The Case of the Red Mark

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If I ever start my own law practice, maybe she could do collections for me.  You don’t pay, she will drop her insane brother off at your office.  Or make you listen to the list of every item of Hello Kitty she owns.  Over, and over, and over again.

 

I am a lawyer.  Which you wouldn’t know by my flashy yoga pants or banana smeared, reversible diaper bag/purse.  But you would know if you opened my student loan statements.  Now I’m not sure if my daughter is the victim of some kind of epigenetic mutation that has turned her into a genius argument-maker, or if her natural proclivity is just karmic justice for the verbal thunderstorms I’ve rained down upon my exceedingly intelligent but rather quiet engineer husband.  But I do know that I have nearly met my match in her, all at the tender age of 3.5. 

Edie’s ability to reason her way to the outcome she desires is stunning.  A central goal in her life is to have her brother stop being annoying.  I am sympathetic.  He is annoying to an extreme.  Eli bites, he tries to pluck her eyes out, he grabs crayons out of her hands, tries to snatch baby dolls, yells when she’s trying to talk, and has drawn blood from his horrible pinch-scratching no less than twice in the past week.  It’s the worst.  But guess what? He’s 14 months old.  Being annoying is his modus operandi.  Ain’t much we can do.  Except.  We can give that adorable demon baby everything he wants, save for gravely dangerous objects, in order that he doesn’t cry.  And stay out of his way.  So my rule is: make the screaming stop.  My mantra is “I am concerned with peace.  Not justice.”  This, I know, is not very lawyerly.  And it reallllly grates on Edie’s nerves.

Recently when we were on vacation, Edie had a dresser drawer in our shared bedroom that was all for her.  I set her clothes in there neatly, so she could pick out her clothes and put away her own laundry.  It was lovely.  Then around day 3, brother discovers it and immediately tries to empty it.  This makes Edie mad, she yells NO! and yanks his arms out.  He, predictably, screams.  I, predictably, say “make him stop screaming!”  She protests that he’s in her stuff.  I say that he’s not hurting anything.  Let it go.  “But mom,” she says while blinking her big eyes slowly, “he’s making a mess.  And you will have to do more work to clean it up.”  Touché.  The child knows my Achilles heel.

Today she stepped it up by what I believe was an elaborate attempt to frame the baby.  “Mom! Mom! Come look at what Eli did!”  But Eli was playing happily on the couch with some stuffed animals?  What was she talking about? “Look! He drawed on the wall!”  “He drew on the wall. [Grammar first.]  Ok. Show me.”  She pulls me down the hall.  And shows me this, a mark about the length of my thumbnail.

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“Hmmm. That looks a little small for something Eli would draw.”  Her eyes grow big.  But she says evenly “No.  He did it.  He just held the wall with one hand and did it.”  This is already compelling.  Because she got the detail in about the one hand on the wall.  Eli can’t stand on his own.  So he would need one hand to support him.  But if he made contact with a wall, would he really just do one tiny dab?  Seems doubtful.  Less like a crazed baby and more like a sociopathic three year old who was pressing on the boundaries of law and morality.  I continue “Are you sure you didn’t do it? I’m not mad.”  “No. No.  Eli did it.”  So it ended there.  Until! She was playing at her kitchen a half hour later and I spotted a red crayon in her hand.  She was pretending it was a kitchen implement.  “A HA! The evidence is right there! You have the red crayon! It was you!”  Edie barely looks up.  “No.  Eli had it and dropped it.  I picked it up.”  She was expecting me.  But I did manage to leverage her guilt just a bit, and I said “why don’t you go get ready for a nap now” my eyes narrowed and voice lowered.  Though a moment ago she was wildly protesting a nap, this time she obliged.  We both know what was happening.  And then she said “You think I’m funny.” Then the veil was lifted.  And she won again.  Nice work, counselor.

Her Thumb Isn’t About You. Or Me.

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Not sure why, but she wants her pony tail right on top.  No! On top! More on top! That’s it.

People don’t like it when my daughter sucks her thumb.  She’s three and a half years old.  And when she goes to sleep, her thumb is up in there.  When she’s tired or feeling shy, she takes a few plugs as well.  Cashiers, day care workers at the YMCA, strangers at parks, I guess they aren’t into it.  “Aren’t you a little old for that?”  “Is that your THUMB in your mouth?” “You know, they make this bad tasting nail polish you can put on her fingernail so she stops.”  But, dear public, oh ye defenders of orthodontic lore, may I suggest that if you are going to school me, pick one of the top ten worst things I do as a parent.  Not #901: Prolonged Thumb Sucking Acceptance.  Because I do way worse than that.

