My kid was a nightmare. And other true stories.

Happy 4th. (Yesterday.) I was on social media channels a few times. I saw a bunch of adorable kids in gingham and stripes watching parades and looking American and perfect.

My kid was awful. Just terrible. He made a three-day-weekend seem like a prison sentence. By Saturday afternoon things were fragile. Sunday evening my marriage was starting to fray. And when we finally reached Monday night, everyone had to retreat to their respective corners so there was no bloodshed. It is a wonder to behold how a single 37 inch person can fuck things up so thoroughly.

The good news (if that’s how we want to categorize it) is that this appears to be age associated and completely predictable. Late two/early threes are notorious for their shittiness. Unfortunately, no amount of warning can adequately prepare you for the psychological and emotional damage that a toddler can exact over a three-day-weekend.

What I struggle with the most is actually how much I struggle. I’m 32 years old. I am a fully grown human being. I have pretty well developed coping skills. I’m good with conflict resolution. I have sound logic and reasoning skills. And my toddler gives ZERO fucks. If my husband and I had a dollar for every time the phrase “walk away. just walk away.” was uttered in our house, we could both retire. And yet for all our chanting walkawaywalkawaywalkawaywalkawaywalkawaywalkaway we can’t actually walk away. We’re locked in some intellectual death match with a tot. I’ve experience more logical and redemptive communication with cats.

And the stubbornness. Oh sweet lord the stubbornness. This is why people of the olden days resorted to physical acts of violence. Because it takes an incredibly well controlled and evolved human being to get to the brink of sanity and not be overcome with the urge to exert physical force over a lesser being. And I’m not even talking about beatings. Even just a well placed flick. Because when your child tells you for the 2736974120382039 time that they WILL NOT CLEAN UP their blocks and you’ve wasted 682 minutes of your day asking, and you’ve taken away everything you thought they held dear, and you’ve reasoned, begged, yelled, threatened and there are still mother fucking blocks all over the floor… your ability to keep your shit together is questionable. Worse than that, when you’ve sacrificed your plans, your desires, your activities in order to do the activity that should most appeal to your child and then they act like a domestic terrorist, you begin to question the very meaning of life.

We’re currently in the stage whereby all perceived offenses are of equal weight in his eyes. Not having the right color juice is as egregious an offense as refusing to allow him to play in the hose or trying to give him away. (Just listing the kinds of things that brought our weekend to its proverbial knees is giving me PTSD.) There’s usually a light whimper, followed by the introduction of a baby voice, which then becomes a fake machine gun cry, that then devolves into a full on melt down. (And then usually one of us walking swiftly out of a public place while our child confirms to single people within earshot that they are the superior species.) The single most terrifying thing about three year olds is that the truest and quickest way to incite a meltdown is to give them EXACTLY what they want. What? What is this you say? Yes. Exactly. Give them exactly what they want and they will most certainly meltdown. Because they hate you.

For example. Aut has been totally into bike riding recently. (We got one of those bike seats that you get when you have a child under 4 and you no longer care about how uncool your life is.) Generally speaking, he loves riding around on the back of the bike, going fun places, seeing new things. So we planned on an awesome bike ride on Monday. We were going to bike up to Marblehead and stare through the gates of yacht clubs at rich people. We told him… and he melted down. He didn’t want to bike ride. Turns out, he’d found a long-forgotten set of paints in his cubby and all he wanted to do in the whole world was paint. (Painting is a cruel invention by people who hate parents.) After much hmming and hawing, we consented. He could paint outside. In his underwear.

We went outside. It was beautiful out. We set up a drop cloth, staple gunned a canvas to the fence, got out the paints and brushes, slathered sunscreen on him. And feeling like THE BEST PARENTS IN THE WHOLE WORLD we set him loose on his artistic endeavors. Which lasted about 14 seconds.

The sun is too sunny and it’s on my head. We got him a baseball cap.

I need something different for my eyes. (Because THE BRIM OF THE HAT WAS NOT SUFFICIENT.) We got him his sunglasses.

I’m thirsty. We made him hold out but eventually realized this was not the one to nail him on when it was 90 degrees outside. Got him water.

