Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Fair weather mom

A few months ago, my husband, my son and I were huddled in the kitchen listening to an indignant and wild-eyed Fiona shrieking outside the closed Dutch door. It felt an awful lot like being under siege.

We had kicked her out of the kitchen after tiring of the nightly dinner drama: an overturned plate of food, thrown cups and silverware, climbing onto the table, grabbing at everyone else's food, whining and grunting and crying, barely eating anything. (And, no, we cannot put her in a high chair anymore. She has rendered the seat unsafe by thrashing about too violently when confined. Come to think of it, she's a lot like her mother in that respect.)

She was about 15 months old at the time. We're still under siege, only it's intensified quite a bit here lately.

Right now, my daughter isn't just a handful; she's about 20 handfuls. On daily basis, I come upon scenes that would terrify even the most seasoned parent. I've found her halfway up the bookshelf, wielding a knife in the kitchen, standing on the desk with a pair of scissors that I thought were out of reach, climbing into her crib and trying to climb out, in Owen's bassinet (when Owen was not, thank God), trying to pick up his bouncy seat with him in it.

Everything she does right now is an exercise in frustration for her and us. She wants whatever someone else has and whatever is out of reach or off limits. We're really hoping that this is a toddler thing and not her actual personality.

She walks about all day long with an outstretched hand, whining and hyperventilating. We offer her a toy, she runs away crying. We offer food or drink, she knocks them from our hands. We tell her no, she cries indignantly for very long periods. (One day at lunch, she spent 45 minutes screaming indignantly at us as we directed her to stay seated.) We try to hold her, she squirms so violently that she hurts us. I've been bumped in the face with her head, scratched, poked and almost bitten.

My shins are bruised. My nerves are shot. My feelings are hurt. I wonder how many more days, week, months this behavior will go on. I also wonder just when we should call in an exorcist.

I've never admitted this to anyone, probably because it's just starting to dawn on me, but I like my kids when they're behaving and dislike them, sometimes intensely, when they're not. And I should stop here and define behaving as whenever they're having fun, doing as they're told for the most part, easy to please, not crying and whining at me, sleeping pretty well, and eating at least some of what I put in front of them. 

The rest of the time I find myself wondering why my kids are so abnormal and crazy and why I, as a parent, can't just accept them the way they are with all their imperfections. I mean, really, Jesus can do it. Why can't I?

Mostly it's because I suck at empathy (and there's that whole not being perfect thing). I know that most moms have these feelings toward their children from time to time. What disturbs me, however, is the fair weather nature of my feelings toward them. My children shouldn't feel that they have to behave to be worthy of my love or just my somewhat joyful attention. Some days it takes a mighty effort to not sigh heavily and growl at her. I certainly have not been well-behaved in my life but have never felt unloved because of those shortcomings by anyone, least of all my creator or my parents.

Trust me, I want to respond with patience and tolerance. But after the 500th time of telling my daughter to sit on her bottom or get off the spinning desk chair, my reserves are just a little low.

Family lore has it that on a trip to West Palm Beach when my sister was 18 months old, my father sighed heavily and surely shook his head and smiled as he told her "You better do something cute kid or I'm gonna throw you out the window."

It was at that moment she looked up at him and said, in a sweet sing-song voice, "West Palm Beach."

And that's precisely what 18 month old Fiona is like. When my nerves are completely shot and my patience is at it's breaking point, she does something cute like lean over and kiss her baby brother on the head or offer me a lick of her Popsicle or rock her glow baby back and forth when it's playing Rockabye Baby.

Maybe I won't sell her to gypsies this week after all.


Cassidy, Lily and Finn's Mom said...

Josie, I'm right there with you. I am starting to think it's a second child/middle child thing. Lily has one volume - LOUD. Since turning 3, she has started yelling demands at me, "Get me my jammies NOW!" (Umm, excuse me???) She throws the world's largest tantrums and will not break when she doesn't get her way. (She cried at the lunch table yesterday for 30 minutes because I would not sit and hold her hand while she ate...I was using my hands to feed myself and the baby...God forbid we eat!) For awhile she has had an issue where if we don't carefully watch her diet, she gets constipated...and then she holds her poop in, afraid to go because she thinks it's going to hurt. I thought we were finally past this problem...we hadn't had a bout of constipation in awhile...and then it reared its ugly head again this week...the struggling not to poop in her pants, forcing her to the potty, sitting for 30 minutes while she refused to go. And then in the midst of all this, my mom came over for a visit. I told her she couldn't see Mema until she pooped. Immediately she pooped and I realized that this has become another way for her to exert her control...she can go anytime she wants to...and she really isn't afraid it will hurt. (We had offered other rewards, but apparently hadn't found anything that meant enough to her....I have now resorted to consequences when she refuses to go.) She is absolutely maddening...and yet, absolutely adorable and completely hilarious. It is so hard to stay mad a her because she's already has perfect comic timing...we often have to turn away to keep from giggling....and she's a master cuddler.

Bill Cosby said, "Children will consistently do the exact opposite of what you tell them to do, and our job is to love them anyway." :) I guess that's really the key.

It's such a comfort to know someone else is in the trenches with me...and that my maybe my kids aren't crazy after all. :)

Stacy said...

Lord knows I can't offer any advice here, but I *can* say I understand and feel just as fair-weather as you do, and I offer an online hug (transferable to a real hug next time I see you).

Also? If you find some gypsies offering a good price, let me know. ;)

Josee said...

Stacy, I think you may be ready for Anne Lammott's Operating Instructions. It saved me from beating myself up too severely with my firstborn.

Tracey: I like how you can still "see" your daughter through all the madness. I'm working on that. Fiona is a hoot when I can look past the exhausting and maddening job of keeping her safe. And, the potty thing ... my son was the same way and is just now starting to go poop on his own without us begging him. He's 3.5 and we started potty training A YEAR AGO! Sometimes it just needs to be their idea (especially when it's a little boy).