Regulate your emotional reactions. And eat ice cream.
Today–this afternoon specifically–was a doozy.
I was even being all witty and thinking to title my post “Parenting Toddlers: Emotional Schizophrenia” and googled it to see if anyone else had been this clever. I discovered this article: “Over-Reactive Parenting Linked to Negative Emotions and Problem Behavior in Toddlers.”
Professor Lipscomb at OSU-Cascades has this insight into parenting: “Parents’ ability to regulate themselves and to remain firm, confident and not over-react is a key way they can help their children to modify their behavior…You set the example as a parent in your own emotions and reactions.”
Ohhhh! That’s what good parenting looks like? Thanks, science. I’ll go regulate my emotional reactions.
We began our walk to the library, and on the I-5 overpass, Audrey threw her water cup; it bounced off the sidewalk and was promptly run over and shattered by a passing car. Although it is at best a $3 sippy cup, I got upset and did not actually yell but raised my voice as I asked her why she had done that. Silence. We continued our walk and she started to cry.
Parents make mistakes, right? The best thing to do after I set a bad example of behavior is to apologize, make amends, and talk about what I could have done differently, right? This is what I try to do. After some questioning, it seems Audrey wanted a refill (her water level was low to begin with) and didn’t get one immediately, so chucked the cup. Long conversation about alternative options. I apologize, saying, “I got mad, and I yelled, and I’m sorry.” I asked for forgiveness, which she refused. At this point, Jamie started saying very loudly, “Mama MAD! Mama YELL!” over and over for several minutes.
As we approached the library, I reminded them that if we couldn’t use our quiet voices, then we would have to leave. This library, the only one we can walk to, has bad karma for us.
We took them to “Family Story Time” at 18 months, and our kids could not sit still for the long narrative books the librarian was reading, primarily to the preschoolers there. Jillian and I got death stares from one mom because, even though we kept our kids behind everyone else, they were moving and not silent.
The last time we went to this library, I walked there by myself and tried to let the kids explore the children’s section but particularly Theresa and Jamie were overly excited and voluble, and after I had been chasing each of them around telling them to whisper, one librarian came to tell me that some other patrons had complained (in the 5 minutes we had been there) and I needed to remind my kids to “use their library voices.” We left immediately and hadn’t been back.
Once I had gotten my holds and let them loose in the children’s section, they tried, they really did, but things are so exciting in the children’s section. There is a stuffed Peter Rabbit and Snowman puppet, and books with lions on the front, and a giant Curious George sitting on top of the wall (and our first Curious George book was about pat-a-cake, so guess what was recited at top volume?).
And I thought Jamie had pooped (which was a fake-out). So I told them that they weren’t being quiet enough and we had to change Jamie’s diaper, so we had to leave.
At which point Jamie went rigid and purple, and screamed for all he was worth.
I wrestled him into the stroller, strapped Theresa in next to him (with somewhat less fuss), and went to fetch Audrey. A librarian came over to talk to Jamie–good thing she was there to distract him and be helpful, because if I had been made to feel unwelcome a third time at this library, I might have lost it all together.
The bathroom is barely handicapped accessible and I performed great feats of acrobatics getting the double jogger in and out and me over the wheel to get to the changing station.
We went back into the library to actually check out my holds. The kids were silent. It was a miracle. We made it out of the elevator, and Theresa asked to hold her Little Person.
Who was in the children’s section somewhere.
Back into the elevator. Thankfully, the same librarian had just put it into Lost and Found.
Back up the giant hill. About a block from home, Theresa, who was probably feeling left out, had a meltdown because the velcro on her baseball cap stuck to her hair. I asked her repeatedly to wait till we got home for me to fix it. No waiting. I took her hat off and stuck in under the stroller.
As soon as we were rolling again: “Hat back on.”
No. Just no.
We have a little gratitude prayer that we say with dinner. We ask the kids what they want to say “thank you” to God for. Most of the time, it is: the backyard, the shovels, sweet potato fries.
Tonight Audrey said she was thankful for “Mama.”
Then we were talking about feeling mad, and I said, “I was mad, and I yelled, and I said I was sorry to Audrey.” She reached out her hands and said, “Hug.”
I leaned over and she gave me an actual hug: not the kind she usually gives, which consists of her inclining her head toward someone’s shoulder, but a real, two-armed-squeeze hug.
And then she said, “I forgive you.”
Oh my God, kiddo.
And then five minutes later, I was putting something in the hamper, and she said, “I need a refill” and threw her milk cup several feet.
Maybe emotional whiplash is a better phrase. The constant moving from “I love you” bliss to “Why the heck did you just do that?” frustration. Also Alan is in CA for four days (two down…).
So another reminder from this ungodly-long and probably-too-detailed post: that none of us have infinite patience. None of us understand toddlers. None of us can empathize with every single thing that sets a toddler to crying or whining. None of us can meet their every need.
Nor should we. We do our best. We love as fiercely and as much as we can.
And I say to science: Thanks for the tip. I think a large bowl of ice cream will help me regulate my emotions tonight.