I need different paints. Go fuck yourself.

I want to paint on the fence. Not on your life.

I need to wipe my hands. Shouldn’t have stuck both hands in the paint.

I want to do yoga with Mups. No, you’re painting.

I want to cut all my fingers off in the air conditioner compressor. Nope. [wailing]

I don’t like painting. Well, too bad. We got this all set up. You’re gonna paint. [more wailing]

I need a snack. We just had breakfast. You’re fine. [repeated slower and screaming I. NEED. A. SNACK.]

The sun is too hot. Sorry, we’ll talk to the solar system about that.

I need Buzz Lightyear. Buzz is napping upstairs. [whimpering, but surprisingly no wailing]

I really want to stick my entire hand into the A/C compressor. Ask me again and I’ll probably let you.

I need to go into the basement to get something. No you don’t. [full-on, mind blowing meltdown]

I want to go for a bike ride. You’re dead to me.

I don’t want to exaggerate, so I’ll say this was all within the span of about 11 minutes. Conservatively I’d say six tantrums and one meltdown in 11 minutes. Because we were doing exactly what he begged us to let him do.

And like I said, the very worst part is how ill prepared we are to cope. It’s impossible to ignore, but equally as impossible to correct. Stupidly I allow myself to imagine these scenarios whereby we’re doing these things happily and peacefully as a family. The hubs is drinking coffee on the porch, I’m doing yoga on the driveway, Aut is painting like the gifted painter we will joyfully discover he is. But it’s never anything like that. It’s screaming and whining and trying not to lose our shit at how unbelievably insufferable he can make 15 minutes in the sunshine. And then the guilt when he says something like “why do you always yell?” And I feel so terrible but I also want to be like “why do you always try to make me insane?” But I know he’s 3 and he doesn’t know why he does it. He just does. And my job as his mother is to cope. And get through it.

And I don’t want to wish his life away. I don’t want him to grow up too fast. And inevitably there’s some gray haired woman (as there was this weekend) who says “enjoy every moment” at exactly the wrong time. And I get it. I know she’s wistful and hindsight is rosey. But these moments are not enjoyable. They’re trying and terrible. They make you question yourself. They push you to dark places where you have to look hard at yourself. And that’s an unexpectedly difficult part of parenting– seeing yourself through your child’s eyes. Because every now and then, you won’t like the person you see. But this too shall pass. And tantrums about paints and Buzz Lightyear will be replaced by heartbreak and humiliation and things that will make us long for the days that the absence of Buzz was the most meltdown-worth part of the day.

But for now, we cope. We parent. We continue onward. Knowing they won’t be 3 forever… for better or worse.

Author Paints
A brief moment of happiness and reprieve. 

 

 

What two years feels like.

The passage of time isn’t remarkable just because you have kids. Regular, child-less folk are on the big time-passage journey too, only they don’t have to compulsively (and obnoxiously) post milestone photos on Facebook to remind us all that we’re getting older. But when you do have kids, time means something… different. It doesn’t mean something better or deeper, but different. It’s consistently profound. There is a constant reminder— second by second– that time is marching forward. As a parent, you have a front row seat to one of the most incredible time lapse videos of all time. And it blows your fucking mind. And makes you feel so tiny, so helpful, and, sometimes, so sad.

Having a puppy isn’t so different in theory, only the visible toll and mark of time is condensed in a way that makes the emotion of it easier to grasp. Imagine having a 16 week old puppy for a year. And then a 20 week puppy for a year. All that puppy goodness stretched out for an incredible amount of time. You exist in the puppydom so long that when it finally moves on, you have to sit down and mourn. You have to pack up all those puppy toys and puppy foods and say goodbye to that puppy. It wasn’t a few months of puppy, it was YEARS. (Are you really thinking about how profound it would be to have a puppy for a year? Go Google something stupid cute like a baby retriever and imagine having that for a year. GO! But then come back, obviously.) But when it’s a tiny human, there are so many more layers. Heart swelling, soul crushing layers.

Today is Aut’s second birthday. The small boy, the one who baked in my belly during a bombing and came into this world silently, is two. Two is so tiny. Two is so big. Two is not enough cupcakes. Two is too many vaginal diseases. Two seconds are useless. Two words are devastating. Two is complicated and transitional and frustrating and hilarious. And that’s just for me.

