I have been feeling frustrated, so unbelievably and exhaustingly frustrated.
Looking at that sentence, the word “frustrated” is not even close to enough. It is a pale representation for the mix of emotion and flood of negativity that has engulfed my life this past week. What’s more, and what’s worse is the reason. The reason for what I am feeling and the way I am expressing it is accompanied by this vat of guilt that I have been carrying around on my shoulders. It is quickly becoming too cumbersome to manage.
Do you ever have those moments? The kind of moments where your child, your own flesh and blood in all of her brilliance, sweetness, innocence, and undeniable likeness of you, is driving you absolutely bats in the belfry mad hatter crazy? And if that’s not bad enough, have you ever thought that maybe, just maybe she is doing it on purpose?
There is nothing inherently evil about my child. I’ve checked. There are no 666 shaped birthmarks anywhere on her body. But there is boundless stubbornness about her; a will so strong and a wit so quick that her retorts to my arguments often leave me dumbfounded.
I do not know how to describe it properly. Lately we have so many disagreements or arguments over the course of a single day, it is confounding. One example would make you think, big deal, she is a kid being a kid. It is the next example, and the one after that, and the one after that which start to take its toll. So often I worry that it is my approach or I am being too hard on her, or I am not giving her something on an emotional level that she needs. Yet at the same time there are reasons why I tell her over and over not jump off the couch, not to sit on my coffee table, not to push her brother, not to grab him by the neck, not to jump with food in her mouth, not to run around with a pencil clenched in her fist. And I have repeated myself over and over to the extent that I have reached a startling conclusion; a without a doubt certainty. As I look into her eyes I know for sure that this little four year old girl is messing with me on purpose, and she is enjoying it.
I have taken enough childhood development courses. I know the first thing that will come to the minds of those who feel they have even a basic grasp of the subject; she is acting out for attention. That is what I thought too. So as her younger brother’s speech and personality have become a stronger force in our family, I have been trying harder to make sure that we have some nice mommy/daughter time on a regular basis in addition to the general buzz and routine of our family life. Yet as we sit together reading a book or playing a game she will actually stop what we are doing to remind me about a time when I made a mistake or did something wrong. This is not just acting out for attention, she is on me constantly. There is something more to this, and it is almost primal. It’s like a battle to become the alpha female of the household. She’s out to win, as evidenced by her mostly used statements: “You were wrong and I was right”, “I win”, “I told you so”, “No” (accompanied by a stamped foot), “I don’t want to”, “I wont”, and “You can’t make me.”
This isn’t anything new. This started right around eighteen months, and as her vocabulary has improved so have her conflict skills. I thought this “terrible two” and “horrific three” stuff was supposed be over by now, but at four and a half it is still going ever so strong. She excels at creating discord between us, and you can call me crazy, but there are times when I truly feel as though it is for her own entertainment. Last night at bedtime we were finished reading our story, “I love you”, kisses and hugs were exchanged, and she was snuggling in her bed. We had a nice quiet time together, and as I reached the point where I was just about to leave her room she asked me one last question. Most nights it is to inquire what we are doing the next day or to ask who will pick her up from school. Last night her question was, “Remember the other day when went to the doctor before school, and you forgot my bear in the van? He wasn’t in my cubby and I didn’t have him for naptime.”
This is called a zing. She zinged me. This isn’t the first time we have had this conversation over the past seven days. We have been over it ad nauseam. Yes, it is true that I did not notice A WEEK AGO that she had left her bear in the van after her doctor appointment when I dropped her off at daycare. It is quite clear that she therefore blames me for not having her bear that afternoon. That bear, I have argued with her, is her responsibility to remember and to place in her cubby if she would like have him for naptime. Yet I looked at my darling little girl lying in her bed and instead of saying so, again, fought to suppress the anger that she was obviously trying raise. This time I didn’t bite. I said good night and walked away. I reached the kitchen and broke down in tears in front of my husband exclaiming that I just don’t understand why. Why is she doing this? What am I doing wrong? What is wrong with her?
Ever practical and sound in his advice, his answer to me: “She’s four. She doesn’t know what she’s doing. You’re over thinking it and taking it personally.”
Maybe I am. Maybe that’s part of who I am. Maybe she and I are such unbelievably similar creatures that we will never mesh together right. But this is my baby. She is my little girl who I should be awe struck by in constant wonderment of how perfect and amazing she is, not aggravated and annoyed by her attitude on a daily basis. I in turn am supposed to be the unfailing mommy who is adored and revered and who is depended on to solve any problem, and make any boo-boo better, not goaded and contested and faulted on a daily basis.
And just now I think I have finally got it. I believe I now understand. We have both fallen from grace.
My daughter has already realized that I am not infallible. I cannot fix everything, I cannot always be depended upon, and I am not always right. I am beginning to understand that she is her own person of her own free will, and though we will always love each other we are not always going to get along and will too often have different ideas with regards to how we are going to share this life together. We are actually going to have days when we feel as though we do not like each other very much, and for my part I am just going to have to forgive myself for that. Because in all honesty, that is what I have been feeling, and that is the guilt that I am wrestling with every time she looks at me with total obstinacy and defiance. Truth be told, I did not realize that raising a child would require the nurturing of our relationship, the recognition of our differences, and the acceptance of the roles that each of us must play quite so early. I thought we would reach that level in the teenage years. That may seem like an ignorant statement, but in my mind it just make sense that at this stage in her life we should always feel like we enjoy each other, and by and large we should get along.
I guess all I can say right now about this great epiphany, is I am tired. I am so very, very tired. I feel like we are always going to have to work at achieving some semblance of harmony with each other, so long as I am a dominating force in her life. It is also occurring to me that this is history repeating itself. I was strong willed too, but I didn’t start on my mother until I was at least thirteen. What similar creatures she and I are indeed, much more so than I ever realized.