Wednesday, October 11, 2006
This is Persistence, my younger.
She moves this fast all the time.
In fact, most of my photos of her look like this, although at least this is the front of her head and not the side or back.
When I look back on this time of her life---and I suspect it is a heady portent---it will all seem like this photo: a huge blur.
I joke that she is cut from the Tasmanian Devil cloth.
I spend most of my time running, or collapsing into a chair, exhausted, trying to defend myself from her incessant onslaught of demands.
One evening I was in the collapsed position and she climbed up on the coffee table and leapt halfway across the room to land THUD on my chest. Her endless quest for height and flight in this case stunned me and left me near shivering in panicked fear and fury.
I want to write about this and make it funny but sometimes it really isn't so much funny as it is simply draining.
After I calmed down, and reassured myself that neither of us had a collapsed lung or internal bleeding, I closed my eyes for a second and prayed to Mother Mary to bring me words of wisdom and to help me let it be. I'm pretty sure God takes prayers in any format, even musical.
Whilst I did this, Persistence----and it is not defiance because she simply isn't fierce about it; it is her brand of "beg forgiveness rather than ask permission" confidence in her charm---climbed on the coffee table again, and this time slipped off, striking her hand slightly on the short way down. She was more offended than hurt, but I could not dredge up any sympathy, only concern.
I found myself saying, "I hope that knocked some sense into you now NO MORE CLIMBING ON THE COFFEE TABLE."
We had no coffee table for the first three years of Patience's life. We altered our environment to accommodate her. We wanted to avoid climbing and bumping injuries. "Don't build a hill to battle on," the confident “how to be the perfect parent” books told us, "Remove objects that are likely to create a conflict until the child is old enough to understand not okay."
The coffee table is a useful object. It's not just for fun.
It has a flip top for toy storage and two drawers for other items like a lap blanket and remote controls.
I'm not removing my coffee table.
The child must learn.
And so every day Persistence and I do battle.
“If you find yourself getting angry or resorting to yelling,” the confident “how to be the perfect parent” books tell me, “Then you need to reassess your tactics and create a new strategy." Okay. Umm okay.
I can redirect. I can set up constructive play with the best of them. I can whip out the “what you can do” lines to do any parenting whiz proud. I can even work and do my best to create the safest environment possible for my child, and carefully supervise her.
She’ll find a workaround. Trust me. She’s smart. Very smart. So I try to teach.
Which way is right? Create a child proof world? Or teach a child how to go safely in a world that isn't childproofed? I'm sure I don't know. I've tried both ways. Both had their pitfalls. (And little note here...this isn't a case in point of fallacy of the excluded middle. Obviously the lines are very, very blurred.)
And Persistence, trust me, wants to definitely go about in the world, without hesitation or reluctance. She is the child you have been warned about. The one who reaches up to touch burners, ignores the FREEZE! command and rushes out doors and into streets, and pokes fingers and objects into electrical outlets (that are thankfully twisted into the closed position). You get her away from one thing and she is off on her next adventure.
She is the child people use euphemisms to describe. Just this week we got the usual "what a busy girl" (read: into everything and nonstop) and "you have your hands full" (read: glad it's you and not me or read a discipline book, lady---depending upon tone) but also got "she's so...agile" (read: climbs everything like a monkey) and "she's so...inquisitive (read: see busy girl above). There is often a pause as people search for...the positive spin on what they observe in my child.
Still...Persistence is the sort of child who is adorable and charming. People say to me, "Oh there is just something so special about her." She's a little sweetie. Her nickname is "Little Mother." Sometimes she pans for the camera if you know what I mean. And you will pay attention. She’ll do a cute little dance, sing a sweet little song, clap, yell “Yea!” while throwing up her little arms, wave delightedly and say hello and goodbye to you, hug you, pat you, and smile smile smile---such a huge sunny smile. You smile back. It’s involuntary. So she gets a lot of positive attention. If she can't get that, she'll take any sort of attention.
At the library yesterday she went on a John Bender.
It's all a big blur but it was something like: Persistence ran, Persistence screamed, Persistence ripped off decorations and signs and kept two steps ahead of me as I tried to fix what she broke and catch her.
I caught her, finally, and she struggled like a wild screeching animal in my arms while I gathered up our books and bags. As I did so, the librarian asked, "Were you on your way out?" with a significant eyebrow raise.
