So I completely took out my child last Monday morning. As in feet completely left the pavement and said child flew through the air. I was at Sea World, two days before Christmas. Why was I at Sea World, to begin with, two days before Christmas? I either have sado masochistic tendencies or simply no brain anymore because it didn’t hit me that one of San Diego’s biggest attractions might be slightly busy on the first Monday of school vacation—or that families descending on our 73 degree December weather for the holidays might be out in droves.
Let’s rewind. The day begins. It’s sunny. It’s beautiful. It’s Monday but we have no preschool for little man or music class for baby girl so we have nothing to do. So this mama thinks, let’s go to our most favorite place: Sea World! Yaay! Little man is cheering!
So I hand iPad to little man (who first shows one Elmo vignette to baby girl because we are now “training” her to watch videos in anticipation of our April trip to Maui—Mom of the year award here—before powering up his current favorite dinosaur video), put baby girl in her room for “self-play” with a cup of cereal and her baby gate holding her prisoner, power through a 20 minute frenzy on my elliptical machine, a total of 10 minutes to shower, get dressed, and throw hair in a pony tail, then haul children upstairs for breakfast (to little man saying mommy, why don’t we have eggs? I want eggs. Did we eat them all? And baby girl screeching (ba)nana! Nana! More! More! all the while punching little fists together to emphasize the dramatic need for more right NOW), and run around throwing food at children, slamming peanut butter on sandwiches, while the incessant demands and screeching continue.
Then we’re all moving downstairs and putting on shoes and brushing hair and I’m navigating through the gauntlet of almost 4-year-old little man and just walking 15-month-old baby girl who are simultaneously each holding onto my legs and running from me at the same time and I’m bringing lunches and water and hats and my cup of uneaten oatmeal and do I have my phone? and loading the sit and stand stroller in the trunk and baby girl is still screeching because her new found mobility has increased her demand to not be strapped into anything. And finally the car is moving and then we’re stopping and unloading everyone because mommy REALLY needs a grande soy latte from Starbucks and little man is saying can I have a warm milk can I have a warm milk can I have a warm milk and I’m like yes, whatever, and we’re all dancing to the holiday music to keep us entertained and then we’re back in the car and mommy is probably going a little too fast because this mommy is really ready to be there and then STOP. Brakes. Screech.
Now we go to Sea World all the time and we generally (except in August) zoom into the gate area, show our pass, and off we go. But we round the corner of the 2-lane road that simply leads to the entry area and STOP. A line of cars snake towards the gated parking area. Silly me is incredulous. Who are all these people and why are they here? But little man is now playing “Frosty the Snowman” over and over on you tube on my iPhone that (thanks hubby) is Bluetooth connected to my car stereo and baby girl is finally quiet for the moment with thumb inserted into her mouth so I’m telling myself to stay calm, listen to Frosty. Stay calm. Listen to Frosty.
Twenty minutes and 8 rounds of Frosty later we are finally parked and I’m pulling out sit and stand and unloading lunches and children and hats and there are people everywhere and baby girl is trying to make a break for it since she’s finally unbuckled and I’m scooping up a screaming, flailing new walker and I see little man do that squirm. In our household, it’s the poop squirm. It’s the I really have to go but I’m not going to tell you squirm.
For those of you who have read my previous blogisodes, you remember little man and his poop issues. Well at almost 4, he is much better. It doesn’t just come out during swim practice any more or back him up for 5 days straight but it is still daily a topic of discussion (or incessant questioning from this mama which of course never works because the answer to do you have to go poop? is still always “NO”) and reason that chocolate cream cookies now take up residence on my pantry shelf (in an odd mixture of pride and defeatism, I tell everyone that we were a sugar free family until we started potty training). So little man is doing that little cowboy hip shifting thing and of course I ask him if he has to go poop and he of course says no. And then we are jostling through a crowd of people getting bags checked by security guards and finding the shortest entry line in and finally we are in and little man wants to see Shamu so off we go to watch a black and white whale throw itself out of the water (which is really one of the most awesome things I’ve ever seen) for the “breakfast show” that we peer at through a glass wall because baby girl is not at the age where she will sit through ANY show. And then girlfriend is arriving looking like super mom with her 3 children ages 4, 21 months, and 2 months (!!) who are all smiling and quiet (even 2 month old who is fast asleep) and I step back to coax baby girl into showing off her new found movement skill set and as I step back little man decides to dash towards Shamu at that very second and my stepping back meets with a WUMPF aaack! and I see out of the corner of my eye little man’s entire body fly FEET through the air. And apple snack he was holding is now rolling across the ground. Oh goodness.
