"If I give this back to you, will you throw it on the ground again?" "Yes."
"What fun things did you do at school today?" "I was rude while the music teacher was talking."
"If Mama gives you another chance to try again, will you do it politely this time?" "No."
It was this really adorable and confusing stage of development where you have to deal with inappropriate behavior but you feel compelled to give even psychic points for the honesty.
Yeah, those days were nice. I feel like I have a full-fledged adolescent on my hands these days. Pretending her stomach hurts so she can have a fruit-flavored Tums, which I gave her a sliver of *once* like 7 months ago because we'd run out of the kid's gas whatever medicine (oh my god, Future Junkies of America?) and laughing when she's overcome by her honesty chip and says, "I just kidding," throwing massive, prolonged and exceedingly voluble tantrums over--seriously--can she eat marshmallows for breakfast. I may sound all hippie-dippy about child rearing on this blog, but I'm actually kind of a Bad Cop mommy. I'm seriously not havin' it on most things--and marshmallows for breakfast more than qualifies for that list. So that was a no-brainer. But the drama, the angst, the hurt, the weeping, the wailing, the gnashing of teeth. And all before freakin' 9am! We didn't really have terrible twos with Bambina. She was savin' 'em up for the 3.5's.
At all points in my transplant saga, we have been aware of this year's effect on her. She's a very versatile, roll-with-it kid and rather than say, "that's great!" we're actually very careful to not take advantage of that in our desire to believe that Everything is Just Fine With Bambina. At the same time, one of the best pieces of advice I read in one of those "How to Raise Emotionally Healthy Children When a Parent is Sick" books was this: "failure is still not an option." So her teachers and her school know all about what's going on, and we do check-ins and such just to make sure Bambina is getting what she needs vis a vis chances to express anything she might need to, as much as 3.5 year old can. She's entitled to be 3, which means by definition lots of emotion and opinions and behavior we don't necessarily love. But there is absolutely no support for anything resembling, "Well, she's worried about her mother, so obviously she's going to be a little bit rude to the music teacher." Mama don't play that, which I'm pretty certain Bambina knows. But she wouldn't be three if she didn't try to test the theory now and again, would she? As I've said, I'm considering it practice for when she's 16 and no longer a superfan of Mama.
One of the greatest areas of practice for adolescence is taking Bambina however she comes. There are days when she just wants hugs all day, and others when she doesn't want to be bothered by kisses or anything remotely resembling affection. There are times when she wants to hug for ten minutes before sleepy time and others when I barely get an air kiss from her as she ushers me out the door already. It is the experience that gives the lie to the notion of dogs as "practice kids." Darlings, believe me, if you want to know life with a kid, you are barking up the wrong tree with a canine. Your curious self needs instead to get itself a cat. No other animal I suspect will elucidate for you the importance of Enthusiastically Receiving Affection When It Is Given Rather Than When It Is Desired, which is the prime directive when dealing with human children of all ages.
I know Bambina loves me, I know we would both be lost souls without each other. But will she give me a hug simply because I say, "Give mommy a hug"? She probably will. But will it matter to her? Probably not. The time Bambina is most affectionate with me is when SHE needs affection, not when I need it. And that, if you think about it, is how it should be. She doesn't exist at the age of three to fulfill my emotional needs. But I sure exist to fulfill hers. What parent would have it any other way? But it's an easy truth to forget in the daily grind of life when a nice big fat hug from your cherub would make the day perfect.
I thought about this on Friday during migraine hell when she kept coming into my dark room to tell me she loves me and to give me hugs. I first thought, "Oh she's being so sweet trying to make me feel better." Then I came to my senses: this kid is coming in here to make herself feel better; she's scared I'm really not okay. So, although noise and light and conversation were nauseating me and making the hammer in my forehead pound even harder, I told her to come sit on my bed and watch Noggin with me. She leapt onto the bed, snuggled into the crook behind my knees and happily watched TV quietly while periodically kissing my forehead. If I hadn't already felt like crying for me I'd have immediately cried for her.
