I’ve been having a tough time inside my head lately. Kiddo is now a year and a half old and in full-blown toddler mode. It seems that nothing I do is right. She doesn’t want to eat what I give her, when I give it to her. She doesn’t want to sleep when it’s time to sleep. When I come home from work, she breaks out into a big smile and yells, “Mama!” and leaps into my arms. She gives me a big hug and then a switch suddenly flips in her tiny brain. She pulls away with an angry look and hits me in the face. I don’t mean some little baby slap. This kid can hit. She then attempts to backflip out of my arms and thrashes around for a while, throwing an epic fit. Her head slowly rotates 180 degrees upon her neck to face backwards and a pea soup substance violently shoots from her mouth, coating the walls and floor. An unknown man’s voice erupts from deep inside of her, “THERE IS NO KIDDO, ONLY ZUUL.” Ok, a few of those things don’t actually happen, but they might as well.
So getting back to inside my head. I’ve been struggling with balancing what my head tells me to do and what my heart tells me to do as a parent. Or I suppose, what my instinct tells me. As a working single mom, I worry if she’s getting enough of my time. I have guilt. I was very lucky that I got to spend the first 13 months of her life with her full-time. And I’m sure that her new temper tantrums when I come home from work is a direct result of that not being the case anymore. She used to go to bed at 7 PM every night and wake up at 7 AM every morning (I know, I’m lucky). But that has been getting stretched out later and later as her protests become more and more explosive. I’ve given in, letting her lay in bed with me and watch yet another Mickey Mouse Clubhouse episode on my computer before bed. Which stretches in to two and sometimes three. I don’t want her to think that after spending the majority of the day away from her that I’m eager to put her in bed and be away from her even more. And when I do put her in her crib, her desperate screams of “Mama! Mama!” and then, “Mickey!” Mickey!” really hurt my heart.
I’ve relented and gone in to reassure her that I’m here, that I love her, but it’s bedtime now, and perhaps we can have a rational conversation about it? 18-month old to 34-year old? She listens, fingers folded and pressed to her lips, clutching her pink rabbit. “Thank you for that succinct presentation, Mother. I want you to know that Bunny and I have carefully considered your presentation, but we are going to demand that you take us back downstairs so that we can run around aimlessly, chase the cat and bash our toy shopping cart into the walls. We are now going to work ourselves up into such a hysterical frenzy that we eventually gag ourselves over and over. Thank you for your time.”
Before I had a kid, I thought I knew how to parent. Of course I’d only be feeding her healthy, balanced food. Lots of fruits and vegetables, organic if possible. Cow’s milk would be replaced by almond milk or free-range mermaid tears, whichever one was in season. I would only speak Spanish with her so she would grow up completely bilingual. Discipline would be swift and fair but otherwise wouldn’t be too much of an issue since it would only take a couple times for my child to learn and forevermore behave.
HA HA HA HA HAHA HA HAH AH HAA!!! What an asshole I was. Am.
This child is not that child. This child is a warrior. This child narrows her eyes, pulls down her mask affixed to her Medieval spiked helmet and unsheathes her sword. This child licks her lips and spits on the ground, never breaking eye contact. “Hello, Mother,” she quietly growls through her binky. “Welcome to Hell.”
I recently was talking on the phone with a good friend of mine who also has a toddler and we discussed How We Thought It Would Be vs. How It Is. “I totally thought I’d only buy delightful, lead-free, hand-painted wooden toys from local businesses for him,” she said, “but, for instance, like right now as we speak, I’m watching him chew on an empty tomato can and I’m like, ‘Ugghh, I should stop him from doing that… but he seems happy and I’d really like to continue this rare phone conversation with my friend… meh, I’m sure the label glue isn’t poisonous.’”
Toddlerdom is definitely a fork in the road. There are many paths you can go from here, and there seems to be endless advice (often unsolicited) as to which path to take. Everyone ultimately needs to take the path that works best for them. And what works best for me is believing that no matter what I choose to do, it will be ok, as this fabulous read points out. People have been raising kids for zillions of years. I’d be willing to bet that as adults, you wouldn’t be able to tell who was raised by the Cry-It-Out method and who was raised via Attachment Parenting.
She will be fine. She will know that she is loved and taken care of even when she’s not always happy about it. One of my favorite parenting quotes is from Jim Henson. He said, “The attitude you have as a parent is what your kids will learn from more than what you tell them. They don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.”
So I stop over-analyzing and questioning myself. I turn off my brain. I will go with my instinct on this one. This child needs lots of love and lots of structure.
I pull on my chainmail and slide on my chest plate. I raise my shield and lower my center of gravity, slowly advancing toward the child. “It’s time to go to bed, Kiddo,” I say softly. The lion roars. She strikes a clawed paw out toward my head; I duck. I carry her upstairs to her room; she thrashes and claws. I kiss her on the check; her eyes speak of murder.
“Good night, sweetie. I love you. See you tomorrow.”
“Mama! Mama! Mickey! Mickey!” she yells. “You may have won this time, Woman, but I promise this won’t be our last encounter upon the battle field!”
I know she is right.
In an hour, I’ll check on her to find her peacefully asleep, one arm thrown over Bunny. Tomorrow, we will play and tickle wrestle and laugh and read books. Come dusk, we will suit up again for battle. But for now, the beast has been slain. Mama is victorious. And on the right path.