I’ve heard the first stage of grief is denial. Little man is in my arms howling as I comfort him and comfort him and comfort him. He can’t believe his own mommy has catapulted him across the pavement but he initially runs to me as his known source of comfort. But within a minute he pulls back and screams in my face “MOMMY! (pause for emphasis) YOU HURT ME!!!” Second stage of grief: anger. Little man is angry. So I apologize and tell him I love him but he won’t let up. Now though my child is yelling at me, I’m feeling pretty badly because I did just make him fly across the sidewalk so I kind of let it go but would really like to remind him about how last week in one of his spasmodic moments he head butted my forehead engendering a wincing I really want to cry pain from this mama who of course took a breath and thanked little man for his apology and winked back the tears. I really want to remind him how my forehead had a tender spot for 4 DAYS following the spasmodic episode but of course I don’t. Because I’m the mama and I’m supposed to be the better person here—or at least the one molding and shaping the other positively.
So little man is finally not yelling but he is grumpy. I remind him AGAIN that I am sorry and I love him and offer him two choices: you can either sit in the stroller and be grumpy or you can put this behind you and choose to have fun because, look! we’re here at Sea World! Yaay!
Little man: I want to sit in the stroller.
And between his need to poop and his take out, little man decides to continue to be grumpy. He doesn’t want to see anything. He ignores my questions or wines incessantly or yells a response.
So I remind little man I can’t understand you when you speak that way. $%#@*! I can’t understand you when you speak that way. $%#@*! I can’t understand you when you speak that way. $%#@*! I can’t understand you when you speak that way.
And of course baby girl is still trying to make a break for it at any moment I’m not holding her or belting her in and of course all three of girlfriends little angels are behaving perfectly.
As the $%#@*! Continues from little man I remind little man that I care about his feelings but I need a kind voice and a kind face.
Kind voice kind face is my mantra with little man. Back when little man was an infant, I read Hendrix’s parenting book Giving the Love That Heals because my husband and I thought his book for couples was super helpful and Hendrix’s theory is that a child’s perspective of himself is the sum of the way his (or her) primary caretakers view him and treat him (and that’s really formed in the first 5 years of life). So that includes parents, nannies, older siblings, or anyone who spends a lot of time with our kiddos. And one of his big things is that kids need to learn their emotions are okay as part of understanding that they are okay, simply in who they are. He recommends mirroring back emotions and helping kids process their feelings so that they learn to own their feelings and therefore own themselves.
So when little man is crying, I’m saying that really hurt, you’re really sad and not you’re okay, shake it off. I’ve decided with my kids that I will hold them as long as they ever want to be held. So if a child is in my arms crying, I will hold him or her until he or she stops. Hendrix’ theory is that simply allowing the expression of emotion helps a child to move through it quickly. And to feel that their emotions, and therefore they themselves, are okay. And feeling comfortable with themselves and not needing constant validation from their peer group is everything (um, I’ll let you guys ski through the avalanche zone—I think I’ll meet you at the bottom).
So with little man, I want him to know that he can tell his baby sister things like stop, I’m playing with that I or that’s my toy—I want him to be able to be able to verbalize his feelings (because baby girl, who thinks the sun and the moon revolve around big brother, clearly thinks that anything he is playing with must be the most amazing thing in the whole world and she therefore must experience it at that very moment)—but it’s also very important to me that he speaks to her and to me kindly. I want him to know that his emotions and feelings are okay but it’s equally important that he learn to express himself kindly—because this mama requires respect from her kiddos and because little man is considered a primary caretaker in the life of baby girl. The way he looks at her and treats her will mold her perspective of herself. Being a younger sister with an older brother myself, makes this especially important to me.
So I’m telling little man kind voice kind face but he’s not having it and is instead demanding that we see everything on the exact opposite side of the park (BUT MOMMY, I DON’T WANT TO SEE TURTLES I WANT TO SEE PENGUINS!) and I’m finally just done so I tell him that we are leaving and I need him to speak kindly or to not talk at all. So as I am moving towards the exit, pushing sit and stand with baby girl belted in and little man sitting facing me, here is how our conversation goes:
Me: your choice is to either speak kindly or to not say anything at all.
Little man: BUT I WANT…!
Me: Nope. Nothing.
Little man: BUT I NEED…!
Me: Zip it.
Little man: BUT…!
Me: Zip. (thumb and index finger pushed together for emphasis)
I told my child to zip it. Maybe not one of my finer moments but I couldn’t handle the badgering any further. And to his credit, little man was quiet after that. And while baby girl smeared peanut butter sandwich all over herself and the car seat on the way home, he glowered in quietness. And then when we got him I made him sit on the potty and he pooped and the whole world was sunshine and roses again. And I am now kicking myself for rushing out the door and not taking the time to coax out a poop before Sea World since I’m sure that 80% of the drama of our last 3 hours has been due to Mr. Grumpy I Have to Poop who had taken over my child. Argh. I’m such a rookie still.
And while little man now dances around the room flinging his underpants in the air, instead of getting in bed for his nap, I remind myself of our mantra and repeat in my head: kind voice, kind face. Kind voice, kind face. And wonder if 1pm is too early to open a bottle of wine.