This would make our second Request to Leave a library this year. In the first case, the librarian at the other library suggested we consider "other activities" until Persistence "matured" and was ready for the library.
Of course we were leaving.
Did it look like I was having fun? Enjoying it? Not noticing the problem? Ignoring what was happening?
In my opinion, Persistence was behaving like a not-quite-two year old who was tired. In other words, annoying, but normal.
What makes people be so impatient with children acting like children?
I wish I knew because in my childrens' lives that person is most likely to be me.
Like sitting collapsed in the chair and wishing it could be still and quiet for one minute so I could collect my thoughts. And respond to my older child.
Because if you've noticed, thus far, Patience's name hasn't even entered this entry. Where is she? She's there, alternating between trying to be good and patient, and trying to yell over her busy and noisy younger sister to get her needs attended to as well.
Nothing in life has ever been so hard as dividing my attention between two children and endeavoring to attend to the needs of both. Every minute of every day feels like life in an emergency room triage desk.
It seems like no surprise that fury lingers constantly under the surface, boiling up erratically.
Today, after a series of Unfortunate Events and lots of Great Big Noisy Fusses every time I tried to do anything that wasn't 100% Persistence, just how and when she wanted it, I was worn to a frazzle. Patience gave up trying to get a piece of me and sat forlornly on the couch, twiddling with a stuffed puppy and kitten. We made eye contact and to my chagrin, I think we both wished the exact same thing: a few moments without Persistence. Before my brain even had time to put a feeling into words, Persistence was turning flips on the bar on the little trampoline and I was off once again.
My arms and back were exhausted from hoisting her up and hoisting her off one thing after another and my nerves were frayed. I was using my Through My Teeth Nice Words but Curt Tone Mommy Voice to say things like, "You can jump on it but no swinging or skinning the cat on the trampoline," for the 3000th time.
Patience asked, oh so nicely, "Mommy may I have some water?"
"In a minute," I said.
She asked again.
"I can't just now, I'm working with your sister to get her to stop swinging on the trampoline."
"But I'm thirsty, now," she said.
"Then you need to get it yourself. If you want me to get it, wait one minute," I told her again, as I struggled to pry Persistence off the handle bar, while coaxing with redirection suggestions.
"PLLLEEEEEAAASSSSE Mom, get me water!" she cried.
And I, to my utmost regret and shame, snapped, "Just GO GET IT! You know HOW!"
And she sat down and cried and my heart broke.
I literally hurt with the desire to pause Persistence so I could go to Patience and get her what she really wanted: concrete love from me.
I apologized. I explained. In the end, I know all she heard was, "Persistence is higher on the need chain and she gets it. Not me."
We worked it out. She's okay. Until next time.
At the end of the day it's all a blur---a blur of me whirling after Persistence the dervish---except for these horrible stills of a terrible moment and I can understand how one bad thing cancels out five good ones even though good and love are supposed to be stronger.
In retrospect these are usually times of "Mommy Catch-up Moments" when one or the other kid has had or is in the middle of a develomental leap and I haven't yet adjusted and set up fixes for the New Kid Abilities.
And looking forward, I imagine I'll figure this out and set up the fixes, which will be working just in time for the next leap.
It will work out but I'm pretty sure nobody ever warned me that just when you think you get a plan, the rug gets yanked out from under you again.
This too shall pass.
Yeah and then it's the next thing.
It's just a phase.
Until the next one.
These are the best years, the best of times. It goes in a heartbeat so enjoy it.
Someone film it for me, I haven't got time to notice what's happening. I'm too busy. Too busy living it, trying to keep up with it.
It's the duality in parenting: what you know and think, what you believe is right versus what actually happens.
At least I am definitely in the moment every day.
Tomorrow my husband will drink coffee out of a very large latte mug that has the kids' handprints and designs. Someday I'll look at that mug and will only recall the adorable tiny hands, and will be amazed that my big grown girls were ever that small. Someday I won't recall the struggle to Keep It All Good and Cool as we made that mug. Someday I'll have that clarity of hindsight into these times, and will treasure the good parts, because I do think those will stick.
By Julie Pippert
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© 2006. All images and text exclusive property of Julie Pippert. Not to be used or reproduced.