Andy had to leave town today for a work trip, so the girls and I are on our own for a bit. And Afton and I have been struggling lately - or rather, I've been struggling with her. It seems like for Ruthie, age 1-2 was really tough. Afton cruised through, and I thought she'd be my easygoing girl. Wouldn't you know it, they've completely swapped roles! Afton is my toughie now, only she's older and stronger (read: super independent) and she definitely is pushing my buttons (that I didn't know I had) and showing me my triggers and limits.
A few nights ago, she screamed bloody murder for about 45 minutes because it was time to put her new baby stroller away and get ready for bed (I think. I still don't know what exactly was going on). Just screamed and thrashed. I was prepared for maybe 10 minutes of meltdown (we've had family here and they've had no naps and just general busyness, so I expected some steam-let-off and actually welcomed it) but after about 25 minutes of screeching I was at the end. And she wouldn't stop. So I tried holding her. I held her face and told her to stop. I (regrettably the second after I did it) swatted her pretty hard. Nothing worked! She kept on going at the same volume and same intensity and I was really worked up. This girl can scream.
She was obviously in fight mode and me, my heart was pumping and I was in flight mode. Just get me out of here! I contemplated taking Ruthie out with me and leaving her to it. Do I call it quits and leave the room and let her just cry herself to sleep? We've never been cry-it-out people but sometimes it's just too hard. I could fight her and try to get her to bend to my will, which would not be a pretty sight and would leave me with many regrets.
Or, I could go against all that my body was crying out for and do what I knew she would eventually need me to - to stay with her, wait it out, and be ready to welcome her back to the world of the sane. I felt that I should stay and resisted the urge to run. I realized that for me and for THIS time and THIS place, I should do nothing but be at peace with my daughter. Not placate or try and fix her or remedy the problem, but to be her safe haven. It was my time, my chance, an opportunity to put into practice all those things I say I believe but when push comes to shove, sometimes it is easier to just say shove it all. But not better, not in the long run.
She slowly started to come down from the crazy and I gathered her up in my arms. She let me hold her while still screeching, but her body was soft and she buried her head into my shoulder. We sat, rocking together, for another 15 minutes as her cries turned to whimpers and moans and then those sad little after-cry sniffles.
Ruthie had been by our side all along, looking at books but also disturbed by her sister's distress. "Ruthie," I asked, "do you want to get an orange for you and sis?" She hopped off the bed and brought back a little palm-sized mandarin for each of them, and Afton accepted the orange and we sat, on the bed, while the girls peeled the thin skin and we soaked in the silence. Bed followed, all thankful.
Then, the next day...
I figured that after she had a good cry at night, the morning would be refreshing and easier. And maybe our connection would even be visibly stronger! Wishful thinking. Afton woke up cranky and nothing was making her happy. Ruthie jumped on the bandwagon and the decibels kept rising as I struggled to make breakfast for them and for myself. I had a flashback to the night before as my mind screamed Just get me out of here!
The morning continued to get increasingly worse and finally I yelled at them, "I just can't! I need a peace time! I need a peace time!" ("Peace Times" are for when someone is overwhelmed or having a hard time. It's kind of like a time IN instead of a time OUT.) and ran from the kitchen into the bathroom and shut the door.
Of course, they followed after me crying and upset. I started crying as they pounded on the door and wanted to just disappear. I turned on the shower, took a deep breath, and opened the door to their tear-streaked faces.
"Girls, I am really sad. I just really need a peace time right now in the shower. I miss Daddy and I'm having a really hard day. So you can sit on the ground right here or you can go have a peace time too on your bed. But I need a peace time right now."
They sat on the bathroom floor crying for a bit while I cried in the shower and when they finally calmed down, Ruthie looked at me thoughtfully. "Mommy's really sad?" she asked.
"Yes, I'm really sad. I miss Daddy. I just need a little peace time to feel better."
"In the shower?"
"Yes, the shower helps me feel better," I answer.
She connected the dots again. "You really miss Daddy and need a peace time in the shower?"
"Yes, I really do."
Our day got progressively better and Ruthie asked me later in the car, "Mommy, you really sad? You miss Daddy?
"Yes honey, I miss Daddy. I was sad but I feel better now."
"Oh." Pause. "And you need a peace time in the shower?"
I had to laugh. "Yes, I needed a peace time in the shower."
I think it was actually healthy for my girls to see me sad, they understand that emotion. It's healthy for them to see me need a peace time, too. It was good for me to be honest with them. We are all human. We're all trying to be the best mothers we know how to be, but we have limits and that's OK.
Meanwhile, all the arguments of our society through my mind: don't let her win. She can't act this way. Don't be weak. She needs to be disciplined. This is not ok. It's so crazy how ingrained these thoughts are!
But then truth seeps in, and I remember what I've been reading in Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson's fantastic book Desperate:
"I want to be a safe place for my children. I want them to see that my arms are open and I love them no matter what they do. I want them to have confidence that their mama is on their team, whether they spill a glass of milk and break my favorite mug, or whether they scream at their sibling with harsh words...I'm still on their team. I get them. I am them. We are all just a work in progress."
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