Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, they say. Try scorning a toddler.
Except I’m not scorning my still-a-baby toddler. My sparkling laughter, speaking eyes, throw-a-tantrum-like-no-other Natalie. Our surprise child. But not our only surprise child—because now Grayson has joined us.
Precious Natalie, there’s still room in my lap for you. But when Grayson cries and I pick him up, you think he’s ousting you. You think I’m choosing him over you. Even as I beckon you to come join Grayson in my lap, you scream and run the other direction, looking back at me with betrayal spilling from your eyes, coursing down your cheeks.
Such was nap time today.
Schedules thrown off, with Daddy gone and not able to take Madeleine to preschool. Five minutes before loading you three into the car, I opened your bedroom door. You slept on. I started a load of wash across the hall, opened your curtains, turned off your sound machine, turned on your light. You slept on. [Why oh why can’t you do this on a Saturday?]
Finally, I lifted you out of bed and onto the changing table. Groggy, you did not protest the diaper change.
Despite this start, the morning went smoothly—until nap time. Grayson’s game also was thrown off in the morning, never getting a solid nap between preschool drop-off and pick-up. He couldn’t settle in for his afternoon nap, so I let you play on with big sister while I fed and rocked him. Nap time crept later than usual.
Finally got Grayson down, and went to change your diaper, which you greeted with twisting, turning, and wailing. Then Grayson was crying, and I set you free.
You did not like this, me putting you down and picking up him. That is when you ran from me, screaming your unintelligible accusations. Asking 4-yr-old Madeleine to watch Grayson, I put him in a swing and picked you up, taking you to your room, hearing Grayson cry behind me.
But it was too little, too late for you. In your mind, I never should have let you go.
So you did what you’ve begun doing recently: Fell apart completely. Screaming like a wounded animal, writhing, flailing, sobbing. I did what I’ve done before: Hold on tight.
I don’t know what you need, sweet Natalie. To be put in bed and left alone? You’re not even two. You can’t tell me what you feel. You’re angry. I suspect you’re hurt. I suspect you’re insecure. But I can only guess.
I can only imagine. As I rock your writhing body, I remember my lowest time in the midst of infertility, the most difficult month of my 10-year marriage, when something your daddy did [or did not] do struck me in my center and shattered me. I remember clutching my arms around myself and sinking to the kitchen floor. And I remember his arms tightening around me when I ordered him to let me go. I remember my anger burning toward him and my unacknowledged desperation that he press through my anger. He never let go.
So today I held you in the rocking chair as you struggled to get free. I thought of how I’ve struggled against God, accusing him for not doing what I want him to do, feeling his betrayal. Running from him while pleading with him to tell me he sees me, loves me. At the time, I did not feel his arms around me; not in my anger. He let me writhe, kick, hit, scream. Eventually, I felt the Strength holding me tight. I knew he waited for me.
As I superimposed my adult experiences on your tiny-but-mighty self, I did not know if I was right to hold on. Did you feel constricted or secure? Hated or loved? God, help Natalie always know you hold her. Help her know you’ll never let go. Help her know how deeply loved she is.
I cried as I prayed out loud, stroking your hair damp with sweat and tears. Prayers meant nothing to you.
I could hear Grayson screaming, Madeleine unable to soothe or distract him. The face he knew best was out of his vision. He was tired, distraught.
Conflicted, I set you in your crib. Left you calling for me. Went for Grayson and strapped him to my front in the baby carrier. He quieted immediately. He was secure. I came back to you, now standing at the crib’s rail, holding both loveys, sobbing “Mama! Mama!” But then you saw him.
This is when the world fell apart. You flung yourself across the crib, refusing to come to me. Kicking and screaming renewed. Endless, endless sobbing. With Grayson on my front, I could not pick you up if you would not come to me.
All out of coping mechanisms, I began to sing, and sing louder over your wailing, touching you when you came close enough. Be Thou My Vision; Great Is Thy Faithfulness. My voice breaking into sobs. “Be thou my wisdom and thou my true word” – please God, I need wisdom.
Grayson asleep, snuggled against Mama’s chest, I sang. But you could not be comforted. You were beyond your ability to calm yourself.
Once again I sought my eldest daughter, grateful, so grateful for her. Beckoned her to come with me, to watch Grayson as he slept, to alert me if he cried. I would not hear him above you.
Then back to you, Natalie, sobbing still. Finally, Grayson no longer in your rightful space, you came to me. Only minutely calmer, you let me hold you; moments later, arching your back.
“Do you want to go to bed? Are you ready to be in bed?”
“Uh-huh,” you said, crying.
Back in bed, this time you flipped onto your tummy. You wanted the blanket over you. You let me touch you, rub your back, as your cries subsided into gasping breaths. Finally, calm.
And finally, I’m starting to get it. Mothering is my most important task in this stage. That’s hard for me. It’s a stage I want to get through, move on to the next stage, have more time for what nourishes me. My brain wants so much outside of this role, but my children take everything; need everything. Mothering takes everything. At the risk of sounding “so 1950s,” I say this:
I can do nothing better than spend time with my 4-year-old, so she knows she’s still valuable even though she’s no longer the so-cute baby she wishes she were. Nothing will settle deeper into the fabric of this world than holding my nearly-2-year-old, building into her now the knowledge that she is deeply loved. And every second I spend nursing our infant—and there are a lot of those seconds—is nourishing a heart, mind, and soul that will in turn touch other hearts, minds, and souls.
An independent spirit like mine needs to ponder this, accept this. Stop fighting, and instead, live into this. Stop thinking about what I’m missing; look instead at what I’ve been given.
Grayson slept. Natalie slept. I wrote. And when both awakened, I nursed Grayson…and Natalie walked over to us, putting her head into my lap, stroking Grayson’s leg as he fed.
*Any article, speech, sermon, or book can address only a limited view. It is not meant to do more than make a point about one slice of reality. Yet often readers & listeners can feel that this one slice denigrates or invalidates their own experience. With that in mind, I make these disclaimers:
- Not all tantrums are made nor treated equally. Some of Natalie’s fits have left her isolated on the couch until she chose to calm down. This article is not a treatise on how to handle tantrums.
- Yes, my needs as a woman, as a wife, mom, writer, introvert, etc., are important. I have no trouble believing that. Don’t worry about me on that score.