Dearest Danielle/Yelly/DJ/Danjo/Miss Danielle Jolee,
This letter is belated. It wasn’t at first. I sat down before your birthday to write to you. And after 750 words, I stopped.
The words rang hollow. I was trying to be cheerful and positive about your recent developmental milestones, all the ways you make me laugh, fill me with joy and light up my world.
But, I just couldn’t do it.
This past month has been difficult. And as it often seems with you, as soon as we get through your “most difficult stage,” we’re on to the next one. That is to say, less delicately, it gets worse and worse. It feels that way, at least.
Sure, you can walk now (some days of your choosing). Sure, you can talk now (some days of your choosing). Sure, you can get yourself dressed and your teeth brushed (some days of your choosing).
With each passing year, you can do new things. You’re a potty-trained, less clumsy and more talkative version of your former two, three and four-year-old selves. But, each day feels like two steps forward and three steps back, as you truly master the Art of Regression.
Starting school is For Reals a factor in your recent frustrating behavior--or, I should say, in our recent frustrating interactions.
And, it’s partly my fault really--not in the I’m The Worst Parent Ever and I Need The World to Affirm That I’m Not way, but in the I’m The Grown Up and I’m Doing My Best But I Needed to Learn a Few Things About Parenting The Creature That Is Danielle way. Like: I need to feed you more often. Or: Not ask you so many questions about your day.
I don’t say this to give you a complex, but it will: your sister was so easy to parent. In fact, I’m pretty sure she has raised herself thus far.
“Look, I’m such an amazing parent,” I thought. “It’s all paying off: my crunchy, emotional coaching, use your words, listen to your body, no, Bel Bel, we don’t do that, it’s not safe, it hurts our friend’s body and feelings, let’s have some ‘quiet time’ until you can be a good friend again, I like how you are doing good listening and taking your turn and waiting patiently and BEING THE BEST BABY IN THE WORLD.”
And those methods did help Bel Bel. But, now we’re here and you’re five.
And you’re still not using your words when you’re angry. You throw things at me. You hit. You kick. You spit. I have to physically drag you to your room when you need “quiet time” to “calm down until we can talk about it” from which you promptly remove yourself to throw something else at my back as I’m walking away, usually in tears of frustration (mine, not yours). You won’t eat when you need to. You won’t sleep when you need to. You don’t listen, you don’t answer my questions, you outright ignore me.
I once waxed poetic about being Your Ugly Place, but, man, it got real ugleeee.
This past weekend we experienced your worst, threat level orange, nuclear tantrum. And I’m not being dramatic. It will go down in history as The Target Tantrum. All because you wouldn’t go potty in the Target bathroom before we started shopping, but then you did want to, but then you didn’t want to wash your hands, but then you did, but then it was way too late, because you were too far gone and there was really nothing on Earth, nothing I could say that could have helped you calm down as you screamed, “NO, MAMA! NO, MAMA! NO! NO! NO! MAMA!”
Still, part of me wanted to do anything I could to get you to stop screaming at me in the bathroom stall. Gummy bears? Playing on my phone? A sunken treasure? The other part of me was sick and tired and completely ready to make Mommy’s Last Stand.
This is it, I thought. If I do it this one time, when an Icee and the opportunity to spend your birthday money in the toy section is on the line, maybe we won’t have to do this ever again? No more empty threats.
And the physical struggle from the bathroom to the sidewalk outside where I plopped you down was the longest two minutes of my life.
You kicked, you flailed, you “went boneless” (as the great author Mo Willems puts it), you hit, you screamed. This is all manageable and even laughable when you’re two or four, say, when you exchange glances with other parents, roll your eyes and chuckle, “heh, we’ve all been there, amiright?”
But, you are five. You are basically 40 pounds of muscle. You knocked off my glasses and my purse fell from my shoulders as I barely (if at all) managed to control your body. I had to drag you for portions of our Longest Ten Yards. I’m really not exaggerating.
People stared. And I’d like to believe they didn’t judge, but even pity still casts us as sad, helpless characters. And I’d like to say I didn’t care, but wouldn’t you? You, Danielle? Maybe not. You don’t care. But an adult who isn’t a sociopath? You care.
I was mortified--which is a word I’ve never genuinely used and have only seen in stories I read in Seventeen magazines in the 1990s about your tampon falling out of your backpack at school. I felt powerless and abused and inept and frustrated and the truest meaning of “at my wit’s end.”
As I sobbed outside of Target, trying to not let you see me cry, you flailed on the ground and made yourself throw up (a.k.a. gathered every ounces of saliva in your mouth to dramatically spit on the ground). And I wondered how I would ever make the fifty more yards to the car with you acting like this.
You are your own person, they say, with hearty guffaws. Oh, it will serve her well as an adult, they say. But they are not there, waiting to pick us up in the Target loading zone, or when you throw something at me while I’m driving, or when you snipe at me at school pickup when all I did was ask you how your day went, or when you scream at me for doing or not doing or slightly less than you’d prefer I’d do something, or when you try to tell me that things completely out of my control are “all your fault, Mama”--all I want do is cry and scream and curse the heavens like you do.
And, I do. Clearly.
But, I also try to explain to you. I try to guilt you. I try to bribe you. I try to negotiate with you. I try to plead with you.
I’ve babied you. Because, duh, you’re my baby. And you’re cute. And you make me laugh when you’re not making me cry.
I’ve taken your behavior personally--as an attack on my parenting methods, as an attack on my ability to be a parent, as an attack on me.
I’ve read you wrong. They’re right, you are your own person. And you call for a very different type of parenting than I know how to provide. I don’t know you.
So, we’re sending you away.
Okay, not really. But, I’m trying, grasping, learning.
Mostly, I’m trying to not take things personally--to not feel sorry for you, to not get too emotional or to not tap into your feelings as an approach to solve our conflicts.
No more explaining. No more warnings or second warnings or third warnings. No more “quiet reflection time”--let’s call it what it is: Time Out. Clear consequences and zero tolerance for disrespectful, unacceptable behavior.
And, more snacks. Lots more snacks. I don’t care if they’re marshmallows, but keeping you fed is half the battle.
It sounds so straightforward. And all the parents of decades past are shaking their heads. And I feel like a moron for thinking my instinctual parenting style (which worked with Bel), would work for All The Children.
Okay, now we’re 1300 words in. Maybe I should have just stuck with the fluff piece?
Seriously, truly, I do love you no matter what. I’ll try to remember that as I peel away from the curb, glancing in the rearview mirror to see you staging your inevitable Costco food court sit in over the Injustice of the Cheese Pizza You Ordered But Instead You Wanted Pepperoni But I Can’t Read Your Change of Mind So You Blame All Your Problems on Me and Throw Up All The Samples You Screamed About Wanting But Then Only Took One Bite Of Before You Threw Them at Your Sister.
And then, I’ll turn the car around and come back for you.