Tess is three, and like all three-year-olds she’s fighting every rule, beyond logic. If we say the sky is blue, she says it’s green! We’re trying to teach her coping mechanisms for her fury, but it’s hard to know what to say even if we know exactly how she feels. I recognize that anger, and remember feeling helpless as it absolutely seared through me as a kid. It made me want to throw things, listen to crazy loud music, and punch trees as a teenager. Tess finally started feeling some sibling rivalry, and wants to be an adult TODAY.
That doesn’t change the fact that she is not allowed to act like a terrorist! Things came to a head Sunday. We were headed to the symphony kids’ concert, which Tess and Remy love, and she was doing everything possible to drive us crazy: seat jumping, running around with food, slamming drawers, running upstairs – at a certain point, we can enforce rules or give them up. So she lost the concert. I don’t know who was more upset, her or me. I held her while she cried, and quietly explained again why she couldn’t come and that we’d miss her. In the meantime, Dave removed the toys she’d been throwing at the door and zip-tied the closet shut so she couldn’t chuck diapers everywhere. She was still raging when we left twenty minutes later.
Well, at least Remy was getting alone time with mom and dad. We tried to throw ourselves into the delight of a quiet moment with him. He was beyond happy to be spending time with daddy, but was not having a mommy day. When I spoke, he told me he was only speaking to daddy. When I offered my hand, he ignored it. It sliced my heart to ribbons, even though I know it’s just his way of expressing his need for boy time with daddy. We enjoyed the concert, but my heart wasn’t in it. Nothing makes me question my quality as a parent as much as multiple children expressing dissatisfaction with me at once!
Emotions are so HUGE in little people. No small disappointment or joy at our house – only epic or nonexistent. And that can make a sane adult bonkers. So this week, that’s how the kids got us – mountains from molehills and a steady diet of temper tantrums. Yes, it’s the age and to be expected. But dear god, do they have staying power. That said, I missed Tess the whole time, and could’ve wept when Remy finally took my hand during the concert.
In those frozen moments, anger on both sides and no answer in sight, I find myself asking, “What would this kid’s first mom want me to do? What version of me did they click with? And can I ever live up to it?” No matter how we parent, I worry about which stories will make it through the years. Will these moms pat me on the back or look at me in horror as our children tell them stories as teenagers when they hate us? It drives me to be the best possible mom, but tortures me when I feel I’ve failed.
And in those moments of failure, when the glowering toddler is not to be swayed and when my final ounce of backbone begins to melt, that very same toddler’s face suddenly brightens into that beloved smile. Whether from a joke, a hug, or a glimpse of a favorite toy, our sunshine returns without warning. Within minutes, we feel like it never left and are convinced those frustrating moments could never have been nearly as agonizing as they seemed.
We ended a weekend that started with battles and continued through tantrums and pouting with a lovely family dinner that Tess helped to make, while Remy played with Lilou. We had hilarious conversations about trains and concerts and princesses. After dinner, we played “restaurant” while we cleaned up. Tess and Remy took the train to maman’s restaurant, where they ordered politely from the tall waiter who very clearly resembled my husband. We served them from the toy kitchen, and asked them how their meal was before telling them the restaurant was closed and it was time for bed.
Tess announced she needed her purse, and would then continue their soirée somewhere with cake. Both kids gave me big hugs and giggled their way up the stairs with their dad, leaving me alone, scrubbing a lasagna pan and humming a tune from the day’s concert.
Dave and I quietly discussed how to make this better the next time, what we could do to break the rhythm when the rhythm is unpleasant. We both feel our best tactic is to hold the line and snuggle. These seem like opposite ends of the spectrum, but at the end of a tantrum, there’s a moment where parent and child can cling to each other and take comfort in the other’s solid silence. The best parents hold on for the ride and wait for that eye of the storm. It’s not a guarantee that the storm is over, but it’s the moment when you can remind the crazed family member how much you love them. As long as we’re getting that message across, everything seems okay.
The very personality traits that so exasperate us today are the ones that already make us proud of who our children are and will be. We don’t want to break their strong wills! We love that they speak up, and tell us when they think we’re wrong. But man! All of the jokes about how hard I was to raise feel less funny every day. Yet here I am, an outspoken adult who straight talks to a fault and wears her heart on her sleeve. My parents told me they were proud of me on my birthday in January, and it made my heart swell. I don’t always feel like someone they should be proud of, but I am someone who wants to live up to that expectation. I hope David and I are parents to live up to, that we always express how much we love each other and our kids – no matter how mad they may make us!