Stop standing in your highchair. Sit down! Are you done eating? Say “all done!” SAY “ALL DONE!” Why are you smearing avocado in your hair?! Stop! Stop it, Zoey! It’s not soap night!
I always said I wouldn’t be that parent. I wouldn’t be the parent who has to leave places early because it’s bedtime, the parent who misses things because they couldn’t bear to leave the baby with find a sitter, the parent who wouldn’t have to bribe their child not to throw a tantrum. I was never going to be the parent that doesn’t go to dinner with her friends because mom guilt keeps her home with her daughter, the parent that misses out on impromptu dates late night golf cart rides around the neighborhood because the baby is asleep and she should be there if the babe wakes up…even when her aunt is there to watch her.
But I am that parent. I think. Sometimes, not other times. But I don’t actually have any idea what kind of parent I am because it varies so greatly from day to day. One day I’m gentle and endlessly patient and the next day – well, the next day is last night.
Last night I lost my temper. Lost it because I was tired and knew I had to be up far too early for another biopsy that might not yield answers. Lost it with a toddler who doesn’t mean to test my patience because she’s not even two and she (usually) doesn’t know any better. Lost it because I wasn’t focused on my daughter, I was focused on the routine of bedtime tasks.
I laid her down to change her diaper and she moved because she hates it when I change her diaper (and yet stays perfectly still when they change her at school because her school is full of wizards who use their powers to make children behave). She yelled and writhed and threw her body around angrily. Her leg went straight into the poopy diaper that I’d just opened and that poop went everywhere – on her, the mat, and me. Frustration welled up in me. I didn’t yell but I held her down firmly and said her name furiously.
And she stopped for a minute. She stopped when she normally wouldn’t because she heard something in my voice, saw something in my face that said I was going to lose my mind. Over nothing. Over poop. And for a minute, I won. But her eyes widened and her lips quivered and she lay still – scared, sad, hurt. And I did that to her. I scared her. I saddened her. I hurt her.
It wasn’t supposed to be soap night.
But she didn’t care about that. All she knew was she didn’t want her diaper changed and her mom hurt her feelings. I hurt her feelings. And my husband, seeing the meltdown that was imminent (on my end, not hers), swept in and started helping, the cool dad diffusing the tension brought by the mean mom. (And I can already see how this will play out in the future.)
I saw her start to calm down because he was calm. I saw her start to smile. I saw her forget what I’d done. And I may not know what kind of parent I am, but I know what kind of parent I don’t want to be. So I choked down my anger, put aside my misplaced frustration, and started singing “The Wheels on Bus.” And when those little hands started rolling as the wheels went ‘round and ‘round, and that smile shook the sad out of her eyes, I knew it didn’t matter what kind of parent I was as long as I let love fuel my actions rather than anger.
Even when I’m tired and covered in poop and it’s not soap night.