Toddler Hell

Happy Holidays, I’m in Toddler Hell

Today, I couldn’t do anything right.

Despite waking up to a toddler munching on my breasts, and my head in a fog, after yet another blissless night of fragmented sleep, I still decided to be positive. We’re going to have a great day! I get to drink decaf coffee! What joy! And make a green smoothie! And exercise! Isn’t that awesome? Let’s go get dressed, Sophie!

This was my first mistake.

As I took Sophie back to her room, I chose the purple pants instead of the striped ones. They got bunched up and thrown on the floor. There was a cacophony of foot stomping and pterodactyl shrieks. In my deafness, I put her smoothie in the wrong cup. I made oatmeal because she said she wanted oatmeal, but she looked at me like an idiot and demanded eggs. “Too bad. You’re eating oatmeal.” To which she shoved the bowl across the table, where it toppled to the floor. And so the day progressed, with all its infinite peaks and valleys. And successes and failures. And cuteness and frustration.

But despite all this, I still feel like I’m (sometimes) the worst mother in the world.

My two and a half year old has become the puppet master. The puppet? My temperament, which dances up and down with its thin, spindly legs, its lanky arms, and angry, puckered mouth. I watch as it grows larger than life, seeming to bloom just as Pinocchio’s nose once shot phallic-like from his face—and then shrinks again, tap dancing on niceties during those rare moments where she isn’t acting like a complete psychopath. Blah, blah, blah. I know there are mothers out there who think this ridiculous post is nothing but complaining (you’re right!), who say my parenting must be wrong (debatable), who roll their eyes and say get over it. She’s a toddler. This is what they do. Savor it and move on because it all goes so fast. You might even miss this someday!

But guess what? I’m a first-time mother, and living with a toddler 24 hours a day is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Period. Harder than marriage, than brain surgery, than divorce. Because it’s constant. Because there is no break. Not really. Not ever. Because everything—from brushing your teeth to putting your shoes on to going grocery shopping to taking a nap to eating (Eating!!!! Something we must do a billion times per day and is the greatest thing ever!) is a hard-earned negotiation.

All of this is to say that lately, despite how much I love being Sophie’s mother (and I do—I really, really, really do), my temperament is winning. I remember watching my friends’ toddlers when I was childless, secretly smug that that would never be me. (Karma!) And if it were? I would never jerk my toddler from the table like that, or talk to them in such a stern way. Just get on their level, I’d think. Stay calm and rational! How could you not? (Oh ha ha. What an idiot I was.)

I’m not sure why toddlers are so irrational and out of control (Really, why? How? And just…why?). What’s the point? This is the absolute best time in their lives, and they don’t even remember it! All the sacrifices and hair pulling and sleeplessness from parents. All that damage to your body and your psyche and your sex life. And oh, pretty much everything else. And they don’t even deign to remember it!

All they have to do every single day is wake, up, get fed, play with toys, learn, run around outside, nap, eat, get their butts wiped, and have people ooh and aah at them all day long. How amazing could one life be? Instead of savoring this time, we can’t wait to grow up. We stop playing outside. We go to college and get serious jobs and sit behind desks all day. We get tired. We lose our energy. We aren’t as dazzling as we once were, despite the fact that we all still feel like children.

[And yet, we pay so much attention to our toddlers, is it any wonder we turn out to be narcissistic assholes? And this was before the selfie revolution. How will our kids turn out, when everyone is posting their photos and their nuances of everyday life everywhere?]

In the moments where my patience is tested (which is every 2.5 seconds), I try and remember what the books say, what articles I’ve read, how not reacting is the absolute best thing I could do. How to approach her with compassion and empathy. So I don’t react. For about 2.7 seconds. Until I do.

Last night, I yelled at my daughter. I screamed, “Enough!” a word that goes through my mind at least 997 times per day. Enough, enough, enough… I never even knew what that word meant, as it’s always been used for needing things. Do we have enough toilet paper? Do you think we have enough apples? Am I packing enough socks? But now, this, here. Sophie pushes me to the brink of “enough” on a daily basis.

So, I screamed it, once, after a particularly bad episode of her slamming doors and shrieking because she didn’t want to wear her third set of pajamas she insisted on wearing. I told her what she was wearing. I explained that she had three options, and I would now choose since she wasn’t going to, and bam. Rationale out the window.

