Tuesday, February 20, 2007
The Thrill of Victory... and the Agony of Defeat
This weekend, I had the perhaps unique experience - unique for me, anyway - of spending some time at both extremes of the parenting spectrum. On Saturday, we had friends over for dinner, one family with a 4-year-old and the other with a 1-month-old. I got all Martha Stewart on their heads, made spaghetti sauce from scratch (a phrase which never fails to gross me out a little... I promise, I scratched nothing to make that stuff) and meatballs and sausage with my new food grinder attachment for my Kitchenaid - which, I realize I previously failed to mention, cost me $35. Thirty-five. Dollars. Hah.

Anyway. I made a good dinner, my kids behaved themselves, my husband behaved himself, it all came together. I held the newborn for a long time, and having kept two of my own progeny alive past infancy has let me feel a lot more confident when holding other people's babies, so I didn't have that holding-an-eel-covered-in-soap posture that lots of people seem to adopt. It was all good. And later I got an email telling me that I make it all look easy. Which, to be perfectly honest, it kind of was - in the moment, on Saturday, it was all easy. But only because I've put in endless hours toward teaching my kids to be non-annoying people, learning how to cook and serve a meal, blah blah blah. Whatever, I was Queen Mom for the Day, I'll take it.

Besides, it all canceled out last night. This week, Emily is on school break, so we arranged for her friend D to come over for the night. D's mom and I have been friends since were pregnant with the girls, who are about six weeks apart in age. So the girls have sort of been forced into friendship based on that, but they enjoy each other. We live about an hour and a half apart, so we try to do sleepovers when we can because day-trips are exhausting. So, D has been to our house a bunch of times, and there have been moments of homesickness and "I miss my mommy," but never anything unmanageable.

Until yesterday.

We met at a mall for the trade-off, and that went fine. I loaded D and my two kids into the minivan, and that went fine. We drove home, that went fine. Then she crossed the threshold and something clicked, and not in a good way. Crying, "I want my mommy, I want to go home," pacing, generally very unhappy. And she's 6, so she's old enough to resist any of my feeble efforts to distract, cheer up, or otherwise redirect that particular train. It was heartbreaking to watch, and, for the first time in my memory as a parent, I had absolutely no idea what to do.

This is a big deal. Sometimes I SAY I don't know what to do, but what I really mean is, I know what to do but I don't want to, or I know there's something but I haven't figured it out yet, or I know what to do but I want someone else to do it, whatever. But yesterday, I literally did not have a thought in my head. Just lovely, flat, white blankness inside my head.

After a while, I started to feel like I was on a Hostage Response Team, dealing with a particularly strong and unyielding negotiator:
"I want to call my mom. I want to go home."
"Okay, let's have a snack and then we can call your mom."
"I want to call my mom now. I want to go home."
"Okay, let's draw her a picture to bring home with you."
"I want to call her. Now."
"Okay... can I offer you some illicit substances? Maybe a puppy? A circus act?"
"I want to call my mom."

She's tough, I'm telling you. I finally gave in and called her mother - and to clarify, I never mind if kids want to call their moms, but it was pretty clear that this was going to be a "Come and get me" phone call and I generally operate under the assumption that if you can get them through that initial anxiety/homesickness thing, they'll start to play and relax and actually, dare I say it, enjoy themselves. But D was just miserable, and I was helpless, and I also felt like this shouldn't be my decision to make. We can handle crying and angst, but on the other side of that coin I don't want a sleepover at my house to be some sort of endurance test, an emotional gauntlet that strengthens character at the expense of several years off your life.

Moral of the story is, her mother decided that she really wanted D to get through the night if at all possible. So I took them all to Chuck E Cheese, filled them up with ice cream and sugar, and then got 'em into pajamas in a low-lit room and let the sugar crash take them away.

So, if, on Saturday, I was Queen Mom for the Day, then yesterday I barely deserved the title of Resident Provider of Cheerios. Such is life.