Sleep deprived and locked in a brutal conflict with my meltdown queen, I’ve become highly irritable. I have zero tolerance for even the slightest of infractions. And, the fact of the matter is, I can’t let anything go with Sophia. If I give her an inch, she takes 26.2 miles.
Here’s the problem. On top of the usual battles, I’ve been manufacturing issues. I didn’t get it until my mother pointed it out after dinner.
While we were eating, Sophie crammed her whole hand in her mouth, triggering her gag reflex. Oh, she wasn’t quite to the point of retching…but she’d kind of turn red and choke for a second, pull her hand out, reinsert, and repeat.
Now, in my book, it’s dinner. And at dinner we eat. We don’t deep throat our fists. So I told Sophia to stop. You have to imagine me doing so not in a Zen mother kind of way, but in a totally grossed out, thoroughly pissed off, almost sisterly kind of way. And, thus, she reacted as any sibling would.
She smiled, reinserted her fist, and proceeded to gag herself with even greater enthusiasm.
I look at my mother and give her my bug-eyed look. The one that says, “I’m about to go completely insane.”
“Melissa, calm down,” my mother says in a whisper loud enough for the neighbors to hear. “This is not a big deal. She’s not hurting anyone. She’s not anorexic. She’s doing it to get your goat. Let it go.”
I wanted to whine: But mo-om! I can’t. She’s gagging at me! On purpose. Make her stop!
But, to my credit, I didn’t.
I tried not to look at Sophie. Still, I could see her, out of the corner of my eye. Her fingers slick with saliva. Drool leaking out of the corner of her mouth. Really? Was I supposed to let this go?
Finally, I couldn’t stand it any longer, “Sophia, finish your dinner or you’re going straight to bed.”
“Without a book?” She asked, weighing her options. In her estimation, the potential elimination of the book might make dinner worthwhile. But I was not about to withdraw it; the book is my only leverage at this point. I needed that leverage for whatever was about to come next.
“We’ll discuss the book later.” I say, “If you can’t keep your hands out of your mouth you must be done with dinner.”
“I am. May I please be excused?” She was already climbing out of her chair.
“Yes. But then we’re getting ready for bed.”
“With a book?”
“Yes, WITH A BOOK!” I said, completely exasperated.
After we fought to get her pajamas on and her teeth brushed and she ordered me to leave the door cracked so a little light will shine through and to please sing her goodnight song as a duck and I quacked her to sleep, I collapsed on the couch across from my mother.
“Melissa. You can’t fight her on every little thing. I almost feel like, you’re too intensely focused on her. If you had another child, you wouldn’t be able to do this.”
“If I had another child, I’d lose my mind.” I retorted. But I knew she was right. I can’t let every little thing she does get to me. But I also don’t know how to reel myself in. Maybe if I just get some sleep.
Well, that night I got some sleep. So did Sophia, for a change. (I had finally solved her run-to-the-bathroom-40-times-each-night problem by putting a potty in her room. Having a bedside toilet quelled her fear that she wouldn’t make it to the bathroom on time, and so her checking behavior: “Do I have to go now? Do I have to go now? Do I have to go now?” finally abated.) I don’t think she got up once that night.
The next day was the most conflict-free day we’ve had. Oh, I had to struggle to get her dressed because the outfit I brought to my mothers’ had some blue in it and wasn’t solidly pink. And she also resisted the tooth-brushing, running to her bed and pulling the covers up over her head. But she compliantly put on her shoes and followed me out to the car. And after nursery school she reported that she had “no fusses,” which her teacher corroborated. She ate her lunch without incident, and napped for a full hour and a half. Afterwards, we played Candyland, and she actually moved her pieces when she was supposed to and didn’t hoard the candy cards. We laughed and sang on the car ride home, stopping for a girls-night-out at Wegmans where we ate sushi overlooking the produce section. She sat beautifully through dinner (i.e. didn’t shove her fist down her throat), and afterwards she performed three improvised dances for me while I finished my salmon.
Heading home, I looked into the rearview mirror and told Sophie what a wonderful day I had. How much I enjoyed being with her. How nice it was when she was fuss free.
“I love you.” I told her.
And then, she said it back. Not in the rote way that she generally does, but with her eyes and voice filled with emotion.
“I love you, too.”
And in a quiet voice she added. “I’m always with you. Even when I’m not in the car. I’m always with you.” It was a variant of a reassurance I had given her, before I found the potty solution, as I put her to bed. “I’m always with you Sophie, even if I’m not right here in the room.”
She’s always with me. For better or for worse. She’s always with me.