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Being the Grownup Really Bites

Every night I put Cora to bed; we read
books, say prayers, and rock together until she’s sleepy.
Sometimes this happens quickly, but sometimes it takes forever and
I’m in a crabby mood by the time I leave her room, thinking
of all I have still to do before I can go night-night myself.

First on that list is going in to see Maddie – once
Cora’s down I have to go snuggle and say goodnight to my
oldest. It’s a fairly recent development in the evening
routine and I’m not always very tolerant of it; on nights
when I’ve spent a long time getting Cora to sleep, the last
thing I want to do is get pinned down in another room, answering
endless questions and fulfilling neverending requests for back
scratches. I sometimes find myself hoping Maddie’s fallen
asleep waiting for me, though that only happens once a month or so
– she’s a determined kid, and will wait doggedly for me
to come in.

I was in a particularly crabby mood a few
nights ago, since it was nearing ten o’clock and I had a long
list of bills to pay, laundry to fold, and so on. And as soon as I
settled on Maddie’s bed she said, “Mommy, I want to
change my pajamas. These p.j.s are making my feet sweaty.”

I looked at her, and thought about the request. A couple times in
the past Maddie’s come up with fake needs – some
headache medicine, a pajama change, a potty attempt – all for
the sake of turning on the light and hanging out a bit. Most of the
time, Maddie’s an honest kid, though, and usually I’d
give her the benefit of the doubt, trying harder to get to her
intentions before giving a yes or no.

This night, though, I was exhausted and didn’t want to add
five minutes to our routine, and I gave a resounding
“no”. “Please, Mommy, my feet are really sweaty
and it’s making me hot!” she begged. I held firm,
saying it was too late to turn on the light and she could just
sleep outside the covers to stay cool. At this point Maddie began
crying, trying to pull her footy pajamas off by herself, and it
began to sink in that my kid wasn’t trying to pull a fast one
on me. But by now, I was tired and cross that I’d misread the
situation, and in no mood to be generous.

So I gave in – grudgingly, and giving her a high price to pay
so she’d think twice about accepting.

“Ok, Maddie, look. If you want your pj’s changed so
bad, I’ll do it, but it’s going to take time so
there’ll be no snuggling with Mommy afterwards. So you lose
all snuggle time with me. And I won’t turn on the light, so
you’ll have to do it in the dark. And you don’t get to
pick your new pj’s out – you’ll have to take
whatever I pick. Ok?”

Quietly, Maddie said, “Ok, Mommy.”

She lay there silently while I brusquely stripped off her pajamas
and thrust new ones on her, not complaining at all or trying to
drag out the experience. By then I was ashamed of my behavior, but
too prideful to change course. So I threw her back into her covers
and twisted the knife once more for good measure – “And
remember, no snuggling, because you chose to change your pj’s
instead. So I’m leaving.”

And without a hug, with no kisses, I huffed out of the room.

I came downstairs and began my work, but couldn’t
concentrate. I sat there with the weight of my wrong pressing on my
heart. I was the adult here, not Maddie – but she’d
acted with infinitely more grace than I had, making no complaints
about the punishment (no snuggle time) I’d given her for the
sin of being hot. And as the minutes ticked by, I knew what I had
to do.

I had to apologize.

So about ten minutes after I’d left, I slunk back into
Maddie’s room and saw she was still wide awake. “Hey,
kiddo, I’m glad you’re still awake,” I said
gently. “I need to tell you I’m sorry for the way I
just acted earlier. I was tired and didn’t believe you were
really hot – I thought you were pretending just so I’d
turn on the light.”

Maddie had been silent the whole time, her covers pulled up under
her chin, her eyes as round as saucers. “but I wasn’t
pretending! I was really hot!” she finally burst out.

“I know that, honey, I do, which is why I came in to tell you
I’m sorry. I love you very much, and I was wrong to act the
way I did.”

“Then the next time this happens, will you remember that I
was telling the truth and believe me then?” she pressed.

I swallowed. “I’ll remember this situation, I promise.
And I’ll take it into consideration the next time such an
issue comes up.”

Maddie finally burrowed in my arms, dried tears leaving snail
tracks down her cheeks. “When I saw that door open, I really
really hoped it was you. I hoped you were coming in to say you were
sorry, and to snuggle me.”

Apologizing to a three-year-old is not the easiest thing to do
– nor is it a big ego boost. But it is one of the most
gratifying things I’ve done in a long time. I mean, I
apologize to Maddie consistently: when I’ve assumed
incorrectly she’d left something sitting out, or when I heard
Cora cry and automatically jumped to issuing a warning
“Maddie!”, only to find Maddie wasn’t even in the
room. Brian and I both think that it’s necessary to teach by
example, and not just by preaching. So when we argue we make sure
she sees us make up in front of her, and when we’re wrong we
admit it. Well, most of the time.

And that’s why I knew I had to go back into her room –
because I want to raise her to be the kind of person who will go
back into another room, in another situation. Wringing an apology
out of someone doesn’t mean you’ve won the contest
– it means the air between the two of you is clear, and your
relationship is the stronger for it. When I apologized, Maddie
didn’t gloat; she snuggled deep into me, feeling relief that
she wasn’t crazy, that Mommy knew Mommy had been wrong. I
acknowledged my mistakes, and made up for them.

I’m hoping there won’t be any more nights like that.
But I know there will – I’m simply too frail and broken
of a person not to make these mistakes. So instead of praying for
perfection in my mothering, I pray for the humility, the strength,
to be her example, her hero, and walk back up the stairs to her
room again.


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