Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Beta-Testing My Alpha

Top o' the morning to you. I'm up crazy early trying to find one minute to post something before the Tasmanian Bambina wakes up and gets the day started.

She is going to be 3 in a couple of months. I have been putting together her "lifebook" for her and having all of those mama-moments of wondering how she was ever so small and is now so big and so grown-up. (A lifebook is a photo album that gives The Story of Bambina, to give her a sense of place in the world, to know where she came from, to give her a personal narrative that she can tell others should she want to. She won't have a footprint or baby bracelet from a hospital, but she'll have a couple of pages on the region of China where she was born, a picture of all of us with her nannies from the orphanage, photos of our first day as a family, etc. The intent is also to give her pride in her origins, in her birth country, and in her birthparents).

Anyway, I was reflecting on the past two-plus years yesterday, not because I was having such a great day with her, but because I was having such a NOT great day with her. We escaped a lot of the terrible two stuff. Minimal public outbursts, minimal tantrums, absolutely none of the behavioral stuff like biting or pushing that I see a lot in the playground. And Bambina has been great too! ;)

Yesterday, however, was one of those days where I was caught in a classic first-time parent dilemma, where you can see what's going on but you haven't figured out how you're going to handle it yet. You see, as my sweet little cherub now approaches the age of three, she is still that, to be sure. The issue is that she just kind of finds me irrelevant. And there's the rub. She's not openly defiant, not tantrummy, not emotionally unglued. She just says, "No thanks" when I tell her to do something. It has been going on for a couple of days but yesterday was the first day I figured it out.

Something had to be done. Because, as Margaret Thatcher said, "Being powerful is like being a lady; if you have to tell people you are, you aren't." So too with telling a toddler, "I'm relevant, you know!" So as another saying goes, "old age and treachery will always overcome youth and skill," and I put my plan into action. It was time to beta-test my previously-low key Alpha Mama skills.

When I said, "Bambina, it's lunchtime. Come to the table and eat, please." She said, "No thanks." I said, "Bambina, lunch time is now. Quiet time is after lunch. So if you don't eat now we won't be eating again till after quiet time." So I went and picked her up, brought her to the table and said, "We can play again as soon as we're done with lunch and before quiet time." She just got up and walked away and said, "No" in a completely blow-off manner as she went to go play.

Now, back in the day, I'd have brought the food to her, agonized over my child not eating her three squares, felt like a terrible mom or god knows what other kind of self-flagellation (and she'd also have responded positively to my usual statement of 'we don't say No to Mama,' which is now laughed at). This time I sat and ate my lunch (in total peace and quiet!) then cleared both of our plates away. When she arrived 20 minutes later looking for lunch I told her that lunch was over and that it was now quiet time.

You could have knocked her over with a feather. It was a fantastic moment because I saw her wee face go from, "Don't you know who I am?! This is an outrage!" to making the connection: "oh. This lady is serious. Apparently the world does not revolve around me." Score one for the Alpha Mama.

I used to be uncomfortable with the notion of being an Alpha Mama, afraid that it would set up a dynamic that she'd be desperate to rebel against as an adolescent, ie, "must kill maternal authority to assert my independence. Cue the drinking and hooking up..." But as she gets older (and I get wiser?), I'm realizing that every single child needs an Alpha Mama (the knowledge that someone is in charge and that all is as it should be as a result; the psychological comfort of having boundaries and discipline). But they also need an Alpha Mama who recognizes that authority alone isn't the path to success with any child.

I guess it's the balance of having your children know in all the ways that matter that your world absolutely revolves around their safety, their security in your love, but that it doesn't allow them to hijack it for their personal wants. Or, to take the long view, I like to think my Alpha Mama ways will help Bambina to become an Alpha Woman (and maybe an Alpha Mama) someday. Which makes days like yesterday bearable even as I hear myself mantra-ing under my breath, "I'm relevant. I'm relevant. I'm relevant..."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm a little behind in my e reading, but had to comment:

I remember when my first bambina (now almost 6) was that age and laying down the "you will now pick up the toys you have strewn across the room" law. There was open defiance, crying and a time out. Then, she picked up her toys. Were we overly harsh parents? my husband and I thought. Overly demanding, forcing this cherub-y toddler to do such manual labor? Then we saw how happy she was once she did the task (and that we HAD made her do it). It was literally world changing stuff for us. Kids like to know that a grown up is in charge - wow!

Good to read your stuff, e - feel better.