Recently in a post, I said that parenting gets easier. I believed that at the time, I truly did. But let’s face it; past Fiona is frequently wrong about things, and she was wrong about this.
I yelled at the Rocket today. It had been a tough couple of days – the organisation I’m volunteering with was at a crucial point, Teach came down with a stomach bug, work was full of less-than-stellar customers and the Rocket has developed the most high-pitched squeal ever known to man. Things swing from good to bad quickly: I took the Rocket out for dinner on Sunday night so Teach could rest without someone pelting into the bedroom and yelling “WAKEUP!”, so we went for Indian nearby, which was nice, and then she refused to eat anything but rice, which was a bit annoying, and when I went for our generally failsafe “Just one mouthful and I won’t make you eat any more,” she squealed and spat it out. Yes, great, thanks – lucky we were there before 6pm and thus before any actual customers, but that’s because I’m now afraid to go out where there are other people. Lately that’s all I’ve been getting from her – screaming, “NO!”, whacking, refusal to do anything, eat anything, walk in the right direction, hold my hand, eat dinner, stop eating dinner, loving celery one day and its mortal enemy the next, slapping her hand in lentil bolognese so it flies all over the house, obsessions with one straw that then has to go with us everywhere, and god forbid any of this goes slightly wrong or it’s INCANDESCENT RAGE. Anyway, this morning she ate her cereal with standard terrible mess, and while I cleaned the rest my porridge went cold, and when I finally got to sit down with it I delivered the Rocket some chopped banana at the same time and she yelled, “NO!” and turned it upside-down onto the floor, then threw the plate and squealed.
Camel’s back broken. I yelled at her, loud and fearless. “ROCKET, HOW COULD YOU? THAT WAS NAUGHTY! I AM SICK OF YOU THROWING FOOD AROUND. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? GET DOWN AND PICK THAT UP RIGHT NOW.”
Pretty stellar parenting there. “What is wrong with you?” Well, self, she is two, that’s the problem here, and it’s yours, not hers. I took her out of the high chair to pick up the banana and she couldn’t, because she was crying and saying, “Hug! Hug!” and wouldn’t let go of me. So, not only was it not how I’m trying to parent, but it didn’t even work. She didn’t clean it up like she would’ve (in theory) if I’d calmly put her on the floor and instructed her to help me. It took me even longer to eat my porridge because there was a kid attached to my neck and howling. And as she hiccuped slowly back into a normal breathing pattern, I felt terrible. I did that. I made her feel bad.
This isn’t a post to beat myself up. Sometimes she makes me feel bad too, like when she tells me to go away or that I can’t be doing the fun thing she’s doing with her dad. But when I’m calm with her, she is much more ready to respond with calmness, and when I shout, she responds with heightened emotion and no one gets anywhere. So I probably won’t ever shout again ever, because I live in some kind of reality where everything won’t build up again and I won’t find myself electric with frustration.
To fix myself and her I took her out to the supermarket, which was of course a terrible idea because she insists on carrying the basket and putting random things like giant margarine tubs into the basket, which she can’t carry because I needed to buy soy milk, so she just pushes around slowly, and if I say, “Let mummy help?” she squeals and sends all the elderly people around us to their hearing-aid doctors immediately. Sure, firm hand and all that, right? Well, picking up a screaming baby as well as a heavy basket just doesn’t work, so it just took me twenty minutes to get three things. Frustration was building again, but that’s okay, we were meeting our friend S.
Sometimes I worry – after the fact, anyway – that when I hang out with friends I kind of stand back and let them deal with a lot of it. I disliked that when I wasn’t a parent, because I felt scared and unsure and like I was the one they depended on for life; it’s not like that, because I still have ultimate protection, but it’s just so nice to have someone else get yelled at for misinterpreting her for once. We went home and sent her off for a merry but sadly short nap; after she woke up and ate most of her lunch (though for some of it I had to rub her back, because who the hell knows why), we went to Little Creatures for an hour. Then we dropped S at Canterbury station, and took a little stroll to Canterbury Gardens for a while. There’s no park, but it’s very pretty and there are low-hanging trees. We sat in the rotunda for a while and the Rocket zoomed in circles for a while yelling, “Run round! Run round!”
You know when things are easier? When you can focus entirely on the kid. When you have endless time and patience to sit in a spider-filled rotunda with a toddler telling you which bench to sit on. Then she doesn’t squeal or say no, or break your heart. But you know what’s hard? That exact thing. No errands, no stress, good weather, time – these are not always easy to find. That’s when it’s hard.
We went to a different supermarket on the way home to get stuff for lunch. As we wandered the aisles (we both held a basket handle this time) we encountered a slightly older girl by the pea freezer. We said hi, and the mother said, filled with a familiar tired tone, “You’re welcome to take her!”
I said, “Aw, but I was going to see if you wanted mine. Maybe we could just put them on the shelves?”
She said, “And then go to the pub!”
We grinned, understanding, then held our daughters’ hands and went on our way. At the checkout, the girl was back, behind us, and a boy in front of us was grabbing a can of Mother as his own mother said, “Of all the things!” and wrestled it off him. As she tried to wrangle her shopping bags and her son, he grabbed a handful of strawberry Mentos packets, and she took it out of his hand – so he grabbed more with the other. (How uncouth. The Rocket usually goes for TicTacs.) She sighed in frustration, and while we all tried to contain our ridiculous and unfair little soul-sucking amazing balls of fun, there was a brief moment where at least I could remember that in all this shouting and crying and feeling like returning her to the cabbage patch, at least I’m not alone.