From the Momplex Archives:
My better half (and I really mean that) has been gone for almost three weeks, working on getting a bunch of soldiers ready for deployment. He’s in the National Guard, and what’s normally a two-week annual training in the summer turned into a three-week annual training in December. I miss all heck out of him, and not just because he makes a mean meatloaf and thinks I’m cute. It’s just been such a juggling act trying to take care of a restless 4-month-old and a 5-year-old who’s still trying to figure out how to share Mom. I was right to have dreaded this training for all the months leading up to it. During his absence, I have had at least one veritable nervous breakdown. Tonight I thought about having another but then decided I could instead just bust out the Redi-Whip and eat all the fruit in the house with whipped cream on it. Ah, self-medication.
The thing that’s eating at me is what I heard my daughter saying over the monitor as she was getting ready for bed in her room. Well, it actually started a bit before that, when she came home from the neighbor’s house to the sound of her baby brother crying (again) at bedtime (again) over his monitor (again). First, she sort of retreated to a corner behind the Christmas gifts. I am sure this is because I get so short with everyone when the baby’s crying. She didn’t want to deal with That Version of Mom. But as all kids her age seem to do, she also just couldn’t seem to resist the temptation to poke the rattlesnake with a stick. “Mom,” she said. “I have to tell you that I’m always hungry right now.” Ye Olde Bedtime Procrastination trick. So original.
“Sorry for you,” I said. “But we don’t eat at bedtime, and it’s time for bed.” I told her to get going upstairs and get ready for bed, and she snapped something snotty back at me. I think it was “FINE” or “WHATEVER” or something equally ‘tweenish. At any rate, it cost her a piece of our usual bedtime routine.
“No book tonight,” I answered. She knows this means she’s crossing the line. She turned on the ball of her foot, nose up in the air, and started stomping theatrically away from me. “No story either,” I then added. “You need to change your attitude before you lose songs.”
Yes, I know: We have an elaborate bedtime routine. It consists of all sorts of rituals that must occur in exactly the same order each night. Potty. Toothbrushing. Flossing. Mouthwashing. Jammies. Book. Prayers. Spoken-word improv performance by Mom or Dad. Songs. It seems like a lot, but it does the trick for us, and I totally enjoy that quality time we get together at the end of the day. Parents out there, I know you’re feeling me on this one, right?
Anyway, as she was upstairs putting on her jammies, I heard her say that she wishes she had a different mom. That she doesn’t get any time with her mom, “not one speck.” She started whimpering, “I love my baby brother! He just gets all of her time. I will go away and never see her again, and she won’t even miss me!” Poke a butter knife in your heart and turn it five times to get the full effect of how this made me feel. Because I totally miss my time alone with my daughter. I miss having quality time with her at all. Particularly with my husband gone, she has gotten the bottom of the barrel in that department. It flat out sucks.
When I went upstairs, I asked her if I’d correctly heard her say she didn’t want me to be her mom anymore. She said, “Yup” and when I nodded, she said, “But I was saying it because I feel like you don’t have time for me anymore. I feel like you’re always taking care of the baby, and I don’t even have a mom anymore.” I pointed out that we always had good time together at bedtime, and she retorted, “Yeah, but that’s the only good time I really get with you.” She’s right. Her eyes were full of held-back tears, which started spilling down her nose as she tried to raise her quivering chin in a show of fortitude. What could I do, but scoop her close in my arms and hold her tightly in the bed.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “It must feel terrible to feel like that. You are so important to me, and I’m sorry that this hard time is going on for so long.” Words don’t go very far with a kid her age, though. I know I have to carve out better time for her. I know that my world needs to quit revolving around the baby’s sleeping skills, or lack thereof. Which makes me all that much more obsessed with getting him to sleep better. For the love of all that’s holy, can this baby please learn to nap alone?
It’s amazing, how my daughter asked me today to explain what “below zero” means as well as asked me who made God. These are high-minded questions for a kid her age, and they bend my brain into a pretzel. As complicated and layered as she can be, nothing she says or asks fazes me quite as much as this recurring theme of Not Enough Time with Mom. How the hell did Mrs. Walton do it? Pleeeaaaze, Mr. Walton, come home!