Instead of crying I figured I'd just put it on the table: "Bambina, you know Mama's headaches can seem scary but they're really just a big pain in the bum. I'm always better the very next day, every time. You do not have to worry about Mama, okay?" Silence. Then, "I know. But sometimes I do anyway." I swear it was like a totally self-evolved 19 year old was speaking to me through her. I answered, "I know, and I understand it's hard not to sometimes. But Mama is telling you that it's not your job to do--and that if I'm not worried about me, and Dada is not worried about me, then you sweet girl do not need to be worried about me. Lots of mommies get migraines, and the only way they fix them is to keep the room dark and lie down. I hate that I don't get to play with you for a full day; that's no fun! But it's just that: no fun. I promise you I am okay." Her response? "Why is Wubbzy riding in that robot?"
Who knows how much of my lengthy Mama Is Fine treatise she actually listened to (cue the Peanuts, "wah wah wah wah" teacher voice), but the important thing was that we brought it up and laid it out as something that is OK to talk about. And that she felt listened to when she most needed to be heard, rather than when I was most able and amenable to delivering the message. It reminded me of my teenage years. My mom was the queen of bringing up awkward cringey topics when you were trapped on a car ride with her. Let's go to x place (45 minutes away)! Great! So...[cue the questions about kids having sex, drugs at school, etc]. Oh god, save me from this conversation I do not want to have! But my mom also covered her bases: she not only made herself available for chats I didn't want to have at times I didn't want to have them, but she absolutely would sit down and hear me whenever I expressed even the remotest interest in deigning to speak with her, a person over the age of 30, and worse--a parental unit. I can clearly recall her picking me up from my job at the mall and actually letting me have my radio station play on the way home. That LL Cool J song came on (the one that was So Dirty back then but now seems by comparative standards to be positively sweet and gentlemanly):
I wanna kiss you hold you never scold you just love you
suck on you neck, caress you and rub you
Grind moan and never be alone
if you're not standing next to me you're on the phone
Can't you hear it in my voice, I need love bad
I've got money but love's something I've never had
I need your ruby red lips sweet face and all
I love you more than a man who's 10 feet tall
I'd watch the sunrise in your eyes
we're so in love when we hug we become paralyzed
Our bodies explode in ecstasy unreal
you're as soft as a pillow and I'm as hard as steel
It's like a dream land, I can't lie I never been there
maybe this is an experience that me and you can share
Clean and unsoiled yet sweaty and wet
I swear to you this is something that I'll never forget
I turned it up and sang along, hoping to get a reaction from her (gimme a break, I was a teenager). She let me have my American Idol moment then smiled at me and said, "I've been around a long time. Your songs don't shock me. But I don't think a young lady should be singing those words either." Hip checked by the Mother Superior! I think the moment stays in my mind because it was pivotal in our relationship. (I wonder if LL knows his power...) She could have been all, "That's disgusting! Ban him! Burn it!" thereby shutting our conversation down. She could have started singing along, "...ecstasy unreal!" but that would have been a)creepy and b)instant loss of credibility in my eyes as a parent. Instead she did smart c) don't give a cheap reaction, but don't approve either. It let me see where her boundaries were, that she wasn't a reactionary powerfreak--but nor was she inclined to have me singing about rock hard steel. I had a lot more respect for her after that event because my old, outdated religious god-fearing goody mother had shown herself to be really rather more than what I'd reductively ever given her credit for. She had met me where I was and hadn't blinked, even as I'm sure she was staring into the abyss of the Cool J and all he represented in the ear of her baby girl.
Which brings me back to my baby girl. My goal as a parent is to always remember that my kid's job is not to make life easy for me. It's not to emotionally fulfill me, although that's certainly a benefit I receive by default. The work here is MINE. It's MY job to take care of her emotional needs. To recognize that essential truth of good parenting: that it's no longer all about me. Some days she'll feel like kissing and hugging, somedays she won't. Most days she'll really avoid it if she feels pressured to give it. Most of all, I want to mirror what my Mom did for me that night at the mall and do it throughout Bambina's life: to always meet her where SHE is in a given moment, to accept the love (or need for love) she communicates in the time, place and manner in which its offered, rather than trying to dictate our relationship on a schedule of my choosing. Someday my cherub will play some nasty song on the radio, challenging me to push her away or to prove her right that I'm a relic unworthy of respect and trust. My goal in that day--and in all days--is to pick that Smart C that lets her know I love her enough to hear her out, and too much to let her life be consequence free.