mellow takes off running in every direction, and then repeatedly sits down in the middle of the road, tries to remove her shoe, and cries.  I buy kettle corn.  Mellow licks a few pieces then gives them to Wildling.  Wildling cries because we sit in the shade to eat and she wants to sit directly on top of Will and he doesn’t immediately let her, plus he briefly moves the kettlecorn to a place she doesn’t want it.

Mellow cries and cries and nurses and cries.  At naptime, after she nurses to sleep on me, I attempt to put her into the stroller and she immediately becomes a rabid contortionist eel.  After a mighty struggle, I finally manage to strap her down.  Wildling and I go to look at art while Will walks the screaming stroller baby around in the desperate hope that the movement of the stroller will lull her to sleep.  Fifteen minutes later, after getting some unhelpful and unsolicited comments from nosy people who think they know our daughter better than we do, he gives up and takes her out.  Meanwhile, I buy Wildling an overpriced strawberry lemonade to share.  It has two straws.  Mellow touches both straws, leading to a complete Wildling breakdown because ‘She’s always going to drink it all and she’s never going to share.’  Will manages to calm her down and talks her into walking the two steps back to Mellow to share the lemonade, but … there is a leashed dog sleeping two feet away, which, of course, leads to another meltdown. Because there is a dog, right there!!!!

Lunchtime.  Wildling wants a quesadilla.  Will offers part of it to Mellow (without asking! Wildling cries!), and then when Mellow rejects it, puts it back on Wildling’s plate.  BUT SHE DOES NOT WANT IT THERE! Cue meltdown.  Will tries to calm her down…but sets his gyro on top of Wildling’s plate! Cue meltdown again.  Wildling finally finishes most of her meal.  I had promised her soft serve ice cream, so I still buy it for her.  I tell her she has to share with Mellow.  She agrees to do so…but Mellow touches the cone! Cue meltdown.

Now the girls share ice cream, and numerous people stop by to tell us it’s adorable and we needed to take a picture.  But Mellow is crushing the cone in her hand and every time she is made to give it back to Wildling (‘She’s never gonna let me have a turn! Never!‘), she collapses in a screaming heap of misery.  Meanwhile, Wildling is crying because some ice cream dripped on her.  Wildling needs an emergency wardrobe change.  She decides she is finished with ice cream.  Mellow continues eating, but the cone has been destroyed on one side, so Mellow’s hands are covered in ice cream, and she DOES NOT LIKE IT! Now there’s yet another Mellow meltdown.

It is hot, we are tired.  Wildling is riding in the stroller, because Mellow won’t.  Mellow wants to walk, but she doesn’t really want to, she wants to cry and stop and take her shoes off and walk back the way we came.  Will ends up carrying her.  She is exhausted and cries herself to sleep.  We find the car and go home.  Mellow sleeps (finally, hours after naptime, so bedtime is going to be rough) and Wildling spends the car ride making plans for how she will spend the car ride on an upcoming mini-vacation.