Probably my worst trait is my temper.  I am a hot head.  Not perpetually.  I can withstand a great deal.  But when my rope comes to an end, I am a force of nature.  And no one knows how long that cursed rope is at any given moment.  Some days I feel like a con woman, walking around and pretending that my life is smiles and grace under fire.  When really all I am is a screaming machine that doesn’t know how to pick her battles or know when to take defeat as a gift and just let go.

I read aspirational parenting writings from time to time, though not with the same reverence as I did pre-kids.  Whereas I used to feel like a religious convert upon a persuasive passage on the poisonous nature of praise or rewards, now I feel open-minded but grounded.  And sometimes they straight make me roll my eyes. Not to mention that beating myself up doesn’t make me a better parent.  It only makes me sadder and more depleted. So even if I torture myself into making all kinds of promises of how much better I’ll do, I’m so worn out and shaken by the end of such a session that I end up replicating all of the bad behavior that I’ve been torturing myself about.

When I have the presence of mind, I try to pat myself on the back too – because, come on – I’m tired of beating myself up and a goodly amount of the time, I’m doing all right.  And also?  I’m not as important as I think I am.  My daughter teaches me this all the time.  And I love her so much for it.  Sure, really toxic parenting can mess a kid up.  Just when I am taking a moment way too seriously, freaking out because Edie didn’t listen to me, acting as if this moment of insubordination and disorder will somehow define my existence, she reminds me:  she’s just Edie – not some extension of me, that this moment is fleeting, and I’m of course that the only one who is really affected by my death grip is… me.  Edie might shed a tear or storm off in a huff, but at the end of the day, even when I do get mad, that kid is her own person.

We had cement being poured for our new garage the other day, and while my kids were at the back window watching the process, I had this vision of Edie letting the dogs out and then my mutts running amok through the muck.  She’s generally allowed to let the dogs in and out, which, since she can maneuver the lock, is a rule that is more about the path of least resistance than anything else.  Plus it comes in handy.  So I pulled her aside from the spectacle and said “Edie, I need to tell you something.  It’s really important that you do not let the dogs out today.  They could really mess up the work out there.”  And then I got a million “why?”s, and I saw a gleam grow in her eyes.  A gleam I know to be the side effect of a growing irresistible impulse.  I had to squelch that gleam.  So I reiterated that she had to listen to me this time.  And that if she did not, there would be a bad consequence.  That she would lose all her art supplies for two days.  Please?  Just be blindly obedient? Just this once?  She seemed like she was on board.  Later that day, I was putting away laundry and she marched in.  “You know, mama, YOU can’t let the dogs out. And if YOU do, I will pick YOUR consequence.”  Oh?  What do you have in mind?  “…. I will give ALL your undah-wear to your friends.”  Well, that is certainly a widespread punishment.  And it made me so happy.  Because she didn’t just sit there thinking about making mom happy.  She sat there and thought about I was fallible and – just maybe – teachable, and reasoned that she was well-positioned to keep me in line.

The day her thumb found its way into her mouth, plugging her wails and easing her back to sleep, any opinions I had on the undesirability of this little habit evaporated.  I think I actually heard music and saw a warm glowing light rise up from that saliva-soaked digit.  Oh Glory Be!  She was soothed.  My shot nerves, frayed and ragged from her hours and months of inconsolable wailing, now had time to rest.  I was low enough to forget my failure to calm my baby and instead see the important thing which was that she was calm.  So when I see my little Linus, with her thumb in her mouth and her security blanket dragging, I don’t wish it away.  I don’t have imminent plans to paint her nail with bitter polish or tell her blankies are for babies.  I’m betting it will work itself out without my getting in the way.

At night, in her bed, Edie has taken to talking about when she moves out.  She asked me once last Spring about what happens when she gets older, about why her preschool teachers don’t live with their parents any more, and I explained that at some point, she will get old enough to move out.  As kids do, she accepted this knowledge, and as Edie does, now she ruminates on it endlessly.  She says she will live next door.  And that she will make me dinner.  And maybe I can come over for sleepovers sometimes.  But that I will have to give her my car.  And I tell her, with sincere honesty, that her plan sounds fantastic.  That I hope it comes true.  Even though I know it won’t.  And in that, it’s all there:  That it’s me who would hang on forever, and it is her who is even now at three planning for a life where I’m not needed.  Though since she still needs me now, I get to play a role in her someday fantasy.  And when she describes it to me, I picture it. Revel in it.  Because even though it will never happen, it feels so good to dream about.  It’s a sobering way to end the day.  With the love of your life imagining life after you.  But until I can figure out a way to freeze time, all I can do is be glad to have a chance to watch these kids grow, because of, in spite of, and with or without me.