For the last month or so, I’ve been enjoying one of those wonderful periods when I actually feel like I know what I’m doing mom-wise. I’ve also been getting pretty consistent sleep and have 12 hours per week that I’m not taking care of J, so that helps too. We’ve hit a stride and have some systems that really work. I don’t feel nervous these days when we’re at the playground and J tries to snatch something away from a baby. I know how I’ll handle it. And it works.
When he’s standing up on the chair at our kitchen counter, I tell him that if he doesn’t get down, I’m going to take him down. And he usually listens to me and gets down on his knees. I’m not going out of my way to distract from or try to avoid his experience of being disappointed–I’m just heading straight into it these days: “The fire-truck drove by. Are you sad you can’t see it anymore? Sorry you’re sad, little weasel.” I feel like I’ve kinda stepped into my parenting mojo. It has not always been this way, as evidenced by this post. And I’m sure that this feeling will go the way of the dodo soon enough, but for now, I’m gonna bask in it a little bit.
So the mojo. I feel like it has come, in large part, from taking on the mantle of being the person who interprets the world-at-large for J. We were having this whole meltdown when I would drop him off at daycare a few months ago when I got this image in my mind of myself as this huge umbrella. I’ll explain. J is going to this place that is obviously not our house and I am leaving him for a time and he’s freaked out about it. And its my responsibility to think to myself, “Self, is this a scary place for J to be? Am I worried about him?” If the answer is yes, then I should get him the hell out of there. The answer, in fact, was “No. I’m not worried–this is a really safe, loving place and I trust these people to take care of him.” So I decided to put an umbrella over the situation for him and show him how much I believe that its a safe, good place. I gave him kisses and cuddles and then smiled and waved and left, even though he was still crying. At first, this definitely jangled some of my attachment bells, because I don’t want him to feel abandoned. And honestly, I have no idea if he does or not, but showing him in my body language and behavior that I believe this place I’m taking him is good totally helped. Often, he walks right up the steps himself and looks genuinely happy to be there and gives me a kiss and says goodbye. There were and still are some days when I have to leave him crying. But I love him up, put on a brave face, and then go elsewhere to deal with the emotional fallout from walking away from your crying kid. I think when I used to give him 85 hugs and look searchingly into his eyes with concern, it sort of sent the message to him that he should be worried, because I looked worried too. So that’s been a game changer, recognizing that I’m showing him, through my gestures and expressions and behavior if something is okay or not, scary or funny, exciting or worrisome. It feels good to own up to the fact that whether I acknowledge it or not, he’s always looking to me to see what’s up.
What that whole daycare drop-off experience really helped me to see is that I’m the decider. And there’s something incredibly relaxing about taking on that responsibility. I’ve had many a day with him where I feel totally sloshed around in his stream-of-consciousness reality and suddenly find myself digging in the garden for snails when I know he really should have gone down for a nap 15 minutes ago. Since stepping into my role as decider, I had to face down my own fear of his reaction. He might cry. He might tantrum. Turns out, though, that since I started having really clear, passionless boundaries with him, “No, you can’t have my fish oil capsules,” “We’re not going to the kindergym today,” “It’s time for a nap,” he gets upset sometimes, but way less than I would have imagined. I think he’s actually starting to learn that the world is finite and not the way you want it sometimes and that it’s a bummer but also something he can handle. It’s been a huge relief for me to give up the ghost of trying to save him from that disappointment. And I can choose to do things his way or walk at his pace or wrestle on the bed or wear sunglasses and eat yogurt, but I need to choose myself if that’s what we’re going to do, rather than being constantly tethered to his ever-changing whims.
The other thing I’ve been getting all mojo-ey about lately is a statement that I learned from a Magda Gerber book that I just listed in my Toddler page, “I’m not going to let you do that.” Hallelujah. It’s just the best damned statement in the world as far as I’m concerned. It’s clear. It’s direct. It’s what I mean. I don’t have to get into some weird, murky, moral conversation where I try to explain to him why we don’t grab other people’s nipples. And again, it’s just as much about re-wiring myself and stepping into my parent power. POW. I’m not going to let you do that, because I’m the parent and I can take your hand away from that little girl’s nipple and pick you up and take you somewhere else. Ahh, the simple elegance of stepping into my own parenting oomph and confidence.