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Apr 18 2013

More from the Annals of Toddleritis

By at 12:59 pm

crying girl on floor tantrumI was totally feeling Jordana’s piece on Toddleritis. New York Times columnist Frank Bruni’s recent parenting critique? Not so much.

The childless Bruni considers modern parenting too indulgent and democratic. His self-described parenting credential is being Uncle Frank, but the gap between aunt/uncle and parent is like that between dessert and spinach. Kids enjoy aunt/uncle’s doting; they don’t test limits. It’s different with parents.

Last Tuesday was a prime example. It was so scarring, I tried to forget it. Lila and I had mammoth struggles about minute matters. All. Day. Long.

Sometimes it feels like Lila is 23-months-old going on something-teen. She is increasingly independent and eager to express her preferences. She likes dogs, babies, and big kids. She likes riding the bus, playing by fountains, and walking everywhere–not sitting in the stroller.

I generally solicit and support those opinions, because I parent relatively democratically (Frank Bruni may frown), but my flexibility has limits. I’m willing to bump errands and meals somewhat, but we can’t bump some things too long (naps) or altogether (dinner).

Lila awoke typically cheerful last Tuesday, but everything quickly devolved into a struggle. Getting dressed, for instance, became an epic battle. We were expecting 90-degree heat, so I chose a summer outfit. Lila insisted on pants. I offered her light pants and a tee. She protested. Lila wanted to wear winter pajamas. Our final compromise: summer pajamas.

Lila’s contentedness in the supermarket lasted while she gripped our groceries, helping me shop, but disappeared at check-out. I coaxed an ice cream container from her grasp to pay for it. Lila cried out like I’d taken her favorite toy, jumped (as best she could while strapped in), and shouted as I tucked our shopping bags below her stroller. It felt like the whole store was staring at us.

We finally returned to our building. I offered to let Lila play at the front desk–with the front desk attendant who adores her–while I popped upstairs to unpack groceries. Lila usually loves that arrangement. But last Tuesday, you would’ve thought I’d suggested something horrid.

Lila hurled her body to the lobby floor with dramatic flair. She did not want to go upstairs with me, nor did she want to play in the lobby. Luckily, one of our neighbors, who babysits for us and whom Lila adores, appeared just then. She was heading upstairs and invited Lila to join her in the elevator. Lila jumped at the offer, so upstairs we rode.

Once inside, she didn’t want my help scooping the last bits of lunch’s yogurt from the container, just as she hadn’t wanted my help putting on her shoes. She kept asserting, “Self!” So, I let her do (harmless) things solo, until she called, “Help!” Generally though, she seemed more interested in doing things without me.

The rest of the afternoon proceeded like this. Everything was a challenge. Lila refused to nap until 4:30 p.m. (late, even for us), and her standard two-hour nap became a brisk 50-minutes in our not-yet-air-conditioned apartment.

By that point, I was hot, tired, and cranky. It felt like my typically happy and charming child had decided she hated me and wanted us both miserable.

There are times Lila says she wants to be “‘lone,” and that afternoon, we both needed alone time. Lila was infuriating me, and I was clearly frustrating her. However, I couldn’t just leave–this was my toddler, not an irritating colleague–so I kept going, eagerly anticipating bedtime.

Then Lila surprised me. After pushing me away all day, she wanted to snuggle at bedtime. She wanted Mommy to hold her while we read her bedtime story, Mommy to zip her into the sleep sack, and Mommy to put her in the crib. And just as Lila’s feelings turned on a dime, so did mine. In an instant, I clicked from total irritation to pure love.

That click encapsulates parenthood for me. In no other relationship I’ve ever had could my feelings change so dramatically, so quickly. And if Frank Bruni ever becomes a parent, I suspect he’ll feel what I mean and notice his parenting opinions evolve too.

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