This week's column starts out with a request: Does anyone have a convertible/all-in-one/toddler car seat that they absolutely love and can recommend? My 15-month old son, the Juban Princeling, has finally outgrown his Chicco Keyfit 30, which we loved, and we need a new seat for him. Keep in mind that he rides in a car approximately 10 times a year because we don't actually own a car. TIA, as the kids say! ("Thanks In Advance")
As I've discussed in this space before, I'm pretty sure I'm going to burn in Mommy Hell someday when I die. Mommy Hell, as we all know, is that special kind of Hell reserved for mothers who don't teach their children sign language when they are babies, gave birth with an epidural, didn't breastfeed, don't make 100 percent of their children's meals from scratch, don't use 100 percent organic ingredients 100 percent of the time and use Baby Einstein videos to keep toddlers manageable for 15 minutes so they can shower and eat, or don't sleep train their infants using the Cry-It-Out method.
This week's reason why I'm going to Mommy Hell - a place where toddlers bite you and then laugh about it, where favorite toys disappear into Space Vortices, where the floors are littered with broken Cheerios, where the music of a thousand electronic toys plays on an infinite loop, and the dulcet moans of "Nnnn-heh! Nnnn-heh!" wake you up at 3 a.m. just because someone's lost a paci and can't find it in the dark in someone's crib even when it's next to someone's face - is because I think I might be a Mommy Sadist.
Recently, some of my very close, inner-circle friends and I were discussing our children. Like me, they've all had babies recently. The mood of our conversations soon turned into a sad, frustrated venting, not unlike the local magazine covers here in New York right after the 2004 elections. (Example: "How to Survive the Next Four Years.") Our children, it seemed, all hated us.
It began when I emailed my girlfriends about the Juban Princeling's first steps. Of course I was happy that he finally took them, and I dutifully marked down the date and place in his baby book and made the proper announcements to friends and family on the Princeling's Tot Spot page. But the truth was, I admitted to my besties, that all was not sunshine and puppies for me. All weekend long the Princeling had been on my nerves, and that very morning I had lost my temper and shouted at him "JESUS F***ING CHRIST, CHILD, JUST SHUT THE F*** UP ALREADY!" because his whining that morning was cranked to 11. My husband wisely thought it best to take the Princeling out for a stroll in the last of the bearable fall weather, and left me at home to make a casserole for my brother-in-law's boyfriend's annual pre-Thanksgiving potluck dinner.
So there I am at home, cooking up my traditional pre-Thanksgiving potluck green bean casserole, making several trips to take all our empty boxes down to our building's recycling bins, and generally feeling grumpy and throwing myself a world-class pity party, when I got a text from my husband. My first thought was an angry, "No, I will NOT join you guys at the playground, I don't care HOW much fun you're having." I stomped to my phone. I sighed with pre-emptive exasperation. I opened it up.
"Princeling just took his first steps! He took at least five steps from me to the slide, and then did it a few more times! By the way, your friend Amanda is here."
There aren't adequate words in the English language to properly describe the dark and painful chasm of self-loathing I plunged into upon reading those words. All of the time I spend with the Princeling, nearly every waking minute of his life, and he chose the one hour that I wasn't with him to mark such an important milestone in his life?
I knew he didn't do it on purpose to me, but that didn't alleviate my feelings of bitterness.
I shared this story with my closest girlfriends, an awesome bunch of ladies I've been friends with since before we were all even married. They sympathized, and then a few weeks later one of them wrote us all a sad and frustrated email about how her own 6-month old daughter throws temper tantrums only when she's around, but is all smiles and sunshine for her husband. She mentioned understanding how I must have felt when the Princeling took his first steps during the one hour all weekend long when I wasn't with him. And suddenly the flood gates were open: suddenly all us mommies were swapping stories about how our babies all seemed to prefer everyone in the entire world (sometimes even strangers) to us, their mothers. How all of the tantrums, biting, fighting, struggles, screaming, and whining seemed to peak when we were alone with our babies, and ebb away like the low tide whenever anyone else was around them. It just wasn't fair, we all cried to one another! Did we all not carry these children for 40 weeks and endure -- for some of my friends -- excruciating and heartbreaking birth stories for these kids? Did we not know their every whimper, every cry, every facial expression by heart? Did we not fall over ourselves to make sure we were up-to-date on all the latest medical advice for our babies? Did we not bend over backwards and jump through hoops (sometimes literally) to make them smile when we were home all day long with them, and break our backs to schlep them around and keep them entertained when they were bored? If you pricked us, did we not bleed? WERE THEY NOT ENTERTAINED???
