And last night we had our first really truly oh-THAT'S-what-they're-talking-about temper tantrum. I thought I knew what tantrums were, but I was wrong. And I do have the feeling that this is just a sneak peek of what's to come.
Yesterday Gwen spent the day at Gramma's. The unfortunate truth is that she does not nap when she's at Gramma's (or when she's at home in Gramma's care). I have made my peace with this and I will tell you right upfront that Gramma is doing everything right. Gwen only naps about 50-75% of the time when she's under our care, as well. If it wasn't for the fact that naps still happen 100% of the time at Denise's, I'd think she was weaning off the nap altogether, but it's just not random enough to be a true change in sleep habits.
When Gwen doesn't nap at home, it doesn't actually cause too big a wrench in the plans. We might put her to bed half an hour early, but life largely goes on as before. However, Gramma lives half an hour away, which is juuuuust enough time for an overtired toddler to be lulled to sleep on the drive home. And then, of course, she wakes up at the end of the drive - about 5pm, two hours before bedtime proper - and is disoriented, exhausted, out of sorts and either listless or hyper. Perfect conditions for a temper tantrum.
It was 6:40pm and Gwen and I were in her room, trying to wind down before bedtime. The usual routine is a couple of stories, but if she'd rather play with her toys I am fine with that too. Last night, she was all about the toys. I kept asking "would you like a story before bed?" and she would cheerfully say "nope!" and continue playing. Then I said, "Alright, it's time to turn off the light," and she lost her mind and wailed "STOOOOOOOORRRRRRRRRRYYYYYYYYYY!" So, I calmed her down and encouraged her to ask nicely (because that's our rule, she has to ask nicely for something, not get it directly after a whine or fit or whatever) so she sniffily asked "Story please," and I said, "Alright, which story would you like?" but now she's been distracted by some other toy so she didn't pick a story and then I said, "do you want a story?" and we started all over again.
After doing this four times she actually got so upset that she flung herself backwards on the floor, not realizing that she was close to the wall and she whanged her head on the baseboard heater. I felt so bad for her, not only for the physical pain but also for that feeling of being so overwhelmed by your emotions that you just can't physically control yourself. Sometimes the true depth of how alike she and I are just slams into me, and the empathy I feel when she is hurt or upset or frustrated is so keen, so beyond what I feel on behalf of any other person, that it cuts through me like a laser. Sometimes I am able to use that empathy as a very powerful tool, and last night was one of those times.
I picked her up and rocked her, humming a weird little tune that Chris made up when she was a colicky infant, which always seems to calm her down. I cooed soothing little encouragements into her ear as she cried and shook with rage and pain. "Oh, I know, it hurts. I know. Take deep breaths, settle down, that's it." At some point during this I did turn off the light, having abandoned the idea of a story. As she started to settle down, I told her some important things. I told her that I understood how frustrated and angry she'd gotten, and that she'd probably also gotten scared by the power of those emotions. I told her that it was absolutely okay for her to feel all those things, and that she would always be safe here with Mama and Dada - that we would always love her no matter what emotions she felt. I told her that everybody feels that way sometimes but that it will always go away and we will feel better eventually.
We cuddled for a while and then continued with our bedtime routine: prayers, songs, being tucked into bed. Chris was in awe: 30 minutes earlier he'd watched a crazy hyper child enter the bedroom; 10 minutes after that he heard repeated shrieks and arguing, followed climactically by a crash and a howl of pain; and now the child was in bed, calm and content and ready to sleep. I felt like Miracle Mom.
If there is one trap I fall into in parenting, it's the temptation to fix all Gwen's problems for her. This manifests not only in giving in to her whining or shrieking, but also in not allowing her to see something she might want if she's not allowed to have it. For example, if I go out to the car to get something while Gwen is playing inside, she will want to go outside - and then stay and play outside for half an hour. If that's not convenient, because dinner is about to be served or whatever other reason, I would just tend to not go out to the car - I would try to delay my trip to a time when Gwen won't be watching, so that I won't have to tell her she can't go outside.
Sometimes that's appropriate, sometimes it makes me feel like I'm a prisoner to some insane dictator. I'm starting to realize that it's okay to say no, that I don't have to rearrange my whole life around avoiding saying it. Last night was another example.
I don't think I have all the answers figured out, but I want to record what happened and how it felt and what I learned, so I can think on it for next time. I am proud that I stayed calm and let her emotions (ie, need to be comforted) be more important than my own (ie, impatience to get her to bed). I think the naming of her emotions is a powerful tool for both of us. And the most important thing, I think, was that I showed her that she was still very loved even though I did not give her what she wanted (a story). I will be continuing to reflect that my job is to teach her how to deal with her emotions, not to just resolve her emotions for her.
I really felt like a good mom last night. Hopefully nights like that will build up some good karma for the times when I get it wrong.