A lot of people say that as a child progresses from two and a half to three years old, she enters a period of relative calm and equilibrium—a sweet haven between dictatorial two and discombobulated three.
Those people are not familiar with my daughter. Or maybe she is just precocious, already acting three and a half?
I want to write about what’s hard with Ingrid right now, but I want to be careful. I know that I have
a bad attitude a really bad attitude about her right now. I know that I’m often unfair to her, that she needs and deserves more patience than I’ve been giving her, more flexibility. I know that almost all of the things I’m frustrated and mad about are things neither she nor I can help right now; it’s my reaction that’s wrong, and my slowness at figuring out what makes her tick and how to keep our relationship happy.
But at the same time, even trying really, really hard to keep all that in mind, there are many, many hours when I can’t think that charitably about it. Yesterday I screamed at her. Screamed. I didn’t use any words that I regret. But I regret the volume and the tone. I don’t believe in yelling at kids. It was horrible. I was horrible.
She and A are at Grandma’s for the night, giving Iris and me some quiet time together and giving Ingrid and me a break from each other. And I’m trying to think through what I know about her, why it’s so hard, what I could do better. There are lots of parts:
She is sensitive. Small things bother her a lot. Socks with any sort of wrinkle or seam. Tags in shirts. Sleeves that are the tiniest bit too small. Underwear that is “sticking to her.” Having a piece of oatmeal stuck to her tooth. Slight changes in temperature. There is almost never a time when everything is right. I, on the other hand, am the sort of person who might (ahem) not notice for a day or so that my husband got a haircut. I’m farsighted! And, apparently, insensitive. I try to understand, but it’s a challenge to remain empathetic after the seventh sock adjustment.
She is dramatic. Those discomforts? She almost never just takes them in stride. She very, very often reacts intensely. When I brush her hair, she cries as though I am peeling off her scalp. When A clips her fingernails, he might as well be removing her fingertips. And I react with similar intensity when I find myself in a situation that’s hard. (Example: A thousand pieces? Come on! All I’m doing is raising children!) So
if when I forget I’m the grownup, we get into awful cycles of struggle and egg each other into a total, unreasonable state that’s almost impossible to get out of.
She’s pretty serious. I think that a lot of kids this age express glee often. Not so much with her. Not outwardly. And it puts me on edge. I know it’s just how she is. In fact, it’s how I am too. I sometimes miss jokes because I’m so busy taking everyone seriously. But I have the twisted and wrong belief that seeing her happy is the reward I deserve after (cue violins) all I do for her. She does have times of silliness and big smiles and excitement about things. For some reason, though, these don’t often happen when just she and I are together, and often they feel too few and far between for me. In sane moments, I know my worry and anger about this are wrong, but in the thick of things it just becomes another part of the tangle.
She’s cautious around people she doesn’t know well. And by “doesn’t know well” I mostly mean “doesn’t live with.” This shouldn’t surprise me; A and I are both the reserved sort, as are most of our family members. In theory, I value shyness. But also, I deeply wish, for her sake, that she weren’t shy. I guess that on some level I believe it is a lousy quality to have. It’s something I don’t like about myself. I wish she didn’t have to be this way too, and for all my practice learning how to be a relatively successful shy person in the world, I often feel I’m just not up to the challenge of helping her manage it in a way that lets her enjoy herself.
And yet: I think she might be an extrovert. At least, she has a very strong need for social interaction. When she comes home from day care she’s content, full of ideas, more ready than ever to talk with A and me and tell us long, complicated stories. I think if she were a genuine introvert, she’d be exhausted and want to just be alone at the end of a day full of other kids. But no. I think that in spite of her initial cautious reaction to people, she really needs and craves social life. And me? I have a super intense need for lots and lots of time all by myself. Do you see how that’s the perfect storm? Her small social circle plus need for relationship, my limited social energy…exhausting.
I miss the relationship that she and I had before Iris was born. I miss it a lot. I remember even then feeling I didn’t have enough energy for her, couldn’t give her enough. But it was enough so that, if I got enough breaks, we could really enjoy each other. I felt connected to her. I felt like we knew each other. Right now it feels like we are lost to each other. It feels rotten and sad.
I do have some solutions and some ways to think about it that help. I’ll write about some of those next. It helps just to untangle it enough to describe it, rather than be caught in it all the time.
A’s suggestion last night at the end of a long discussion about this was that I “take some type of meditation course to learn about inner peace.” Which is funny because I am the one who brought all the Thich Nhat Han books to the relationship. I am the one who’s spent years and years reading about the gazillion types of enlightenment, and, oh yeah, I’m the one who’s been praying by accident all year. And he is the one who refuses to go to church because all he needs is to walk in the woods. And he tells me I need to work on inner peace?
Of course, he’s probably right. Jerk.
Have you read this whole thing, Internets? Does it sound to you as though my daughter and I are doomed? Have you got anything to offer me besides “work on inner peace”?