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I Know Why The Caged Mommy Screams

Ok. So Maddie’s been at the terrible
two’s for a while now, and I felt pretty confident that
I’ve got the hang of it. I am patient. I am kind. I am
loving. I am firm. I demonstrate love and forgiveness, while giving
her boundaries and consequences.

And I am this close sometimes to knocking her skinny hiney
into next Tuesday.

I thought that with Maddie’s
babyhood I developed bottomless patience. Where I’d see my
husband lose it over another diaper change or yet one more failed
naptime, I’d stay serene and calm. I could see that the
little baby wasn’t doing it on purpose; she wasn’t
trying to manipulate us or punish us; there was no ulterior motive,
no hidden agenda. So I would draw on that deep well of reserves and
spend another hour standing next to her crib, rocking her in my
arms, singing the same song over and over again. No problem.

Fast forward two years. Now there are times when she is trying to
manipulate us, punish us, or advance a hidden agenda. And I stare
at her with narrowed eyes and want to simply growl, “Look,
Missy, I know your game and it ain’t gonna work on me. So
give it up.”

But I can’t do that, because most of what she’s doing
is subconscious or not fully formed in her head – it’s
simply instinct and part of growing up. Her pushing us, testing us,
is looking for (and hoping for) boundaries, for limits that will
help define her world. I understand this and have a master game
plan for dealing with it.

And then I see the little evil genius in action and want to smack
her upside the head and say, “Behave now!”

Can you tell yesterday was a bad day? And the worst part is, there
wasn’t a lot really horrible I can point to. Not a lot of
huge meltdowns, no overt disobedience. Those acts of open defiance
I can handle easily: I can head those off with a loss of privileges
practically in my sleep. No, the day was simply full of those
little instances that push your buttons but aren’t so blatant
you can blame her. A partial list:

We walk to the drugstore. She never runs out in the street, lets go
of my hand while crossing, any of those things. But she does start
to walk at a snail’s pace when I tell her we need to keep
moving (“I am moving! I’m practicing walking
slowly!”), and dawdles when we’re short on time, and
asks for a different snack when I offer her the only snack
I’ve got with me (which, by the way, she specifically asked
for). I stare hard at her, trying to ascertain what she’s
doing – what the motive behind something is so I can react
accordingly. Is she standing in front of a store window because the
pretty display caught her eye? I try to admire it with her then
gently move her along. Or is she standing there because she’s
reluctant to go home? Then we talk about the need to get home to
make dinner, and that if she doesn’t obey me there’s no
tricycle the rest of the day.

But this much analysis and work and patience absolutely exhausts

Then we have end-of-day: wanting a snack after I announce
it’s bedtime. Is she really hungry? Or just stalling? Time
for pj’s: is she refusing to put these on because she’s
being stubborn, or because they don’t cover her feet and she
doesn’t want the monsters to get her feet? And finally, I
tell her Daddy will be reading books to her that night, and she
loses it. Major wailing and meltdown.

Which is way too much for me. Because the reason Daddy’s
going to read books is that Cora doesn’t feel well and has
been hanging on me like a limpet every minute I can peel Maddie off
me. I just finished an hour and a half of rocking a
mostly-screaming Cora while she nursed, pooted, and dozed, only to
come out and deal with Maddie’s end-of-day issues. At which
point I really need to get back to Cora. I mean, how fair is it to
make Cora wail while I read Maddie books?

After fifteen minutes of nonstop sobbing on Maddie’s part,
during which I try to soothingly rock her and lovingly explain
what’s going on, I give in and read the $#@ books. I know
that’s teaching her that her crying is effective, but I was
done and could see my kid could not come back from that brink. So I
caved, and left Cora to cry for 45 minutes with Daddy while Maddie
went slowly and painfully through her bedtime routine.

Which leaves me with the strong desire to run into a soundproof
room and scream my head off. I have all this pent-up frustration
and nowhere to dump it except my poor husband and a pint of Haagen
Daaz, which was ripped open so fiercely I think it feels violated.
I am the Mommy – I’m supposed to be this constant,
calm, immovable center in Maddie’s universe, and I sometimes
feel less that I’m in her center and more that I’m in
her cage, unable to move much for all the strictures placed on
Perfect Mommy. I’m trapped by my job description, and
there’s not a lot of margin for error in a
two-year-old’s eyes. Give me a break! Ease up on the
pressure! And the worst part is, some of this frustration is at
myself – for not getting it right, for not being able to
“fix” both of them, for not handling myself better. I
never yelled at Maddie, but I certainly spoke sharply to her. So
before prayer time I apologized to her.

And then my beautiful kiddo said during prayers, totally
unprompted, “Sorry God for disobeying Mommy.”

I need a root beer.


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