For those of you who regularly read this blog (thank you thank you, by the way!), I’m sure by now you can see that a kind of pattern has emerged. You can tell that most of what I learn about parenting I actually distill from my kids. They are the most remarkable teachers, always allowing me to view the world from their eyes and see things from their perspective. But despite my keen awareness of this, I still make ridiculous mistakes and forget with whom I’m dealing all the time. Poops here is only human and in the moment, it’s still so easy for me to get caught up and forget. Last night, my beautiful, little A reminded me of something very important and once again taught me another wonderful lesson that I will hold dear to my heart.
We had a pretty fun evening around here. Daddy knocked off work a little bit early and declared he wanted to grill since pretty soon it will be too cold to barbeque. It was perfect weather outside: a cool, crisp autumnal night…we needed fleeces but were still comfy in our flip flops. It’s absolutely my favorite time of year, always has been. I love everything about the fall season – the smell in the air, the festive holidays, the colors all around and the mild, temperate weather. I particularly love how the autumn sunlight floods our house with such warmth through our giant 98 year-old windows (they just don’t make ‘em like that anymore…I still have a lot of love for this old house) and our tree-lined street becomes this ethereal collage of crimson, gold and burnt orange. But mostly, I love the fall because I associate it with the birth of our first child and those precious first few weeks of motherhood. I have such a sensory explosion when I think about that October when A first came into our lives. I remember hours and hours of rocking and nursing her upstairs in the big, green glider that sat right beside the window so I could look out and see all those lovely, fall colors. It was truly a magical time.
So, Daddy made the entire the dinner and we were all very impressed – Kobe burgers for us and hot dogs for the girls with corn and fruit. Delish! After dinner, the girls stayed out in the backyard playing fetch with the dog and Daddy while I went inside to tackle the dishes and laundry before bath time. It was sheet day and I had to make-up both of the girls’ beds. I had finished putting on the mattress pads, sheets and duvets when A came bouncing up the stairs into their bedroom asking if she could help me make the beds. I told her I was already almost done, but that if she wanted she could put the pillows inside the pillowcases for me. It didn’t seem too difficult a task. She’s old enough, I thought, she can handle it. I handed them to her and then went back in my room to start folding clothes from the dryer that I just brought upstairs. After a minute or two I could hear loud grunts coming from next door. Then, within another minute or two the grunts kind of morphed into growls, then turned quickly into dramatic sighs of frustration which then escalated into a major verbal assault on the pillowcase. I overheard “stupid pillow” and “you darnit pillowcase,” and my personal favorite, “I don’t even like these poopie pillows” (ah, there’s our favorite word again).
I walked next door to A’s room and saw her engaged in a pretty serious battle with her pillow and pillowcase. Every time she tried to hold it up long enough to spread the case wide enough, the pillow would fall on the floor. She just wasn’t quite strong enough or coordinated enough to leverage her strength and get the edges of the pillow inside the case. I could see how much she was struggling and how intensely frustrated she had become trying to do this so I offered my help. BIG MISTAKE. Yikes. I thought she would welcome my assistance, but before I even knew what hit me, the verbal assault that had just recently been aimed at the pillow was now coming straight at me! A got very upset at my offer to help her and yelled at me, “Mommy, leave me alone! I can do it! I don’t want your help!” Woah. I didn’t feel like sparring with her over how she just spoke to me, so instead I turned around and went to their bathroom to start running the water. Internally, I said to myself, “ok, poops, maybe she’ll get it. Give her until the tub fills up to keep trying.” So I went back into A’s room and repeated that to her. “Honey, ok, you keep working on it until the water is ready.”
Of course, once I returned to folding laundry, the same growl-y noises came from her room. More struggling and yelling and frustration. No matter how determined my daughter was to complete the task at hand successfully, she just couldn’t keep that pillow up level enough with both hands and then slide it into the case at the same time. I wanted so badly to tell her to put it on the floor or the bed so she could use both hands and make it easier. I’ll give her a few more minutes and then perhaps she’ll figure it out on her own. But within a few minutes the water in the tub was ready. We still had to get the girls cleaned, in jammies, teeth washed, books read and in bed. It seems like lately their bedtime has been pushed back a little bit and was starting to cut into mommy and daddy time which is precious and essential to us each night. I was very tired and getting annoyed so I made the decision to go back into A’s room and tell her that bed-making time was over and that she needed to get into the bath.
“A, I said, you’ve done a great job trying, I’m proud of you, but now let mommy just finish-up the pillows so you and D can get in the tub. It’s getting late, c’mon, take your clothes off, put them in the hamper and let’s go.” She totally freaked-out. “Mommy, please please just let me do it! I’m still learning! I’m still learning! Just let me figure it out!” There were tears streaming down her face at this point and she was so upset. “A, honey, I said, it’s okay that you can’t figure it out. Pillowcases are tough and this is your first time doing it.” To which she said, “No, Mommy, I’m not done. I want to do it. You have to let me do it! Puh-leeeezzeee!” And at that moment, I began to understand that what was transpiring held a much deeper meaning to her. It wasn’t just about the pillow and pillowcase. No, she was desperately trying to prove something to herself. She wanted so badly to show herself that she was capable of achieving this simple task on her own. And this is because to me, to an adult, it was simple, but to a four year-old in the thick of it, putting that case on that pillow was EVERYTHING. And despite the clock ticking and the bathwater getting cold, I thought to myself, how can I take away this opportunity from her? The look of determination in her eye and the intensity of her reaction made me realize that I absolutely had to ride this out. I was so instantly moved by her and proud of her for wanting not give up and not quitting what she started. I know how important it is, even at this young age, to instill a sense of commitment in your kids. They need to learn to follow-through with things despite challenges and obstacles that may arise.
And so we decided that Daddy would give D her own bath and I would return to the laundry next door, allowing A the time she requested to put the pillowcases on her pillows. And boy was I glad we did. About six or seven minutes later, I felt her presence in the doorway of our room. Even with my back to her, I could sense her beaming with pride behind me. I turned around and there she was with an enormous smile on her face and the pillow encased perfectly in her arms. She was glowing from the sense of achievement. Insignificant victory to a grown-up? Yes. Huge, historic, phenomenal moment for a little kid? You bet. Man, if I had a dollar for every time my amazing children taught me something new, I would be one rich lady.
All I can say, poopies, is the next time you’re feeling rushed and annoyed and your kids can’t quite grasp what you’re asking them to do: allow them to do it anyway. Whether or not it makes you late for something or you know how much easier and quicker it will be if you can just do it for them…don’t! I would be late a million times over just to see that amazing look on A’s face when she finally got those pillowcases on. And this whole incident reminded me of a parenting seminar my husband and I attended last year with a renowned, local child psychologist. One of the topics he discussed with us fell under the heading “Don’t Do Anything For Your Child That He Or She Is Capable Of Doing For Themselves.” Since “pillowgate,” I realize that I misunderstood part of the meaning for this. I always thought this had to do with not raising lazy, overly reliant children. But now I see so clearly that if we don’t allow our kids do this, not only are we depriving them of self-reliance and self-sufficiency, we would also be taking away their ability to work through a problem. It’s so basic. A had a problem and I would’ve interfered in her learning on her own how to solve it. I should’ve had more confidence in her and I should’ve been more patient. If I hadn’t given her the time to work through it, I would’ve sent a terrible message to her that she would’ve translated as: mommy doesn’t think I can do this, so maybe I can’t. How awful would that have been? Thank goodness for sheet-changing night! I’ll never fluff those pillows again without being so grateful for what they and my beloved daughter taught me.