Two weeks ago, as I was packing and getting ready for vacation, I ignored my daughter. As a rule, I don’t turn on the TV during the day and I recently made a new rule: No iPad except on the weekends. Which only leaves one option, the thousands of dollars worth of toys she has ferreted away in her sunny playroom. Rough life. So as I struggled to carry baskets of laundry down to the basement, I peeled her off my leg, pushed her into her gorgeous playroom. “Play,” I said and then walked away.
At first, she came to find me. “Mom. Mommy. I want my mommy! Come over here, mom!” Each time, I unhooked her vulture grip from my thigh and pointed her in the direction of her toys. “I love you, but I’m busy. Go, play.”
After an hour of whining, clinging, and what I think were her babbled threats to call CPS, I noticed something: Silence. I frantically left the pile of laundry and rushed to the playroom. There was my daughter, putting food in her play oven. “It’s berry hot,” I heard her say to herself. “Don’t touch it.” Then, she put her blanket over her hands and removed the plastic dish filled with apples, a banana split and what I assumed was a hamburger patty, and proceeded to feed it to her foot.
That’s when I realized, I need to ignore my kid more often.
I don’t want to be a helicopter parent. I don’t want to hover. But in November, I cut back on work so I could stay home with my daughter and that is what I try to do. We color, paint, play play-doh, go swimming, visit the library, built tents and boats from boxes. I research toddler-friendly activities and each week I try something new–bowls of water, cups of noodles, Q-tip towers and dance parties. And while I am sure that these activities are good, I’ve created a vortex of dependence. I can’t go to the bathroom without her throwing herself to the floor and weeping.
This isn’t what I want. I want to be able to shut the door when I change. I want to be able to shower and make myself lunch. I want to be able to sit on the couch and finish a cup of coffee. I want her to stop sobbing every time I decide that mommy needs a snack.
When Ellis was only a few weeks old, I couldn’t shower. Every time I set her down, she cried. I complained to Dave, “I can’t even brush my hair! I smell.” He looked confused. “So, let her cry. It’s only five minutes. Put her in that bouncy seat thing and shower.”
It is probably revealing about my level of intelligence that the wisest advice I’ve ever recieved has always been completely obvious. Like when I complained to my friend Mel about how I felt trapped by ironing and she said, “So, don’t do it.” And my mind was blown. Dave blew my mind with those words, “..let her cry.” The next day, I put her in the bouncy seat and let her cry while I showered. After a week, she stopped crying and started falling asleep. The permission to ignore my child gave me the freedom to wash my hair. And it was glorious.
I feel like I am there again. I’m taking care of a toddler, preparing for baby Queso, and I’m still writing, so I have deadlines and obligations. Some days, I feel desperate. I need to wash the floor or do some laundry so I can stop wearing dirty underwear and there are noodles stuck to the couch and someone put stickers on our antique hutch.
I recently read Bringing Up Bebe and it was again the permission I needed to step back and give my child the space to play by herself; to feed her feet plastic fruit and converse with her stuffed snake on her own terms. And I refuse to feel guilty. Whether I am doing the laundry, scrubbing broccoli off the wall, finishing my coffee or checking Twitter, what’s worthy and what is wasted is for me to decide and me only.
I’m telling everyone that I’m a French parent now. When I take Ellis to open gym to play on her bike, I’m not following her around as she pushes her car into her friends. I’m staying seated, drinking coffee and chatting with my friends. When we go to the park, I’ll push her on the swings, I’ll cheer for her on the slide, but I am not there to entertain her. I am her parent, but my life is not hers to do with as she sees fit. I am fully committed to her, but I’m also here to teach her independence and you know, finish my coffee before it gets cold.