It started at the park.
Ellery went down the slide, normally one of her favorite things, but must have bit her tongue when she landed. She came up screaming, inconsolable, and when I saw the blood in her mouth, I knew she had reason to cry. She's generally a pretty tough kid, and doesn't cry when she falls, and we try not to make it too dramatic when she takes a spill, especially since she's inherited my klutziness. But this time I knew she was in pain, and she needed some comfort and extra love. As I held her close, I realized how cold her tiny hands were, and felt an extra rush of guilt that I hadn't dressed her in more layers. The bright sunshine today was deceptive - as is our second-floor apartment that always stays really warm. I hadn't realized just how cold it was outside and now knew it was time to leave the park, since my toddler really wasn't dressed warmly enough.
But you can't explain that to a toddler, who just wants to keep swinging and chasing the friendly bigger kids she's met at the park. Her bleeding mouth, along with her desire to stay and play longer outside, made it very difficult to get her into the car. She protested loudly, giant tears spilling down her cheeks, and I felt even worse. She hasn't had much time outside recently, thanks to her pregnant, sick mom and the rainy weather, so I wished we could have stayed longer, but I also knew it wasn't good for her to be in the cold without warmer clothes.
So we headed home. We played for a little while, then had dinner together. Sam had a work dinner, so I knew he wouldn't be home until after the baby was in bed, which was fine. We're no strangers to Sam having to work late.
But suddenly, after dinner, everything was wrong. Everything I did made her scream in frustration, and I couldn't figure out what she wanted or needed. She asked for milk, but then when I gave her milk, she started crying because I realized she wanted the empty milk carton to play with. She started putting pipe cleaners into a water bottle, then started screaming again when her little plastic cow from her farm set wouldn't fit through the tiny opening of the bottle as well. When I tried changing her diaper to get her ready for bed, you'd have thought I was performing a root canal on her. It wasn't normal for her; she can tend to get whiny, but never has these full-on scream-cry tantrums, especially not one right after the other.
I didn't know if she was just having a bad day, or if it's her age and her desire to express her autonomy, and if we are ushering in a new phase of our sweet little girl turning into an independent, defiant, (dare I say stubborn?) child. I'm praying it was just a bad day, because I'm not sure I'm ready to handle the terrible twos this early, especially with a new baby coming along next month. Whatever it was, it was rough. And to feel hugely pregnant with a stupid, lingering head cold, I didn't feel up to the task of being a gracious, patient mother. I finally got her into her pajamas and declared we'd start our bedtime ritual half an hour early, because her grumpy demeanor meant it was time for bed.
Once we were settled into the glider, reading her books with her milk and blanket, she was fine. She calmed down quickly, and sweetly snuggled in to me as I read several of her favorites. I turned off the light and started singing a few songs while we rocked, as is our routine, and then told her goodnight and laid her in her crib. Minutes later, she was screaming again. Frustrated that she hadn't quieted down and gone right to sleep (but recognizing that it was earlier than her typical bedtime), I went back in her room to rock with her a little longer, hoping she'd soon be sleeping, because I needed a break, too. As I rocked in the dark, holding my sweet babe, I went over the details of the day, thinking of all the things I wished had gone differently, the ways I wished I had reacted differently, all the while growing more and more irritated that she still wasn't sleeping.
And then, all of a sudden, into the darkness, Ellery spoke. "Four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten!" No, the words weren't perfectly clear, but I knew that "Fo, fie, si, se-en, eight, ny, ten!" equaled her counting to herself. As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I realized she was holding up her ten fingers. My frustration quickly melted into pride and overwhelming love, as I realized how fast she's growing up and how unbelievably smart she is. (Yes, I'm that parent that has no idea how smart other kids are, but I'm convinced my kid is brilliant.)
"Ellery, do you want to practice counting?"
"Yeah!" (Her "yeah's!" are currently one of my favorite things.)
For the next few minutes, we counted to ten over and over, and I was shocked by the fact that she knew all the numbers. When did this happen? She counted from one to ten all on her own (only once, and I'm sure I won't be able to get her to do it again for awhile), but I still couldn't believe it. I realized that she's learning and growing more every day, and observing and picking up far more than I realize. It reminded me that time is fleeting, and that she won't be my tiny baby for much longer. And that, though I often feel the opposite, I must be doing something right.
So for all you other moms out there in the trenches, in that phase when your children are small and still require so much help from you, you moms who feel like most of your time and energy is devoted to these tiny people, who have precious little time to yourself, and who feel that you are messing up, making mistake after mistake in your care for these little ones? You're doing something right.
If you love your child and do whatever you can to help your child become who she's meant to be, you're doing something right.
If you're a stay-at-home mom, putting your own dreams on-hold while your children are young, you're doing something right.
If you're a working mom who is trying to balance work life and home life, all while doing the heroic deed of helping to provide for your family, you're doing something right.
If you're a working mom who loves her job and works because she knows she's happier and healthier, and consequently a better mother because she works, you're doing something right.
If you're a mom who daily tries to make the best decisions for your child based on what you believe is right (not what the books say is right, or what your friends say is right, or what your mother or mother-in-law* says is right), then you are doing something right.
So relax, sweet mothers, because it's too easy to blame ourselves for these bad days. Sometimes bad days are just bad days. It doesn't mean we're failing, or we are doing everything wrong. We just gotta keep loving these babies, and loving ourselves, and most importantly, trusting in God through it all.
If we do that, we're doing something right.
*By the way, I'm lucky to have a mom and mother-in-law who are both amazing and gracious and have never interfered in the way I parent. The above was just a blanket statement that I thought some people might relate to. Love you, Mom and Noreen!