Sometimes, being almost three is hard; sometimes, being the mom of an almost three year old is hard. This morning, Lily had a little tantrum over…. Well. It seemed like everything. She freaked out when I didn’t pour her enough milk. She cried because she wanted chocolate in it. She cried when I didn’t make the pancakes fast enough. She cried trying to figure out how to put on her underpants…. And then her pants and her dress and her sweater and her socks and her shoes. She cried when I had to nurse Billie and she wanted to go. She cried over the snacks I decided to bring to the Science Museum (apple and hard boiled egg).
She cried when she had to walk from the truck to the museum. She cried when we got into the museum because she couldn’t see me for a second. She cried because she wanted to see the whale exhibit that has since closed and moved on. She cried when I needed to use the restroom and she didn’t want to go. She cried when she wanted to see birds and then dinosaurs and then turtles and then butterflies. She cried when she was hungry for snack and then she cried when she realized she had lost her water bottle.
She cried when we sat in the Leprium Atrium for snack, and she cried when I asked her what was wrong and if she wanted to go to the park or go home. She cried when I told her that it was hard listening to her whine and cry all morning long, and she cried when I told her that she could go sit over in the corner and cry because I just couldn’t listen to it anymore.
She cried when I asked her if she wanted a hug, and she cried when I kissed her forehead and told her I loved her.
The hardest part about all of this is not knowing whether it’s normal, whether I’m doing something terribly wrong. The hard part is being congratulated and told I’m doing something right when my children are happy and smiley and then going home to Lily sobbing and whining.
Kiss and an “I love you” first thing in the morning? Check.
Pancakes on request for breakfast? Check.
Warmed and frothed milk? Check.
Let her choose her outfit/hairstyle? Check.
Let her choose today’s adventure? Check.
Offers of hugs and help when upset? Check.
Go find the lost water bottle? Check.
Offer to go to the playground? Check.
I would think these are the ingredients to a pretty splendid day, but instead, Lily sobbed, writhed, and whined through the whole thing. I tried narrating the emotion, “are you hungry and frustrated? I know you’re sad that you lost your water bottle, we’ll go find it. Do you feel jealous?” I tried telling her to calm down, “Lily, screaming ruins the experience for everyone around us. I already told you were going to the room where we can have a snack. If you can’t calm down, then we’re going to have to go.” I tried explaining how I felt, “Lily, it’s really hard for mommy to hear you so upset. Can you use your words? I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what you want.” In the end, I even tried ignoring her, walking out in front of the screaming three year old and glancing back every now and then to make sure she was following and safe.
So…. That’s where we are today. And see? All the lovely photos? I think that’s one of the parts that makes me feel like I don’t know what is normal. In these photos, we’re all smiling. Lily looks happy, like she loves her sister and her momma and she had a fun day, eating pancakes and going to the Science Museum. Nope. She didn’t. And while I certainly hope she loves her sister and me, it was pretty dang hard to tell today. I look at photos of other families and they look like this. It makes me feel inadequate, but then again, I do the same. I take pictures of us smiling, I try to tell you about all of the good and wonderful things in life, because recording those things is a form of thanks. But then there are those days when the specter of all those smiles is hard to live up to.
Dear Lily, I hope I’m doing this right. I hope I’m not spoiling you or ruining you or pushing you away from me. I hope that you grow up to be happy and strong. I hope that you grow up to show love with your words and your hugs and your actions. I hope you are good at solving problems and resilient and patient and kind. I hope you can come to me when you need something, even if it’s just a hug (especially if it’s just a hug). I hope you are confident and can see all the good in yourself. I hope you know that you’re funny and sweet and smart.
Maybe someday you’ll choose to be a mom, and maybe you’ll get how scary this is. Who knows. Maybe you’ll read this and your three year old will be giving you a run around too. Or maybe you’ll have chosen a completely different and lovely life. I hope I get to be a part of it, no matter what.
And that photo above, that was the best moment of my day. I told you that I was sad and frustrated and after another tantrum, “I’m nice! I’m nice!” You crawled on my back and laid on me for five minutes. I’m a little worried that I mind-played you into it (is that my problem? Trying so many parenting strategies that your mind-boggled? Is it ok to ask your toddler to make you feel better when they’re so obviously not ok themselves? Is Lily having problems because I’m too sensitive or there’s something wrong with me? Is this the beginning of her hating me? No, seriously, welcome to my mind’s narrative.)
So, forgive me my self-doubt, my rant, and my frustration. I’m so hopeful that I’ll be back soon to tell you about the sweet things Lily has done or said, Spring, and all that is good in life, because there’s so much.