“I’m gonna be honest. I had NO idea how to handle it.” That was part of a very long text I sent to my sister a few nights ago after an epic battle with my almost three-year-old that I’m pretty sure I didn’t win. It was one of those sort of surreal moments when you’re experiencing your kid throwing all kinds of emotions and kicks your way and you almost freeze in time, thinking, “I literally have no idea what to do right now.”
Everything I knew wasn’t working. Or left my brain. My sweet, funny, stubborn little girl didn’t want to go to bed and she would be DAMNED if I was going to make her.
Let me back up. With our first daughter, we settled into a lulled state of feeling superior to everyone else that we’d born the first toddler ever to not throw tantrums. And then, around 2.5 years old, her little devil horns emerged, her feelings became bigger than her ability to express them without fits of tears and body flopping, and we were like, “Oh, shit.” About 6-8 months later, after lots of mistakes that would defy all of the “dos” section of any good parenting book, lots of exasperated moments that felt like years, and lots of talking to people who know more about this stuff than we did, we learned together how to help her express these feelings of hating us, bedtime, a certain color food, etc. Basically, we got Toddled. But we worked our way through it and lived to tell tales.
However, as with most things in parenting that I think I’ve totally nailed, walking around pridefully, looking for my Mom of the Year badge, I immediately got smacked in the face with the reality of raising human beings. It’s f’ing hard sometimes.
Enter: Fiona. As she moved into toddlerhood, we braced ourselves. We padded the floors, steadied our breathing, and readied ourselves for the inevitable tantrums over asking for chicken nuggets and then crying uncontrollably when she got exactly what she wanted. But then…it didn’t come. She circled around the last corner of being a two year old and we could all see that big 3 flashing in the not-too-distant future. Wait, did we figure out parenthood? Should I start looking for my Mom of the Year badge this tim- WHACK!
What? Wait, what was that? Did my kid just hit me? WHACK!
Oh, game on, toddler.
Our firstborn didn’t hit, that wasn’t her go-to move. She also typically responded to regular old discipline when we laid it down (within reason, c’mon, she’s human and a kid whose entire job it is to push our boundaries and find out where they are.) But our second-born? She’d dealt with enough of this Lord of the Flies shit in daycare each day and she was not gonna take it from me. Bedtime? I’ll just lay here, stiff as a board, and make you figure out how to carry me to bed sideways without giving me a concussion. Time to put my shoes on? Stiff as a board. You peasants can put my shoes on for me. Tell me not to put my hand on the stove? I’ll burn off all of my skin before proving you right, mommy! Don’t pull Rauri’s hair? Yank. “We do not pull anyone’s hair in this family.” Lies, bitches! YANK.
Oh hell no.
So we put our pride back in its rightful box and got down and dirty with some parenting. You guys know how this goes – boundaries, following through, and consistency. The Holy Trinty of Parenting.
Except…sometimes the Holy Trinity fails me. Sometimes, my humanness takes over and I find myself actually saying to myself, “You can’t shake her” or “You can’t just walk downstairs and pretend it’s not happening.” Crap. I have to be the grown up here and I’m not sure how to do it without scarring us both! Which is exactly what happened the other night. We’ve noticed lately that the sassy level had been increasing a bit, but it was manageable and we’d take it, and the management of it, any day over the body flopping and screams. But then, just as we were about to hit our Nirvana for the night and have the kids in bed so we could watch “Peaky Blinders,” Fiona decided that plans are for punks and literally hit me twice after I asked her to go into her room for the bedtime song.
