Thursday, October 3, 2013

On Toddler Routines and Mommy-Amulets

One time, I bought Louisa a whole-wheat roll at the farmers' market. Thereafter, I couldn't walk by the Bread Alone stand without her demanding, "I want a roll!" The same thing happened at Whole Foods. Don't every buy this girl a roll! It became a real problem, until I realized I could use it to my advantage. While I sometimes say no, just so you don't think she always gets what she wants, I also sometimes take her to the market at meal or snack time, get her the roll, and then can peacefully do my shopping while she munches. Strategies.

Louisa has me thinking about routines. She is something of a stickler, and all it takes is doing things a certain way, twice, for it to become a routine in her mind.

Mealtime: She wakes up every day begging for "waffle and milk". Before nap, she asks for yogurt and "gra-o-la". A sandwich must be sunflower butter and jelly: this last one only started two weeks ago when I sent her this type of sandwich to school. I also sent her sliced apples. She now expects both of these things to be in her school lunch every day. 

Sleep: Before I leave the room I must cover her with a particular blanket, identify the location of the prized puppy, "hug-kiss", turn on the fan, and sing her a song. 

These are steadfast rules. Do not mess with them.

Josh comes home from a bike ride. Louisa says, "go take a shower!" We all laugh, thinking she is accusing him of being stinky. But really, she's just telling him what comes next. 

Similarly, when I come home from an outing, she enthusiastically says to her babysitter, "Goodbye!", expecting the sitter to leave on the spot.

It's amazing to watch her now as she's trying so ardently to understand the world. She will stop in her tracks to listen to a sound that she can't identify. She wants to make sure, most of all, that she is safe. 

I think the  routines are her way of ordering the chaos. The category "breakfast" is simply too wide. "Waffle and milk" is something she can manage, hold onto, and expect. 

I worry about me being an essential part of her routine. Obviously, I am inextricably so. But do I want to be her amulet? "No, Mommy do it," is inevitable, and as a mother, it can be exhausting (the implication being: not Daddy, or not the babysitter).

 I feel for those parents who can't get a break because their kids so adamantly demand them. I've known parents with nightly hour-long bedtime routines (which quite frankly, would send me over the edge). A friend recently told me her kids, both school age, won't go to sleep until she (not their dad) puts them to bed, so she hasn't travelled on her own in years. That's hard. But we each make the choices that work for us, and everyone has a different level of tolerance for their child being upset, which is what tends to happen when routines are disrupted.

I try to remember that this mommy-need, like most else about taking care of kids, is fleeting.  I was the nursing mom who didn't separate overnight from my babes until they were nearly weaned. To me, this was more about more than having an upset baby, or needing freedom. I had to feed and comfort the baby, and the artificial means of doing so, so I could go away, were more trouble than just sticking together. As I've always said in my defense: this time isn't long. It's only, say, two years out of the hopefully 80 or 90 that I will have on the planet. And it's two years of closeness to my baby that I can't ever get back. 

As Louisa screams from her bed every morning, "Mommy! Mama! Mommy!" the sounds of which her father can't seem to hear at all (and no wonder), I only have to look to my older kids, begging us to let them navigate the city on their own, to know that this, too, won't last.

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