Eventually I learned to cope with my disappointment and bitterness at missing this most major of the Princeling's milestones by inventing a game in which I set him to stand a few feet in front of me and then cheered him to walk to me and pretended like he pushed me backwards. Aside from my concern that he now thinks it's not only OK, but actually accepted to walk towards women with his hands out in front of him at boob-height, I enjoyed our little game of "Walk to Mommy!" because it made him laugh and gave him confidence to walk more.
Fast-forward to this morning. I've already mentioned here how my son is not exactly the lovey-dovey, touchey-feely, cuddly-snuggly type. Nothing's changed since I wrote that six months ago. He still doesn't like to be held, pushes us away when we hug him, and shrieks like he's on fire when we kiss him too much. (My husband and I do all those things anyway. We're bigger and stronger than he is. For now.)
This morning I took the Princeling to his twice-weekly daycare, as usual. He's been going there now for eight months and he absolutely loves it. When we arrive he kicks his legs and smiles with delight. When I take him inside he pushes away from me and beelines for his favorite toy or person (whichever gets into his line of sight first). When I pick him up to take him home, he cries. He eats and sleeps better there than he does at home. He loves his daycare, and I'm happy that he does because it gives me two days a week to get stuff done, like showering and looking for writing work.
For the Holidays, the Princeling had two weeks off from daycare because all of his grandparents took turns coming up to New York from Florida to see him. He spent Christmas with my mother-in-law and New Year's with my parents. My husband and I figured that going back to daycare for the first time after being gone for two weeks might be hard for him. We were wrong. I dropped him off on Monday and he was fine. More than fine - he didn't even notice when I left him there. And when I came to pick him up he barely even glanced at me to acknowledge my presence.
Then this morning I dropped him off, his second day back after a two-week break. And he freaked out.
I mean, he FREAKED OUT. He let loose a cry I've never heard from him before. It wasn't his hungry or tired or hurt cry. It was a sad wailing, with tears and frowney face. An actual frowney face! He clung to my legs and buried his head in my knees. I picked him up and sat down on a couch. He threw himself at me, wrapping his arms around me and burying his head in my chest.
And I thought to myself: "He's giving me a hug! This is my first real hug from my son! FINALLY!"
Oh yes, I outwardly comforted him by rubbing his back and whispering soothing words into his ear. But on the inside I did a little happy dance, like the one the Princeling does when we feed him beets. My son needed me! He wanted me! He didn't want me to go! ME! ME ME ME!!! He was showing me actual affection in the form of grabbing my scarf and pulling my face near his! Well, smack my ass and call me Susan, my boy may just actually LOVE ME!
And then I felt guilty. Here was my son, my little boy, my baby, just past his first birthday and having his first real separation anxiety meltdown, with the crying and the clutching and the head-burying. And look at me, the mean old mommy taking pleasure from it. Was I really that starved for affection from my son? Tsk, tsk, me.
The daycare babysitter peeled the Princeling off me, I kissed him goodbye, and then left while she took him to her back window to look at the birds in her backyard. A minute later I realized that I had left his Bundle Me outside and I snuck back in to leave it for her in case she had to take him out later. When I opened the door and threw the Bundle Me in, he had already stopped crying.
While I wouldn't want this scenario to become the new normal when I drop him off, I do have to admit that it was nice to finally get some actual physical affection from my child. Some acknowledgment that I am, in fact, his one and only mommy and that he does, actually, love me.