‘She’s not bleeding; she’s not starving; she has not broken a bone, fallen down the stairs, or gotten caught under something heavy. She is not in pain, nor is she suffering uncontrollably. There is no risk of immediate terror or peril; she is safe.’ This is the mantra going through my head as I listen to my daughter repeatedly scream out my name at the top of her lungs from my bedroom downstairs, as I basically hide out in the office upstairs. After about five minutes, I close the door so the sound is more muffled and I can’t hear her as well. Then I close my eyes, put my head in my hands and try to breathe…
It’s been a particularly difficult day. Well, this is a bit of an understatement. It’s been one hell of a freakin’ day; how about that. Today is one of those days where you run into your mothering wall. You have used every bit of patience and sensibility and bargaining and “don’t you dare”s that you can remember coming out of your mouth, and you’re truly just spent.
I’m sure we’ve all been there. We love our children; and for the most part, they are lovely and wonderful and brilliant and amazing. But they can also be the Achilles heel of our parenting prowess. My daughter is closely approaching her seventh birthday; she is in transition. As a result, we are all in transition. Every parent laments about the “terrible two’s”, but no one warns you about the other ages. They make it sound as if once you get past two, it’s almost a breeze; what they fail to mention is that the transitions continue at almost every age, and many of them are just as difficult.
My daughter is certainly not entirely to blame. She is a small little being trying to figure out how to exist in a world of larger ones; trying to find her way to herself, even though she really doesn’t even know who that is yet. I have some memory of how challenging that can be, at seven years old; the immense pressures of trying to shift from that “little girl” world where everything was safe and protected and many things done for you, into the “big girl” world where it’s expected (and really, self-desired) to be more independent, more self-reliant, more mature, a more separate being. But what do you do with all those feelings of still wanting to be safe and secure and babied and coddled? How do you shed those all of a sudden, just because you’re supposed to? Even when you want to, you don’t want to…it’s hard to give up that secure little bubble and branch out of it, as curious as you may be. That ever-present internal dichotomy makes for a perfect little emotional storm that is really a beast to navigate. Can you blame her for having bad days?
I certainly don’t. I’m forty and I have bad days; I have a much better handle on how to deal with them and I still struggle. So I can’t possibly hold it against my lovely girl for simply being human and fallible. But as difficult as it is for her to navigate her seven-year-old self, it’s equally as tough for the momma to discern how to help her steer a course through these rough waters. Today’s challenges included everything from clothing crises to attention issues; from inabilities to listen to frustration over toys; from unhappiness over food choices to a power struggle over bedtime. The current meltdown I was hiding out from, I would later find out, was a result over the fact that she was finally comfy and warm and had finished the apple she insisted on for a bedtime snack, and didn’t want to get out of the bed to throw it away, so she hollered for me to do it for her, and when I didn’t immediately answer (after the fourth or fifth try), she became distressed because she then didn’t know where I had gone. I had initially not answered because I was on another floor; then when I heard her, I sent my husband in because I was busy, which apparently sent her into more hysterics because “you’re not momma!” and it really just snowballed from there. The aforementioned hiding only seemed justifiable because I had personally recently put her to bed, knowing she was safe and sound, and also sent the husband in to check, assuring me that if there was a safety crisis he was with her. Hence the mantra. I know myself well enough to know when my daughter is better served by not having me there (such as when I simply have run out of everything I have to give, and all that may be left is frustration and impatience).
We did finally get to the end of this day. I somehow got my 1200th wind, calmed her down, got her to sleep, and then proceeded to lay exhausted on the couch for a few good hours. (Venting to the nameless blogosphere helped a little, as well, I must admit.) Not all days are like this; I know the good ones outnumber the bad. That’s why we do it, right? It’s because the love is so huge and consuming. That’s what carries us through. At the end of days like these it’s the love for that amazingly beautiful creature that softly covers me like the warm embrace I so longed for when I was a little girl; it wraps me up in that safe little bubble and makes it all better again. That love transcends it all. And in one funny little moment, I am somehow the parent and child simultaneously, the keeper and the kept. Only now, I am wise and strong enough to make myself safe, along with my little one; and that is a brilliant realization to behold. WE are safe.