The Terrible Twos have been getting the best of me. Coraline has always been an intense child, but lately it feels like I don’t have the foggiest idea of how to be a parent (a loving, effectual one, anyway). After several longer-than-usual workdays our dynamic seemed to have spun way out of orbit — she was hitting and biting, constantly telling me to leave her alone, and asking to spend time with everyone but me. Every attempt to have fun was thwarted by her agitation and my frustration. Who was this aggressive, mommy-hating toddler? And when did I become some short-fused, weepy mother on autopilot?
On Thursday I found myself sitting in a friend’s kitchen downloading to two other moms — one with a son roughly Coraline’s age and the other a working mom with three kids between five years and 10 months. I explained how it seemed obvious that Coraline really just wanted my attention and was just acting out to get it; but I couldn’t give her my attention all the time when I had so many things to do when I was home, like clean the house or cook dinner. The mom of three stopped her chopping and turned to look at me. “Don’t clean the house. It’s okay if she eats fruit for dinner one night, at this age it’s about what they eat in a week, not in a day. And don’t ever feel guilty about working. It’s quality not quantity. Prioritize.” Just like that. No elaborate plan for how to “do it all” and make it look effortless. Just the simple fact that the perfect mother we all think we’re supposed to be is the stuff of legends.
First thing Friday morning Coraline and I got in the car and drove to the Bronx Zoo, where we spent the whole day, just the two of us. We checked out most of the animals; rode the bug carousel and a real, live camel; had a picnic; and took the monorail to see Coraline’s beloved “big elephants!” It was a perfect day — no tantrums, no tears, no hitting. When we got home I made an easy dinner of pasta and left the dishes in the sink so Coraline could cook me a dessert of ball soup in her play kitchen. Lying in bed that night, the satisfaction left by the day was more satiating than the cleanest house could ever be. It was as if we hit a reset button, and suddenly things seem more manageable, and more joyous again, for us both. Onward…
Next week I’ll blog about some different ways to keep your mental cool in the fray, since not every day can be a day at the zoo.