What should be so simple—bedtime—has become my least favorite activity, as reading a story turns into her snatching the book away and insisting on reading it herself for twenty minutes, followed by a meltdown if I take the book away once she’s done. (No, you cannot sleep with a book!) Then there’s the getting into bed where she then says she has to pee, then poop, and then sits on the potty for exactly 20 minutes, talking to herself. Then there’s the arsenal of songs to sing—Hush Little Baby, Tiny Turtle, Itsy Bitsy, Twinkle Twinkle. Then there are the demands to lay with her, to nurse (no), to pat her back. And all of this is to say after we had finally “figured” bedtime out. The right hour, the right routine to get her to go down without a peep. We were on it. But lately, all of that has changed.

An hour later, my husband will come out of the room, or I will, but then she’s up and at the door, opening it and standing in the hallway staring at us like some silent killer. She steals the only time we have together. And my marriage is just as important as my child. (That’s another realization I’ve finally made—parenthood and child rearing do NOT go together. There’s no energy left to nurture your relationship. One of you is always dictating or doing chores or talking about the kid(s), so that you are simply desperate to get time with each other. And when you finally do, eighteen years later, you might realize that the only thing you have in common is your child. Sigh.)

My toddler, my wonderful, brilliant, stubborn, creative toddler is killing (feeding) my soul.

So last night, I’d had enough. As she slammed her door and wailed and whined, I put her firmly in bed and screamed in her beautiful face, “Enoooooouuuuuugh.” I held the vowels in my throat and screamed like I’ve never screamed before. I screamed so loud and so long that my voice went hoarse.

And then something miraculous happened. She completely quieted down. She rolled over and went silent. She didn’t move. She asked for Dada. And I left the room.

Not my finest moment in parenting, but yet something else I’ve realized: This generation is supremely afraid of their children. So much so, that we don’t even know what the word discipline means. We constantly say, “If we had acted this way, we would have been smacked/spanked/put in a dark corner to wither.” Because there has to be a balance between being a disciplinarian and being a loving, attentive parent, right? Do I believe in spanking? No. But do I think that kids sometimes need a good whack on the bottom to get their attention when nothing else works? Abso-fucking-lutely.

All of this is to say, I love my child. But I also love my relationship. And I love me. And I know that this short, trying period will soon be over and that my demanding toddler will grow into a demanding child who can better reason with me (and argue more effectively) in preparation for her demanding teenage years, where the term “real problems” will make this phase look like child’s play (which it is).

Perhaps I’m tired. Perhaps I have too many other things on my mind (impending book release, jobs, writing a new book, moving for the 100th time, etc.). Perhaps I just need a break.

But I don’t want a break from my family—I just want to go one day without the constant ups and downs of toddlerhood. It makes me feel crazy and leaves little room for anything else.

I want the space to love my child the way I want her to be loved. I want to hug her and hold her and drench her in kisses and read her poetry and let her run naked in the backyard and climb trees and make mud pies and eat food she’s grown herself and explore the world and stand in churches and worship animals and believe in the power of her own womanhood and teach her about love and show her that race doesn’t matter and sexual preference doesn’t matter and believing in something, especially herself, does matter and surrounding herself with positivity matters more than surrounding herself with tons of acquaintances and to put the technology away and to pick up a fucking book and to never let anyone dictate the way she feels and to love her body, to love it, love it, love it, every single day of her life, and that she can achieve anything and that yes, she is beautiful, but her brain is what makes her more beautiful, and her tender, challenging soul, and that she is perfect just as she is and that she will fall—a lot—and that falling is more important than success or even getting up sometimes and that judgment of people, places, and things is the biggest waste of time that we have and to never wait, just DO, don’t always be smart, take a risk, don’t just live an ordinary life, live the life she envisions, and to not weigh everything out but go, do, be, see, act, because this is it—we’re here and it’s amazing and she should soak up every minute, and I will be there when she needs me, always, for anything, no matter what.

No matter if I’m a terrible mother or the best mother in the world. Our relationship is ours and it’s special and messy and chaotic and deep, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. And yes, this is probably childish and narcissistic in even writing about it, but this is my release. This is the way I work it out.

To sum up: I have a daughter. She is tough to live with sometimes. (As am I.)

But we’ll get through it, together.

We will survive (thrive).