Any dating service would warn us off each other, I’m sure.

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”?

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9 thoughts on “Any dating service would warn us off each other, I’m sure.

  1. Wow, our girls sound a lot alike. Sensitive, dramatic, shy–YES.

    It is frustrating. I often feel like I give A so much, and I just want her to GET OVER IT ALREADY and appreciate what she has, instead of bursting into tears because I’m not reading a book with the appropriate level of enthusiasm (not too much, not too little). But of course my issues are not hers, and she has no reason to appreciate what she has because it’s all she knows.

    The book I have on three year olds basically says to pawn them off on a babysitter, because they do better with anyone but their mothers. So the conflict isn’t original, but I’m not sure that helps.

    Getting some time away from her is probably the main thing that helps me maintain my equilibrium when I’m with her. And, you know, wine.

  2. Oh my!!! You have described my friend Susan’s daughter to a T (she is just 3 months younger than Ingrid!).

    And. AND my youngest sister. My dad and stepmom really had a time with her when she was preschool aged. They got through it and now, my sister is in her early 20s and it such a Go Getter. A Gal Who Gets Things DONE. And does not take flack from guys.

    However, I know that my stepmom struggled with having a daughter with such a strong personality – it was pretty different for my dad, he encouraged it. And it is hard to reign in all that personality without breaking it (or yourself 🙂

    I am not sure where I am going with this. Today’s post hit the nail on the head for me in describing what Ingrid is like. And I feel for you. I keep telling my friend Susan how awesome it is that she has a daughter who is so strong. But I know that being the MOTHER of a strong girl is a daily challenge.

  3. Oh my!!! You have described my friend Susan’s daughter to a T (she is just 3 months younger than Ingrid!).

    And. AND my youngest sister. My dad and stepmom really had a time with her when she was preschool aged. They got through it and now, my sister is in her early 20s and it such a Go Getter. A Gal Who Gets Things DONE. And does not take flack from guys.

    However, I know that my stepmom struggled with having a daughter with such a strong personality – it was pretty different for my dad, he encouraged it. And it is hard to reign in all that personality without breaking it (or yourself 🙂

    I am not sure where I am going with this. Today’s post hit the nail on the head for me in describing what Ingrid is like. And I feel for you. I keep telling my friend Susan how awesome it is that she has a daughter who is so strong. But I know that being the MOTHER of a strong girl is a daily challenge.

  4. I’ve never heard such kind theories about 2.5yrs. I’ve always been warned to brace myself from the time they turn two until some time closer to five.
    My four year old is sensitive and dramatic. That was the only “negative” comment her preschool teacher had at the mid-year parent/teacher meeting – that she cries at the drop of a hat over completely inconsequential things. I nodded, agreeing, waiting for some sort of suggestion as to what we could do about this. There were none.
    Since then I’ve wracked my brain trying to think of what, if anything, to do about it. I’ve decided two things:
    1. I can help her manage her emotions better, to identify how she’s feeling and try to help her put it in perspective (needing your shoe tied is not worth crying over, just ask for help).
    2. Sensitive is the way she is wired. This is a good thing in the long run. She hates to see anyone in distress, she is very in tune to others’ emotions. This is a good thing in the long run, provided I continue to keep up with #1.

  5. You two don’t sound doomed at all. You sound like you will have a wonderfully close adult relationship. It’s the getting there that will be hard. Trial by fire?

  6. I have never heard that 2 1/2-3 is supposed to be easy. In fact, I just finished reading a book that says it is horrible.

    My son is 2.5 as well. He’s the polar opposite of Ingrid, but he is such a handful. Sometimes I just want to leave him under a bridge for the trolls to find, only he wouldn’t stay there.

    I don’t know what to tell you. Just keep on keeping on. I do think it is important for our children to learn that their actions can make people angry. I am always horrified after I yell at my child, but on the other hand he is going to hear yelling in his life time. I don’t want it to come as a shock to him down the road. It is not something I do often or make a habit of, but it is a normal human response that happens, so I try to move on and forget about it while making sure he knows I still love him. I tell him “Mommy was very mad.” and then sometimes if I feel I am about to lose it, I tell him I am going to get mad and that sometimes makes him stop. Or sometimes he laughs at me. He doesn’t have a sensitive bone in his body.

  7. Oh my gosh! Cagey called me today and told me to read your post – I think our daughters are related somehow! Our relationship has always been challenging, but the last two weeks since my son was born have been downright ugly at times. She is sensitive and dramatic, and now extremely angry with me for diverting my attention to the baby. I’ve been in tears over her more in the last two weeks than in the last two and a half years combined. I’m really not sure what to do, I’m just hoping that we eventually find a routine that works for everyone. I will definitely keep reading to learn what works for you!!

  8. I get what you’re saying. You know, FWIW, it does sound like a perfect storm, but perhaps of development and temperament, not just your temperament and hers. I mean yes, dramatic and sensitive and three (and rather precocious) is a really tough mix, but not every age will highlight those characteristics (and cause friction between you) the way this one does. N has, for instance, an extreme need for control (and I kind of do too, as hard as that is to admit, and I do not need some little three-footer highlighting that for me all the damn day). I think that’s a temperament thing. Two was really hard with him, but so far three is proving much easier. It’s all 3yo drama and tears at my house right now too, though, mostly theirs. But Melissa is right, they are worst with their mothers at 2 and 3, and shyness is probably at it’s worst then too. You have many years ahead of you to get to see her be brave, take risks, try hard, and connect with people. She isn’t even old enough to have really developed a friendship with other kids. I think you’re a really patient and thoughtful mom. It’s fucking hard a lot of the time. Let A put them to bed and come for a walk with me – we can walk through the alleys and peek at vegetable gardens…

  9. I think our girls need to go out for a cup of tea, they have so much in common.

    Just forgive yourself. You’re doing the best you can. I know how you feel, missing the relationship the way it was “before” baby #2 came along. She probably misses it too. And it will get better. (won’t it?? That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway.) You guys are just figuring it out as you go.

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