Last week he suddenly looked big. My first reaction was to panic that he was losing his cute. I scrutinized him for a few minutes and then decided that he was still cute, but definitely taller. Less baby, more opinion and sinew. He’s starting to understand words as more than indicators. They have meaning and gravity and tone. He knows when he’s done something terribly evil and then makes a choice to apologize or laugh like a menacing sociopath. He feels scared when something isn’t right and he feels real feels when we are careless with our words or ambivalent to his deep, soulful need to hear the.same.fucking.book every night before he sleeps. But he’s also just two. He is insignificant in so many ways to the world. He doesn’t produce letters or numbers. In most third world countries he’s not even old enough to contribute to the child labor force. He thinks the most important thing in the world is throwing rocks in the beach and the most devastating is finding out Fi and Katie aren’t coming over. He thinks the big boy potty is a chair for reading books in the bathroom. He has no idea what hunger is. He doesn’t know what loss is. He hasn’t even been here for 1,000 days.

But then there’s me. I know what two years is; I’ve experienced two years on the bright side and the dark side. I know, logically, that time passes at the same rate no matter how happy or sad you are, but it’s an argument that holds no weight in times of either. Two years ago I was rolling on a ball at Brigham and Women’s Hospital willing this baby boy to get the lead out and join us. At that moment I couldn’t see past the baby. The puppy. I couldn’t see past being a new parent. I didn’t see a reality on the other side of being a mom for the first time. If I knew then what I know now, here’s what I would know….

Babies are the beginning of people and while that makes a nice quote, what it really means is something so heavy and burdening that if any of us took the time to really think about it, we’d realize what an incredible honor and responsibility that is.

Two years of anything can give you the kind of perspective that makes you ashamed you ever opened your mouth to say something rude on a broad range of topics. Like Birkenstocks.

Time will march slowing and quickly forward and somedays it will grip you with so much happy that you think the world is perfect. Hold on to that.

Most of the things that matter don’t matter at all. And you won’t ever be able to keep that perspective, but you have to keep reminding yourself. Potato chips can be good for you. Watching Frozen can be educational. Bedtime isn’t immovable. Tiny human beings need to be tended to day-to-day and moment-to-moment. Sometimes that means kale, sometimes that means ice cream and popcorn for dinner.

Be as hard on yourself as you think your child should be on himself. You’re someone’s child too, you know.

You’re going to be fatter than you ever thought possible. (Maybe I’m glad I didn’t know that then, honestly.)

Saying “fuck” in front of your child may not be appropriate, and might make your mother insane, but it’s not the worst thing a parent has ever done to a child.

No amount of Xanax will ever lessen the full-body anxiety of watching your child try to make friends. It’s a physical, all over kind of pain.

Two years is such a long time when they are screaming, but such a short amount of time when they are telling you about their day.

You’re going to lose sight of what you thought mattered and then you’re going to realize it maybe didn’t matter. And then you’re going to become indignant. And then you’re going to mourn. And then you’re going to rally. And that cycles over and over.

Everything is finite and that is so comforting and so scary.

Becoming a parent is terrible, but it opens you up to a 4th dimension. It’s not a better path, it’s not a preferable path, but it’s a totally different one. It’s immersive and total. It sets you on a different track than the one you started on. And there are always times you want back on the other. You watch a train pass you going faster and looking fancier and you will always take a moment to wish you were on that train, but you’re not. And there are people looking out of that train window at you too.

****

This morning on my way to work I was behind a car with a bumper sticker that said, “Today someone is happy with less than what you have.”

Two year’s feels like training for the next two. And the two after that. Two years feels like a beautiful, fucked up, anxiety-ridden, laugher-filled, angst-y trial period for trying to understand what matters to me and how to balance what matters with what’s necessary. Like dishes. And exercise.

Two year’s didn’t fly by. It plodded along at a metered pace. Somedays I wanted to last forever, some days I wanted to start drinking at noon. (And some days I did.)

Two years feels like a good start to feeling happy with exactly what I have.