My hands were covered in raw chicken when Rebecca asked for ice cream, so Vernon grabbed it for her. Rebecca was not happy. She doesn’t want the ice cream unless we follow the proper procedures. Likewise she’s unwilling to shortcut off the path to get down to the park more quickly. She wants Mommy to sit on Mommy’s couch and Daddy to sit on Daddy’s couch. And she always takes off her jacket when she gets into her playhouse, no matter how chilly it is at 6 AM, because houses are categorically warm. Getting the world to line up with her ideas about it is important to her.
Meanwhile Ted’s started getting up earlier so that he can see more of Rebecca and do his share of the parenting, but when he gets up Beckybean and I are already in a bubble that it’s hard to wiggle into. He offers to do things with Rebecca and for her, and I try to tell her that he can do them, but when they don’t fit with the kid’s worldview, our success is mixed.
I want to fight off Rebecca’s ideas about who should do what, because I’ve had a rough month and it would be nice if she didn’t scream when the wrong person tries to comfort her or get her out of her car seat or put on her pajamas. I want to fight off her ideas about who should do what, because a lot of them represent nascent gender roles that I don’t want to give her. And I want to fight them off because it makes Ted feel like she doesn’t like him.
But I also want to treat her desires respectfully. It’s hard to stick to saying no to her when she’s screaming for me to do something simple that I’ve done a zillion times before, and anyway, I doubt she’ll feel good about her dad helping her with her pajamas if he has to put them on her by force.
The fact is that Rebecca’s been weird lately. She’s wanted to stay at home most of the time, nurse a lot, sing silly songs and hear stories about how we took care of her when she was a baby. We’ve also been reading What Do People Do All Day? and a couple other Richard Scarry books for two to five hours a day, every day of January. She generally has a punishingly long attention span for things she gets interested in. It hasn’t coalesced into much externally, but on the inside her head must be exploding. On days when she doesn’t want huge amounts of physical contact with me, she’s been increasingly independent in her play, so I suspect that she’s also feeling challenged by her own independence and figuring out how she fits into the family.
I want to reassure Rebecca that I’m still there for her when she wants me to be, which means maybe now isn’t the best time to insist on challenging her ideas of how our family should work. I’m tired and sometimes jealous of Ted, but I can live with this situation and I probably won’t regret it. What’s galling is that we’re not turning out to be quite the kind of feminist parents we wanted to be or thought we should be, and I’m starting to hear that I’m over-attached.
When I decided to be a stay-at-home mom and also do the night parenting, I didn’t realize how much those habits would carry over to other times. I probably should’ve, but I didn’t. I didn’t realize how thoroughly Rebecca would get in the habit of asking me for things and I’d get in the habit of answering without redirecting her to Ted. Sometimes everyone else thinks my conversations with Rebecca look like C3PO talking to R2D2, while I wonder why I’m the only one who’s answering her. And I definitely didn’t realize how much Rebecca would fight to maintain an idealized division of labor. Or just now, how she’d need a mommy recharge midway through my Saturday morning writing time. We ate noodles and read together, and it wasn’t really a problem, but it keeps on surprising me how important those recharges are to her. How do you gently transition a toddler into accepting basic care and comfort from someone else?
Or maybe that’s not the right question, since she used to be happier to have her dad take care of her than she is now. I suspect that it would help Rebecca if we got back into more of a routine. We never had a strict schedule, but the holidays demolished what we had and then we (mostly me) and our friends got sick for most of January, so we haven’t been going on regular playdates, either. Maybe if the rest of her life is super orderly she’ll cling less tightly to family order? I also suspect that Ted could choose a particular task that he’s always in charge of when he’s home, talk to Rebecca about it ahead of time, and then try out the new order when Rebecca’s not too tired.
But what I really want is for our lives to be flexible and our presences interchangeable. Bah.