Every time I hear a parent, or a non-parent, say “my child will never…,” I shake my head and smile in amusement. Don’t you know that saying that will only cause embarrassment in the long run when your precious angel, in fact, does do it? Probably in public? Probably in front of the people you laughed with way back when? If I’ve learned one thing through second-hand experience, it’s never say never with kids.
The problem with a statement like “my child will never…” is that it implies judgement on those children who would and do. It implies the parents who “allow” such behavior are somehow less than you, since, of course, your child would never.
But not only do you not know what your child would ever do, you also don’t know the circumstances surrounding the child that is doing what you assume your child won’t. Maybe it is his first time doing it. Maybe it has nothing to do with the parenting or training involved and is simply a reflection of personality, one that cannot yet be expressed in a rational manner because the child is so young. Maybe the kid is sick, or just saw her dog die, or she’s suffering the evils of teething. Maybe that parent that you’re distancing yourself from said those same words not six months ago.
I have never said, “my child will never…” out loud. But I have thought it, and it has come back to haunt me. Of all the faults I have as a parent – and they are many – I thought with full confidence that I would never have children so maladjusted to society that they would cling to me and need me present 24 hours of every day. I thought, I will never have children that cannot have fun on their own. I will never have children the babysitter hates. They love people, fun strangers especially. They socialize daily. They’re twins. They have each other for comfort, too. They don’t even really like me, I thought. I’m just the person enforcing rules and making their little lives basically unlivable. They’ll love new people, places and things. They’re adventurous. I’ll never have to worry about separation anxiety, and my kids will never throw fits because I leave the house.
Cue to last week when I left the house for a long period for the first time in a year (yes, unfortunately, it has been that long.) I typed out a lovely sheet of instructions for our sitter. The babies were excited to see a new friend, and were showing off for her as I readied myself to leave. I gave her last minute direction as I left the house. “They share the yogurt in the morning, but don’t forget to give them oatmeal about a half hour after that.” “They like Sesame St. better than Diego, but you’ll probably be playing instead of watching TV, I imagine.”
Then, I snuck out. My first mistake. My kids will be three in August. It’s no longer out of sight, out of mind with them. They understand everything. In fact, if I could redo one thing about that day, I would redo my exit strategy. I would kneel down in front of them, explain where I was going and when I would be back, and I would handle the tears and frustration as I left, in the hopes that they would not feel abandoned or scared.
Because they felt abandoned and scared.
About 30 minutes into my journey, I checked my cell to see if the babysitter had called. She hadn’t, but my husband had…three times. He told me they had been crying inconsolably since I left and that he’d told them I would bring back chocolate and candy for them, and that I’d gone to the store to get it.
I called the sitter. Things were bad. Natalina refused to let her touch her. She wouldn’t put on her pants, she was on a food strike, she was screaming and banging things around, and finally she’d closed herself in her bedroom. Dulce was laying by the door in desolation.
“Don’t worry,” she said, “they’ll buck up and get used to it. I’m sure we’ll have a great day.”
But they never did. I got home six hours later, chocolate in hand, to a quiet house. The poor babysitter looked wide-eyed and almost feverish. The babies, she said, were finally sleeping. They hadn’t gone down until three. After she left, I cracked the door to see them. Diaperless and pantless, they were asleep on the floor. They hadn’t eaten anything all day. They had refused to play, refused to do anything. They had cried and pitched tantrums from the moment I left at 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. when they nodded off to a discontent sleep.
What have I done to my children? Of all the ways I have been ruining them, ways that I have been keeping track of merciless to myself, this way blindsided me. I had no idea I’d had it coming. What had I done?
When they woke up, one was happy to see me, prepared to let bygones be bygones. The other was not so easily won. She cried actively at me for the better part of an hour, wouldn’t let me touch her at first. She was so angry. So hurt. Finally, they both calmed down, and we watched some television before going out to feed the ducks. Everything was hunky-dory again by the time my husband came home from work.
Later in the evening, Dulce held up the now crinkled and food-stained instruction list I’d left for the sitter.
“Oh, no!” she said. “Caitmin, for Caitmin.”
“Yes,” I replied, “It was for Caitlin, but she didn’t get to use it because you cried all day. Why did you cry all day?”
Dulce’s eyes widened and her lip quivered. “Dulce cry,” she said. “Dulce sad. Miss mama.”
I almost died.
My poor kids.
So, I’m looking for ways to rectify the damage I have done. I’m looking into a mother’s helper for a few hours a week, to train the babies that other people can do things for them…people who aren’t me. I’m trying to take them out in public more, but not like I have been, you know, grocery shopping and to the bank, etc. No. I’m trying to take them to playdates, and playgrounds, and libraries. Places where they’ll meet other kids and adults for the sake of meeting them, not in passing as mommy grabs the milk from the shelf.
It’s hard. I’ve not managed to do it nearly as often as I first resolved to. But I will continue to try. I am utterly defeated by how dependent I’ve made my children on me.
My child will never…
Yes, she will.
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