In the midst of an endless heat wave, with temperatures in the 90’s, and brief storms that thicken the air, but bring no relief, an Arts and Crafts show came to town. I thought it might be fun to have Sophie’s grandparents come down for the festival. We’d saunter the half-a-mile into town, peruse the booths, get a smoothie and head home where I’d make steamers for dinner.
We didn’t get started until about one, which used to be Sophia’s naptime about a month ago. She’s still in the process of transitioning to a napless day. Some days she begs to go to sleep (or can’t help falling asleep). But on those evenings—even if we put her to bed later—she will repeatedly creep downstairs, an I’m-trying-to-get-away-with-something smile on her face and say,
“I’m not tired, yet.”
“I need (more water, more toilet paper, some glue).”
Kevin is more patient that I am. He reassures her and leads her back to bed. I give her the evil eye and point upstairs, sometimes accompanied by a single stern, “Go to sleep, Sophia.”
Thus, we push through this trying hour. And as we walked the half-mile in 96-degree heat to town, she repeatedly complained, “I’m hot. I’m tired. I’m thirsty.”
I tried to reassure her, “We’re almost there. When we get to town, I’ll get you a drink. We’ll see what kinds of fun things there are for kids to do!”
As we approached the festival she spotted a man handing out balloons. “Can I have one, Mommy?” she asked, running towards the man, not waiting for a response. She came back with a red one. “I am going to have to tie this around your hand, Sophia, so you don’t lose it.”
“No! I want to hold it.” We have been down this road before. And yes, we have contributed to the demise of our planet by accidentally releasing latex into the ether.
“I don’t want you to accidentally let go of it, Soph.”
“I don’t want you to accidentally let go of it, Soph.”
“I know you don’t mean to, but you have before. Either you give it back to the man, or I tie it to your body.”
“Tie it to my wrist,” she conceded.
Now, I had two potential hazards to monitor: Sophie and the red balloon that bobbed in the air after her.
It bonked several people before I insisted on holding on to it in the crowds (or return it to the man). Begrudgingly, Sophie acquiesced.
She took an interest in the first few booths, rushing forth to put both hands on the glass that separated her from photographs of wild animals, as if she could enter them through sheer force and wishing. “No! Sophie! Look with your eyes, not with your hands!” I’d exclaim. Or she’d grasp at sparkling jewelry to tell me, “Oooh, I love this. Can I have it mommy?” And I’d have to pry it out of her hands, apologize to the artisan, and remind Sophie, “Look, honey, don’t touch.”
She eyed grandma or me jealously, each time we touched an item to check on the price or hold it to our ears. I knew what she was thinking. There are only so many times she can be told not to touch and observe the great injustice that those who say “don’t,” do it themselves, before concluding, “this sucks.”
What was I thinking? That my little bull would be content to gaze at the china around her, just happy to be at my side on one of the hottest days of the year, during the hour formerly known as naptime?
We approached a booth where people were painting silk scarves. Sophie was rapt. “I want to do THAT!” she said, excitedly.
“I’m sorry, honey, you’re not quite old enough yet. We’ll find something that you can do.”
“No, I don’t want to,” she whined. “I want something to drink!”
“Okay. Let’s get a smoothie.” We walked into a shop and I ordered us a drink. I got a large with an extra cup.
At the table, I poured half of the smoothie into a cup, and gave Sophie the other half. I handed her the straw that broke her ability to hold back.
“YOU TOOK MY SMOOTHIE!”
“Sophie,” I said calmly, “we’re sharing.”
“NO! It’s MINE. YOU SAID YOU WOULD GET ME A SMOOTHIE.” I took the smoothie away from her and told her that she could not have the smoothie until she calmed down. She tried to grab it away from me. I moved the smoothie to my other hand, and suddenly we were playing a game. She hopped around, trying to seize the cup, and I moved it from hand to hand, trying to extract a polite word out of her.
Now, if I had my wits about me, I would have aborted the mission right then and there. Somehow, I still clung to the hope that we could still have fun at the festival. If I just cooled and refueled, everything would be okay. I turned the smoothies over to my mother, hustled Sophie out of the restaurant and onto the street.
She was livid—hitting, scratching, and kicking me in a blind rage. I slipped behind a building and held her in my lap, restraining her flailing limbs. I was still fairly calm at this point. “Sophie,” I warned, “we’re not going back until you calm down.” It wasn’t until she leaned over and tried to bite my hands that I finally realized: This isn’t going to work.
I dragged her back inside the restaurant to get my phone, call Kevin to come pick us up, and let my mother know the plan. I stuck my hands under her armpits and walked Sophie back out of the restaurant as she overturned anything in our path. The grandparents followed, apologizing and righting furniture. Once outside, I called Kevin to come pick us up. Sophia scratched my mother’s chest as I gave him the coordinates of where to meet us. Grandpa Bernie held the smoothies.
I tried to give my mother and Bernie a casual wave. “Go enjoy the rest of the show, ” I told them as I half-carried/half-lugged her to the library where Kevin would have the car, Sophie kicked off her shoes. When I went to pick them up, she made a break for it.
I was in wedge sandals. Running after her, I turned my ankle.
The pain was bright and immediate. The car was still far away. I had no choice but to grab Sophie, pick her up, and limp my way to where Kevin was waiting. By the time we got to the car, my foot was swollen and blue. I saw Kevin and started to cry tears of relief, frustration, and pain.
He fettered our wild child to her booster, and helped me into the front seat. We rode home in silence. Kevin ushered her up to her room and gave her a time out. Sophie promptly fell asleep.
I iced my foot watching it grow larger and turn an ugly shade of greenish-purple. Soon, Mom and Bernie returned. Bernie, took a look at my foot and declared it a sprain. At least I did not to have to spend the afternoon in the emergency room to get this information.
I broke out my crutches from last year, when I had torn my peroneal tendon. The sprain, it seems, hit that same vulnerable spot. So, for the past couple of weeks I have been resting, icing, compressing, and elevating the foot. Already, it’s getting better.
All this rest had given me a lot of time to reflect. I don’t want to be too hard on myself—it is a difficult dance, balancing my needs and desires against my child’s needs and desires. Certainly, going to a craft show is not a need, but it is something I enjoy doing with my mother—admiring the beauty that people bring into this world, indulging in a little something now and then, supporting their art. And this pleasure is a result of the countless art and antique shows to which my parents took me when I was a child. One of my better memories is of running around Waterloo Village with my sister, unsupervised, while my parents bought agate pins, glass vases and a chair with lions on the arms that my mother reupholstered.
It is not wrong to want this. A wise person once said to me—there is no right or wrong, only conflicting needs. Different perspectives. If anything, I think I err in the direction of catering to Sophia’s rhythms and schedules to the exclusion of my own. I am still trying to find the shifting border that satisfies us both. It means making occasional misses, but not torturing myself with guilt (for indulging myself) or resentment (for indulging her). And it means attending to these feelings as they arise, being curious about them, and then adjusting accordingly.
Our happiness is tied up with each other. We are inextricably linked. Her misery can quickly become my misery. My frustration can quickly become hers. All it takes is a little bit of awareness to move from pain to joy.
I strongly suspect that when I listen to her, I am teaching her to listen to me.