We all have those moments, right? The ones we know will still make us cringe years down the line? I can think of my first one, when Robbie was only two weeks old. We were struggling to get out of the house for a post-partum group – after all, at two weeks, everything is a struggle – and I couldn’t find my car keys anywhere. Robbie sat in his car seat by the front door as I frantically searched the house for my keys. Eventually, his wailing and my inability to find my keys got the best of me.
I can picture it even now. I was on the second floor, standing at the side of the open stairwell. Robbie was in his carrier facing away from the front door, his face growing redder with every wail. I grabbed the railing, leaned over it, and yelled, “Shut up! Shut up! SHUT UP!” to my screaming infant. And then, I sat on the floor and cried with my child.
Hours later, I found the keys – locked in my car. I stopped looking for them after my meltdown and figured this was all a sign that I needed to stop and breathe. So I did; I took a nap with Robbie.
Fast-forward three years to last night. Robbie woke me up at midnight, crying and demanding that I put a movie on. Already irritated to be woken up – and because it was the middle of the night – I told him no. And then Robbie lost his mind. He had to go to the bathroom but didn’t want to. He wanted milk. He had an accident while trying to get his pants down to go to the bathroom. He wanted hot milk and I gave him cold milk.
That’s when I lost my mind. Hot milk. Cold milk. Ridiculous demands in the middle of the night. And so I screamed back. Unkindly. Making Robbie scream even louder. After I finished my tirade about the temperature of milk and middle of the night shenanigans, I asked Robbie, sarcastically, if there was anything else he wanted.
My poor child looked at me, hiccupped, and said, “I want my daddy! He’s nice. I don’t like you.” This should have broken my heart, and, in a way, it did. But I just couldn’t let go.
I believe I said something along the lines of, “It wouldn’t matter if Daddy was here or not! He would have slept through the whole thing anyway and you’d still be stuck with me!” And then, just like three years ago, I stopped to breathe.
I gathered Robbie up, finished with being a terrible mother (at least for the moment) and determined to make both of us feel a little better, and headed to bed. After all, the best thing to possibly do after a situation like that is hold the people most dear a little closer.
Robbie and I talked about what had happened, as he took two sips of the milk that caused the whole ordeal. I apologized and tried to explain my side, making sure to tell him that the way I reacted was not nice. After five minutes of talking, I asked Robbie if he was OK. He rolled on top of me, buried his head in my neck, and said, “No!” as he burst into tears. He asked me to hold him tight while he cried. So I did, feeling as terrible as I should have.
And the whole episode has made me think about how parenting evolves. When Robbie was born, it was my job to make sure he had everything he needed – regardless of the time. Up every 45 minutes? For a diaper change the first time and milk the second? I was all over it.
When did all of that change? When did I get lulled back into my eight hours of sleep? When did I suddenly go off-duty for eight hours of the day? Robbie is still a little boy. And, although he’s not a baby, if he needs me in the middle of the night, I need to be there and not be angry about it. It’s the best third shift job I could ask for. And maybe, just maybe, I need to remind myself that Robbie is more tired than I am and in far less control of his reactions. So the next time there is milk drama in the middle of the night, I need to take a deep breath, make the milk, and cuddle up.