Over the past several months my relationship with Polina has really been tested. I love her more than anything, and that is the truth. But there have also been times where she has challenged me to my core. The main culprit is usually sleep. At 4.5 years, Polina reliably naps 2 hours daily in addition to 10 hours nightly. Anything less than her daily regimen of 12 hours of sleep per day and it comes out in her behavior. I love that she naps and gives me time to myself. I am at heart an introvert and need time by myself to replenish my reserves. But sometimes this rigid nap schedule can get in the way of my agenda, and when I choose the latter I have no one to blame but myself.
Case in point. Yesterday morning I realized that Polina didn’t have enough long and short sleeve shirts. I do laundry at least twice a week and yesterday I put on her last clean shirt. She needed more, so after her half hour Russian class, lunch, and play in the park, we went to the mall. I figured we would be in and out in an hour and be just a little late for her nap.
As always, Polina looked like she could handle going to the store. We got to the mall and I parked next to a big retail clothing store. Polina had been asking for sandals, so I decided to quickly look at what was available. “I’ll be over here,” said Polina, who was by the fish tank. Even though she had been asking for sandals, when it came time to try on a pair, she began whining and crying. She barely let me measure her foot. She flung her head back and wailed as if God Himself was punishing her. She wouldn’t walk in the sandals I put on.
“She has some sensory issues,” commented the middle aged salesman.
“This is close to her nap time,” I responded in defense. But the damage was done. My heart sank. In the back of my mind I saw him comparing my daughter to the good old days when we thought we didn’t have these issues, or some well behaved child who even though s/he doesn’t want to, tries on a pair of shoes with minimal complaint. I wanted him to know how caring and intelligent she is, that she speaks and reads two languages and that she is reading and playing musical notes. I wanted him to know that this only happens when she’s tired. But expecting him to know my daughter was unrealistic. Expecting him to be professional, on the other hand, was. I took what he said personally. I told him we’d be back to try another pair. In my heart though, he lost my sale.
“Everyone has sensory issues,” commented my friend of six children when I told her the story. “It’s magnified when we’re tired. He was probably right. That doesn’t mean you have to do anything about it.”
We left that store to buy some shirts. We went to another store where there were too many hangers on the racks. Every time I put a hanger back, it moved another one so that it fell on the floor.
“This is ridiculous,” I muttered after picking up one after another.
“What’s ridiculous?” inquired Polina.
Fortunately, she behaved better. But going through the sale items and finding the best deals (i.e. flipping through the racks for the best prices) while responding to and answering Polina’s comments and questions left me emotionally tired and physically sweating beneath my three layers. End result was a purchase of ten items consisting of a pair of leggings, several t-shirts and long sleeve shirts, for a total of $52.93 with tax. I can’t believe 9 cotton shirts and a pair of leggings cost $53, but that’s the best I could do.
Back through the retail store we had to go to get to the car. Halfway to the store, Polina asked for a pretzel. It costs $3 and usually I buy her one if we are making a day of it. But I just spent $53 and I wanted to go home and get some rest.
“No,” I said. “Not this time.”
And a tantrum happened in the middle of the mall. I kneeled at eye level and explained that no meant no and that she needed to stop crying so that we could walk through the store. My words fell on deaf ears. She arched her head back, fell on the floor, closed her eyes and opened her mouth wide. I tried to get her attention and asked her repeatedly to stop crying before accepting the embarrassment I felt inside. I picked her up and carried her through the store to the car. Once we got through the doors to the parking lot, I said a few rough words to her, and my anger only increased when she had another tantrum in the car and wouldn’t buckle herself in her carseat.
She screamed in the car on the way home. When Polina was a baby, I would pull the car over and breastfeed when she cried. Her cries pierced me with compassion. Now, they pierced me in a different way. I was angry, tired, and embarrassed by her behavior. I did everything I could as a stay at home mom to keep her happy, and it doesn’t seem like enough.
“She walks all over you,” my husband said recently.
Every time I put my foot down, a conflict erupts.
“Hold the ‘no,'” advised my friend with six kids. Polina went through the stages of anger, negotiation, and sadness. When we got home that day, she fell asleep in her bed and woke up a kinder soul.
I love my daughter. She is the only one I have. But in these moments I think about the child I want versus the child I have. More than anything, I wish she would listen to me. I recently held a baby so mellow she didn’t even flinch when I held her. My daughter wouldn’t let anyone except me hold her for six months, and only if I held her on my right side and didn’t lean against anything.
I love my daughter. She is the only one I have. But sometimes I wish she was just a smidgeon mellower. This is the child I want versus the child I have.
But I’m sure she can wish the same thing about me.