I came across this image the other day:
And it really struck me. We ask so much of our little ones and really, sometimes our requests are just more than they can handle. We need to lower our expectations a little. I expect a lot of Ruby because I know what a strong, bright, sweet girl she is. She’s so much older than 2.5 in so many ways, that I forget that she is, in fact, just 2 and a half. I’ve got to give her the room to be that age.
The other day I was at the playground with Ruby. It was the Pirate Park in Pasadena – it’s big, there’s a HUGE play structure, that’s all wheel-chair accessible, which means lots of ramps that toddlers can crawl under and away from you while you’re frantically trying to get around the ramps to get to them. Also there are swings, over on the other side of the playground. And did I mention there’s a huge sand pit with two different pebble covered platforms that spurt water?
Also filled with treacherous temptation for the toddler-set.
So I’m sitting there, getting Ruby all set to get crazy sandy and messy and a cute little guy pops out of the sand pit and goes zooming past me toward the swings. His mom hauls herself up and goes after him “Kid X! Kid X! That truck isn’t yours, come back here, get back here this minute!” I should mention that Kid X was about 16 months or so and had obviously just learned this awesome new trick called walking. She wrangles him back, they sit back down to play for a little bit more and he tries to take off again. She brings him back, saying “if you can’t stay here, we’re going home.” She keeps saying it over and over again, all the while holding him in place and unsurprisingly, Kid X starts crying. And then sobbing. And then Wondermom says “If you don’t stop crying, we are leaving.” Over and over she keeps saying this and not letting go of the kid and guess what? He doesn’t stop crying. Eventually Ruby runs off to play structure or the swings and I follow and when we make our way back to the sand, they’re on the way out, Kid X screaming in his mamas arms.
Toward the end of the day, as I’m trying to talk Ruby down from the stream, another mom is grabbing at her toddler, trying to winch her into a swim diaper and swimsuit, all the while snapping “You HAVE to be a good listener! You can’t just run away from me.”
Why am I mentioning these incidents?
Because I saw myself in both those women. Not Wondermom quite so much, but I recognized that runaway of train of frustration, anger, and confusion. The second mom? I cannot tell you how many times I’ve said those words. In that exact tone of voice.
But on that day at the Pirate Park I was a model of patience and tolerance. I’m not always and it’s something I’ve really been working on. For instance last night, Ruby, having not napped all day, was about was wound up and high strung as she gets. Trying to get her teeth brushed was an exercise in futility and trying to her in to her pajamas was like trying to get a wet noodle through the eye of a needle… not happening. And then she looked me square in the eye, pulled her head back and bashed her head into mine. Hard.
I immediately stood up and said “That really hurt Mommy. I’m going to go in the other room for a minute – you need to stay right here. I’m really upset that you hit me so hard and I don’t like to be with people who hit me.”
So I went into the other room, where it occurred to me that the only person who has actually ever hit me is my own child. I did a lot of long deep breaths, kept chanting over and over “she’s just a baby, she’s overtired, you LOVE HER with all your heart…”
And I went back into the bathroom, where she was standing looking a little confused, and said again “It’s not nice to hit. That hurt me and made me sad.” Then we attempted PJ time once more and while I finally wrangled her into PJs, she slapped me a few more times before I could catch her hands. I held her hands down and said “I know that you are tired, but it’s not okay to hit. Please use your words. If you hit me any more tonight, I’m not going to do stories… do you understand?” And before she could answer she hauled off and hit me again!
Now I know logically her brain was all doped up on cortisol and she was punchy from lack of sleep, but seriously people! It was really fucking annoying. And she’s a slugger – that shit hurt.
So I said, as calmly as I could, “Ruby. You’ve now hit me again. I am not telling you any stories tonight. Please go to your room.”
And she said “Ruby doodle story?” (Ruby doodle stories are her special stories that we make up after we read books)
And I said “Nope. No stories. If you hit, you lose all stories.”
She got in bed and I tucked her in and asked her if she wanted her song. Instead of laying down, she sat up and said “Mama? I’m sorry I hit you.” I thanked her and told her that I appreciated that she apologized, but she still wasn’t getting stories and she was fine with that. She understood that her actions had consequences. She didn’t fuss or get mad that she didn’t have stories. Partly I think she was just too tired, but I also think she accepted that she was responsible for this experience and the outcome.
Every day we parents try our best. We find what works for our kids, for our families. And then it shifts, the child changes and it’s time to find a new way to be. Most days I feel like this age with Ruby is really easy and fun, I can talk to her, reason with her, show her how to logic things out, but on the days when she’s too tired or is just in a mood (and let’s face, we all have those days!) it’s more challenging. But it’s up to us to be the ones who don’t react to their emotions and aggressions… it’s up to us to respond in a way that helps them learn how to use words instead of hands to express their emotions. Was Ruby overtired last night? Was she frustrated that it was bed time? Was she sad or confused that Daddy wasn’t home to read stories? Yes, to all of those things. Was it okay for her to hit me? No. But if I’d reacted to her by yelling at her and being forceful with her, I know she wouldn’t have understood what was happening. And it would have escalated like Wondermom and Kid X. Instead she calmed down and apologized a few minutes later on her own accord. I never asked her to say she was sorry, but she said it anyway. Which meant that the message got through. Does that mean that she will never ever hit again? I’m sure not. But it was a successful lesson and I ended the day feeling like I’d done a good job at the Mom-factory.
So snaps from the day at the Pirate Park: