"Who is this little stranger?" I find myself asking as he plays air guitar on a bedraggled children's broom, straw pieces sticking out at odd angles having been roughly used as a whammy bar.
It all started Thursday, I suppose. We hit story time for the first time. It was okay, I suppose. The book choices were a bit uninspired, but there was that group of kids at the storyteller's feet, little faces rapt with attention.
And where was my son? Off exploring the room. A rather inviting room, I would add, with low windows, carpet, and absolutely no furniture. If I were two, I would be tempted to run, and while my son didn't, he did trip on the carpet and skin his nose. After two minutes of comforting, he went back off to flirt and look cute with another mom. Ask me if I was jealous. Please. I was so tired that morning they could have pledged undying affection for each other and I would have been like "Yeah, great, so, do you think you could take him for a couple hours?"
As we left the library I noticed a sign taped to the outside of a glass door. The bold print could be read in reverse--"Toddler Tuesdays". Curious, I turned around to read the rest of the sign after I had walked out. "Learn How to Sit and Listen".
I think this was the first time I really, truly felt like The World has some sort of expectation my kid wasn't living up to. It didn't feel good. It hadn't bothered me that my son was wandering about the room as the nice lady read stories and sang songs. I just naturally assumed that this was pretty normal stuff for a two year old in a new space. The sign sparked a little glimmer of anger, I suppose. "After all" I muttered under my breath "learning how to sit and listen isn't one of the reasons I took him to Story time in the first place." I was hoping that he'd enjoy the music and movement aspect of it, or that I'd get turned on to some good books. "He sits and listens just fine at home...grumble grumble."
Silly me. That was Day One.
Day Two began with The Morning From Hell. Like many stressful situations, I've successfully blocked out the details of this time and just remember that it was horrible. Nothing was going well. Lots of tears (his), lots of grumbles (mine) and so much to do. A trip to Portland Nursery, which was supposed to be fun, took my every last bit of patience, and just when the walk was going well, he decided to run into the street. Again.
Did I mention that toddlers are not to be trusted? This kid runs into the street like it's the best thing on earth. I couldn't get a lick of yardwork done, and finally had to pop him back into his stroller again. I probably did not say loving, positive discipline sorts of things as I did this.
Day Three. Saturday. Egad. The farmer's market was great, but after an hour nap in the car, Kiddo was cranky and all wiggles and ready to go. So perhaps it wasn't a good time to go get a beer, hmmmm? This, believe it or not, was not my idea, but my dear husband's. I tried to veto it three times, and you know that if I'm passing up going out for a beer, something isn't right. I finally compromised with the dear husband and agreed to trying one glass of beer. Huge mistake, super-wiggly disaster, and our son using his new vocabulary to tell everyone around "you fust'ated", which translates to "I'm frustrated. Let me run...everywhere!"
So it's Day Five now--yes, we've skipped day four, I'm too tired-- and a dear friend offered to take my darling, mercurial, daring and explorative little boy for a couple hours and let me make dinner in peace. I went out for a walk and began to just focus on my breathing. I realized how hard it was to take a deep breath; I'd been stressed and tired for days. But eventually my feet began to pick up speed and as I relaxed into the music on the ipod, I felt my chest open up a bit. I could breathe out all the self-judgement and all the insecurity around the past few days and try to set it aside. I could try to use this time to remember what these feelings are like, to build on it as a base for empathy with other mothers instead of just being angry at a poster. I could try to see what I was doing right: consistently leading him through his transitions with a lot of patience and routine; giving him as much space as possible to be himself within the boundaries of what is safe; and making time for him when he wants it while honoring those moments when he is happier independent, thinking his own thoughts and focusing on things that interest him.
I know that big room at storytime interested him. I knew, when I sat back and watched, how much I wanted for him to be comfortable and happy looking around that room. I don't feel like my kid needs to be following along with the rest of the pack yet--he's only two. He'll have his whole life to suppress his natural instincts and conform to the group status quo. I want to encourage him to feel confident following his own path while being safe, respectful to others and honest to both us and himself. When I breathe, I can see that the vision I have for my son is not about my being comfortable, but about his development as a human being. Discomfort challenges me to confront parts of myself that are always easier not to look at, but self-examination as a parent is always a golden opportunity for progress. So I'll try to move from talking to breathing and see, just see, if the rest of this week might not be a little better.
Keep your fingers crossed.