Tuesday of the Freak-Outs: Or How Toddlers Can Be Emotionally Abusive


[Image description: Piece of bread, with “HELP” written in mustard.]

It occurred to me yesterday that if my children were my friends, I would probably have to break up with them. Not because I do not love them boundlessly. My love for them is like the universe: infinite and ever expanding. And it’s not that they don’t love me, although when I had kids I decided it would never be their jobs to love me, and if they hated me the rest of their lives, that was their prerogative, and I would love them anyway. But it turns out—bonus!—they do seem to love me.

Case in point: Sunday, while I was trying to take a nap after a very bad night’s sleep with Princess Wakes-a-Lot, a.k.a. Fiona, Petra crawled onto my body, elbowed my intestines, shoved my face with her sticky hand, and situated her bottom perfectly on my abdomen so she could love me. She leaned down and kissed me. She kissed me again. She kissed me again and again and again, every ten seconds, loving me through my nap, and then told me to Wake up, Mommy. See, love.

And Fiona? She loves me too. Loves me so much she croons my name in the middle of the night—Momma, momma—sometimes 3 and 4 and 5 times a night, and sometimes she won’t stop until my husband and I concede and put her beside us in bed, whereupon she falls into a deep slumber and will no longer call my name (but will punch me—and my husband—erratically and accidentally in the face). See, love.

No, the reason I would have to break up with my kids if they were my friends is because they are not especially considerate humans to me—me, the person who bore them in her uterus for 9 months, who squeezed their cantaloupe width from a nickel-size portion of my body. If my kids were my friends, they would be volatile, mistreating, sometimes abusive friends, and it would be unwise, even self-disrespecting to continue hanging out with them. Here is my story. Tuesday of the Freak-outs:

After picking the kids up from preschool/daycare, I park the car at our house. I hoist them out of their car seats. I throw Fiona’s talker strap over my shoulder, and grab both of their tote bags of winter gear, and add my own bag to the mix, and somehow shut the car door with my hip, and that is when the first freak-out occurs. Petra screams like I have just squashed her soul. “Mommy!!” she cries. “Mommy!!” she cries again. And then: “Hold me!!”

My arms are beyond full. I tell her I can’t.

She recovers quickly, heads to the sandbox. Fiona follows. I open the lid. Once inside, Fiona immediately begins dumping heaps of sand onto her sister’s lap. I say no, she can’t do that. She does it again. I say no, and that if she does it again, she will have to get out of the sandbox. She does it again. I pull her out of the sandbox. She sobs like she’s experiencing a life-altering trauma. She sobs and sobs and I wipe the sand off her body and Petra comes out and I wipe the sand off hers, and into the house we go.

We get inside. I situate the kids with snacks at the dining table. I sit down and rest and sigh and think, Yes, this will be a good ten minutes, because I am genius and have hit “play” on the tablet so they can watch something squeaky and high pitched on Youtube while I breathe.

Fiona says “ham.” My shoulders fall. “You want a ham sandwich?” She says, “Yeah.” Petra says she too wants a sandwich. As I’m arranging bread slices on the counter, Petra instructs me, because my kids believe I’m 90% waitress. “A piece of bread on top. With the crusts cut off.”

Just as I am pushing a knife through the edge of the bread, removing the first crust, Petra says, “May I be excused?” I tell her no, she has to eat her sandwich. She revolts. “I don’t want a sandwich!” I lay the plate on the table. She pushes it away like it has violated her fundamental beliefs.

Fiona is crying now. She wants her sandwich. I go get it and give it to Fiona. She takes one bite and signs All done. I tell her no, she must eat some of the sandwich I made. She sobs like I’ve told her she will be entering a child labor camp.

Petra is scowling at her plate. The sandwich looks amazing, filled with organic peanut butter and perfectly cut into crust-less triangles. I want comfort. I want a hug. I want someone to make me a sandwich. I take a triangle and bite. Petra screams. “I want my sandwich!” She cries like I’ve just stolen her toes. I tell her she wasn’t eating it.

I have only a fraction of a second to realize the insanity of our situation: One child is crying because she wants the sandwich she didn’t want. Another child is crying because I’m making her eat the sandwich she wanted. I give up, pull Fiona out of her chair, let Petra be excused, and sit down, eating the rest of my thieved triangle.

Petra comes over and asks to sit on my lap. I hoist her up. She has brought her other sandwich half, which she still has not eaten. Fiona comes over to my lap. She whines. She points at Petra’s sandwich. “You want that sandwich?” Fiona nods. “Petra,” I say, “Can Fiona have your sandwich?” Petra says no. Fiona sobs again. Her eyes and mouth drip with tears and snot and saliva. She signs “eat” and cries like her caregivers daily deny her food. She sobs so hard she starts to choke, and I sit there, putting my hand on her back, looking at the ham sandwich on the table that she rejected.

I look at the clock: only forty-five minutes have gone by since we’ve gotten home. And that is when I realize that, if these were my friends, I’d have to break up with them.

But they are not my friends. They are my children, which means they are my kin, my spawn, my minions, my bosses, my loves, my lights, my rulers, my nights, my triumphs, my puzzles, my go-the-F-to-sleeps*. Did I say my loves? Amen.

* Fear not. I have never told my kids to “Go the F to sleep.” I just silently say it in my head.


9 thoughts on “Tuesday of the Freak-Outs: Or How Toddlers Can Be Emotionally Abusive

  1. I read most of your blog posts with a quiet and relieved sadness, like finding a good shoulder to cry on when the days raising a “special needs” child are tough. So what a delight that today I get to laugh so hard that I…

    …tilted backwards in my chair and then when over-correcting, knocked my coffee down and then when reacting to the mess, shouted “HOLY CRAP” which promptly woke up my napping child. Worth it!

  2. Amen!!
    Tonight I laughed out loud when I heard myself giving instructions to my girl on how to use her pillow. Because as I lay there beside her thinking ‘Go the F to sleep’ and pretending to be asleep so that I would be a good model, she started shouting (yes shouting, though I am right there beside her): ‘Help! Mommy! Help! Peee (please)!’
    So I made the mistake of stopping pretending to be asleep and asking ‘What do you need help with?’. And she says ‘Pee-yo (pillow)!’
    Me: Okay, how can I help you?
    C: Pee-yo, help! Peee! (frantically pointing at her pillow, which is under her head)
    Me: I think you’ve got this C, you’re on your pillow.
    C: Help! Mommy peee! Pee-yo!
    Me: C, there are two things you can do with a pillow – put your head on it or under it. You know how to do both of those things. Do you want your head on the pillow or under the pillow?’
    C: On. (head is on the pillow)
    Me: Great! You did it! You got it! Your head is on the pillow!
    C: Got it. (end scene)
    As bizarre as this conversation felt, I am so grateful that we can have it.
    I’m sure you felt the same when Fiona asked so clearly for her ham sandwich, despite the ensuing drama. 🙂

  3. “If my kids were my friends, they would be volatile, mistreating, sometimes abusive friends, and it would be unwise, even self-disrespecting to continue hanging out with them.”

    This is one of the best sentences I have ever read.

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