I wasn’t a great mom yesterday.
It’s been a rough week.
Between a few midnight potty wake-ups, disruptive seasonal allergy attacks, plans in the city that didn’t end until after midnight, and a 3 a.m. tornado warning, we’re all running short on sleep.
Add to that a Monday morning ear infection that kept us home from school and work, and some prescription mix ups that took two hours to sort out. At Target, in person, with a tired, uncomfortable toddler in tow.
And the cherry on top of all of this is that some Ella Junes have decided to fully embrace threenagerhood a little ahead of schedule.
The thing about parenting that I didn’t really understand before we had Ella, is that as soon as you’ve adjusted to one stage of your child’s life – as soon as you feel like you have your feet under you, like maybe, just maybe, you don’t totally suck at this – they change it up. I don’t quite know what to do with the person Ella is becoming.
Some of this is normal. She’s testing boundaries, testing our limits, testing her own independence. She wants to know if she is able to call certain shots. She wants to find out if she is capable of some of the tasks we instinctively move to help her with. She wants to know if she will be allowed to stretch and push and grow.
Some of this is me. Since the first moment of her existence, Ella has been one step ahead of me. I was the last person to fully believe I was pregnant, not trusting symptoms and tests until I was weeks into pregnancy. But in the meantime, she had been growing, developing, taking over. Even Ella’s birth, like clockwork on her due date, felt like it was driven by the little human inside me. The work of my labor was to wait, trance-like, unobtrusively, while she fought her way into the world.
At four months old, Ella took up all the space in the tiny cradle I’d so lovingly chosen and outfitted and set up next to my side of the bed. I waited to move her to the crib in her own room until she could actually grab the bars on either side of the cradle while laying on her back.
I’m not ready, I kept saying. It’s too far away from me, she’s too small in that crib. I’m not ready.
But Ella was ready, and the second we put her in that crib, she curled herself up and slept through the night.
Oh no, I thought. This is the first time I held her back.
I continue to lag behind. I am always a bit late switching her clothes over to the next size up. I am always a bit shocked when she calls me “Mom,” instead of “Mami” and “Mumma.” I am always a bit surprised to find she knows how to ride a bike or brush her own teeth. Where is she getting these things? Where does she learn these skills?
I have no idea, really. It might be school. It might be things she picks up from her older cousins. Or it might just be that Ella – like her ambitious, driven, high-powered aunts, and so unlike me – already has a roadmap inside her that she is following and we are all just along for the ride.
I want to be supportive of that drive, as much as I can. I want to let her set some limits around things that are appropriate for her age. I want her to know it’s OK to push. I want not to hold her back, but to support her while she’s moving forward.
But I am again not ready. I still want her to need me. And I definitely want her to do things like pee when she gets out of bed, and wash her hands afterward. Or eat dinner at the table. Or close the damn door so the bugs don’t get in. Or put away the toys she’s dumped all over the floor.
Seriously, what do you do with a person who is still learning English and who is yelling “I NO HAFFA GO POTTY!” at you WHILE ALREADY PEEING IN THE POTTY?! Threenagers defy logic.
I try to give choices. Would you like the blue shirt or the red shirt? The answer is still that she has to wear a shirt, but she gets to decide which one.
I try to set expectations. OK, Ella, you can color for one more minute, but when the buzzer goes off, it’s time to get ready for school.
I try to be patient. I try to leave enough time so that her need for negotiation doesn’t conflict with my need to not get fired for being an hour late for work again. I try to be the calm one in the inevitable struggles.
But yesterday I was not a great mom. Yesterday I was so tired. And we were already late. And she was pushing every button I had. I was not patient or calm. I yelled, almost from the second we got out of bed until the second I left her at school. She yelled, too, and screamed, and threw herself on the floor. But she’s the toddler, and I’m the mom, and I try to be better.
It ate at me all day, the knowledge that I’d left her at school while we were still mad at each other. I finally left work a bit early so I could pick her up, instead of Jon. All the way there, I pictured a big make-up hug, snuggling on the couch with an after-school snack, and a peaceful, conciliatory bedtime.
It didn’t happen. She was still the monster I’d brought to school that morning, and I was still exhausted. We spent the afternoon in a tug-of-war, with me setting limits, her breaking them, an endless loop of time-outs and consequences and fury, from her and from me.
She finally wore herself out and basically collapsed in bed. About an hour later, I did the same. Last night, we all slept.
And today, we are trying again.