i comfort myself in the knowledge that i am raising a strong-willed woman. so at least there's that.
take this morning, for example. and when i say "take this morning," i mean "remove it from my prefrontal cortex so i need never remember it again." mrs nice guy went into the office bright and early, leaving me in my still-slumbering state. my schizophrenic brain was half-delighting in the luxurious decadence of a big empty bed and half-dreading the yelling that was guaranteed to emerge from The Child's room. and then it came: MOOOOMMMMMYYYYY!!!
me, stumbling in: hi baby. gooooodmorning!
her: i said "MOMMY!"
me: i know, banana. but mommy's at work.
her: i want mommy.
me: she's at work.
her: but i want mommy. because i need my mommy.
me: i know, babyducks. but she's at work.
her: i want mommy.
me: she's at work. let's have breakfast!
her: NO I CAN'T HAVE BREAKFAST BECAUSE i want mommy.
me: ok, well she's not here and i am. or should i leave?
her: nooooooooo. don't leave me!
me: ok then! let's change that diaper!
her: i want mommy.
me: i swear to you, if i could give you mommy right now, i would. i'd give you eight mommies. on steroids and estrogen. but she's at work.
her: i want mommy.
me: FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY AND JUST AND GOOD WHY DON'T YOU BELIEVE ME?!!! she's at work.
her: i want some gum.
me: she's at wo-- oh. gum? you can't have gum until you have breakfast.
her: GIVE ME SOME GUM. where's mommy?
it's hard to know how to react here. it's very easy to escalate and start yelling, like for real. and also getting incredibly beet-red-in-the-face pissed. but then you're just coming down to the child's level. just when patience is at its thinnest, one neds to find that reservoir of strength you didn't know you had (like that time you lifted a capsized volkswagen off of a nun's crushed legs). one needs to go to what i call your Love Place. you must find within you that secret lakeside resort of calm, loving understanding. you have to at the very least act like a grown-up (hint: does not entail succumbing to all-consuming rage and throwing a fist-full of unused pull-ups down the hall). this secret lakeside resort is very hard to find -- that's why it's a secret. but i have to believe it exists. otherwise the human race would not have survived.
anyway. finally i wrangle her out of her crib through the strategic implementation of an alligator hand puppet and a story about a silly cat who wears red shoes. amazingly, her mood recovers much faster than mine. she's all giggles and daddylove the second her feet hit the ground. i'm wary of this good will. we go to the kitchen to eat. i open the fridge. she points to the peach yogurt. "i want that one," she says. so i say, stupidly, "peach yogurt, coming right up!" her: "I DON'T WANT PEACH YOGURT! I WANT THAT ONE!" of course she's still pointing at the same peach yogurt. only she's crying hysterically now. i hoist her up and let her grab the yogurt she wants. she chooses the blueberry yogurt on the other side of the fridge. naturally. then: "i want a silly purple spoon," she announces settling into her chair ("you have to push me close to the table"). i open the utensil drawer and am confronted with the reality i already knew awaited me: we have no silly purple spoons. i hand her a not-very-silly blue spoon. she starts crying. "I WANT A SILLY PURPLE SPOON!"
i damn near lose it here. i dump all the spoons we have in front of her. "HERE! SPOONS! TAKE ONE! KNOCK YOURSELF OUT!" this is not, i should note, typical behavior from someone who has found the Love Place. shouting about spoons before breakfast is not something that comes from the grown up, loving, secret lakeside resort place in one's heart. so i take a deep breath. i chill. she settles on a spoon. she wants a bowl for her yogurt. i pluck one of her bowls off the shelf. it happens to be blue. she voices her objection. "not that one! NOT THAT ONE! I WANT A PINK BOWL!"
oh, sweet bleeding christ.
i get her a pink bowl. she wants granola sprinkled on top of her yogurt. i sprinkle granola on top of her yogurt. she takes a bite. one bite. one single miserable bite. and says. "all done! i want gum."
me: you can't have gum until you eat some breakfast, you know that.
her, throwing herself on the floor: PLEASE HAVE SOME GUM!?!?!
me: no sweetie, i know you want some but you can't have any. eat your yogurt and we'll talk.
her: i don't WANT yogurt. give me gum.
it's war. it's officially war. she's on her back on the floor, crying and pulling her hair. i am fetishizing the moment when the sitter comes and i can put on my headphones. i should probably read some more books on raising kids, i am now realizing. we once read plenty of books. books about pregnancy, plenty of books about newborns. but now? these dark waters are desperately uncharted.
i try rationalizing with her. ("how can you have gum before breakfast? that's silly!")
i try ignoring her. ("what does npr have to say about the national foreclosure rate? i wonder!")
i go into my room and quickly get dressed while she thrashes on the kitchen floor.
i come back and give her a hug and try to calm her down and whisper sweetness into her ear. she yells at me -- barks orders at me, with pointed finger! -- commands me to fetch her some gum.
i plop her into her stroller, perhaps a little too heavily, and tell her she can sit there until she's ready to calm down, talk to me properly and maybe eat some yogurt. and miraculously, after 2 seconds, this works! she cries. every teardrop is a year of my life ripped from my heart. but it works! she agrees to eat some yogurt. she asks to be spoonfed "like a baby," and i happily oblige. she finishes it! she's all smiles and daddylove again! so, finally, i give her a big fat piece of gum.
all settled, right? wrong. this is just one fight. these scenes unfold daily at bedtime, bathtime and naptime too. boundaries are being tested. so is my will to live. in the end i usually get the result i want, or some approximate compromise. problem is, i'm only consistent in that i'm alternately too soft or too hard, depending on my mood. and her mood. sure, i got her to get out of bed and i got her to have some breakfast before gum, but i can't help feeling that i went about it all wrong. i mean, the kid was chewing gum at 8:03 am. sugar-free, but still.
at 9 the blessed sitter arrived and i darted out the door. caught my train. put on my headphones. about two stops into my commute i realized: i missed my daughter. that, and i really needed some coffee