I swooped her up, told her that we don’t hit people in our family, and plopped her in her bed. She saw this, of course, as a challenge that I was not prepared for and started kicking me and saying “no mommy” over and over again. What is happening? Is she kicking me from her toddler bed? If I wasn’t so enraged, I’d start laughing. But I know that that wouldn’t be the right response either. But she’s thirty-something pounds and still has pudgy baby cheeks that I love more than life itself. Plus, she’s in a bed fit for a Hobbit. Yet, she’s kicking me and my blood pressure is rising while all of the parenting techniques I’ve learned throughout the last four years just vanished. I think I yelled at her. Actually, I know I yelled at her. I also know that I sat still for a minute trying to process what was happening. Finally, though, I picked her up, brought her into the other room, and plopped her on the bed. I told her that when she could calm her body down, we would talk about this. Which just made her hit and kick me more. I yelled some more, she yelled some more. Finally, I grabbed her, held her, and said that when she could control her body, I’d let her go. She went limp. She’s no fool.
So I let her go. And she started kicking again.
She sounds like a delight, no? Honestly, it’s really hard for me to write this down, because I know that there will be judgment. Of me, of her, of all of it. But I’m also writing this down because I know that I’m definitely not alone. I know that, whether you speak it into the universe or to your best friend or not, this shit has happened to you before, too. Maybe not the hitting or kicking. And if I was Fiona-less, I wouldn’t have experienced it either and would probably be judgmental about it myself. I get it mama.
And I’d like to say that I figured it out, she calmed down, and she went to bed understanding how to better express her distaste for the same exact bedtime routine she’s always had and loved, and things were fine. But that’d be a lie. Instead, when I brought her back into the room, she started throwing stuffed animals out of the bed. After the second round of this, I told her that if she threw anything out of her bed one more time, I’d take it for the night.
You’re not new to my daughter now, dear readers. So what did she do? Did she rationalize the situation and think, “I really like sleeping with dolly and this bo-bo, I’m gonna keep them safe with me in bed”?
Oh hell no.
Thankfully, the Holy Trinty of Parenting kicked back in for me just in time. So when shit started flying again, I grabbed it, stood up and said, “That’s it, I’m taking them for the night. I love you, goodnight.” And Ian and I walked out of the room in a slow motion movie sequence where there are big blasts of fire behind you and you just have that serious “We’re bad-ass warriors” face on. Let it burn, kids, we’re O.U.T.
Cut to: a frantic, ten minute long text exchange with my sister, a preschool teacher and my go-to for all things parenting crisis. She gave me, as always, super helpful tips and kind reassurances. She's the best and if I remember half of what she tells me a third of the time, I consider myself an amazing mom.
I’m not a yeller, I don’t like being yelled at and I don’t like yelling at others. I do think it’s necessary in some situations, but I really try to keep it for very special occasions where my kids snap to attention, knowing that mom means business. And it works. But in moments like The Bed Brawl of 2019, I yelled more than I would’ve liked and it had zero desired effect. It just made us a house of two people yelling at each other while one also got kicked.
The good news is that you get a second chance. And a third, and a one hundredth. That’s one of the blessings of parenting, in my opinion. While in the immediate after-math of something like that with one of my kids, I feel like a huge failure. I feel like I’ve definitely tipped it over the edge and they’ll be in therapy over me for life. I feel like I’m not the mom they deserve and I’m not doing right by them, teaching them the things I value – owning and knowing you’re safe enough to talk about your feelings. Knowing that mom and dad will keep them safe and help them through these overwhelming moments of Toddlerhood. Knowing that mom and dad have the answers. But in the end, I suppose, if I can eventually show them that no, I actually don’t have all of the answers, nobody does, but I will always do my best to keep them safe and help teach them how to navigate the minefields of an interior life, then I’ll consider it a win.
The other good news is that kids really are the best. They don’t know how to do this shit either. And when the girls woke up the next morning and saw me, I got the usual hugs, kisses, and cuddles. And because she really likes to keep me on my toes, Fiona – unprompted - said, “I’m sorry I kicked you mommy.” And I said, “Next time we’ll figure out how to do better together, ok?” and she smiled and said, “Ok mommy, next time we’ll be a team!” and then happily skipped off to finish her breakfast.
That’s right, baby. Next time we’ll be a team.
Unless you kick me, of course, and then it’s game on.