October 6, 2012 by Julia
Kids are very tuned into what their mothers are feeling. And my daughter has decided that I am not allowed to express exhaustion, stress, frustration or the sense of being overwhelmed. So basically I am not supposed to show how I feel 99.9% of the time. Kidding! 99.8% of the time. Okay. For reals: 60%.
If things have reached a high pitch of crazy, and I don’t know whether I’m coming or going, I tend to bury my face in my hands and sigh/growl loudly. And apparently this tortures Fiona. Maybe there’s more to my facial expression than I realize. But she picks up on it right away, these days.
“Mommy, don’t make that face!” she begs. “Don’t make that tired face! I feel really, really sad when you make that face!”
This morning, for instance, I had a moment. We had some things to do to get ready for the wedding she is going to be a flower girl in (which we are very excited about), and Jack was whining nonstop, and we were running late for a play date, and we’d just ended a particularly tumultuous time-out session during which the various “consequences” of her leaving time-out were yelled about, on both sides.
So I made “the face,” and she started sobbing. “Mommy, please, please…don’t look like that…don’t get tired.” She was really crying. I explained that I couldn’t help how I was feeling, but I would try to stay calm and talk nicely. Her hysteria train had already left the station, though. I’d told her that morning that I might get stressed out about all the wedding stuff, but that I would try not to – it’s possible she was worried that I’d be on edge all day.
She cried for the next half hour, and as I ran around trying to pack up lunch, pacify Jack, get socks and shoes on, etc., she kept saying that she wanted to snuggle with me on the couch, or that she needed a hug, or that she loved me. I think she said she loved me about twenty times, in her most tearful voice, as we eventually made our way out the door.
I’m not sure if any of this sounds sweet or sympathetic, but in the moment I just need to finish what I’m doing. We’re always running late. It’s always impossible to get the three of us out the door. I can’t snuggle, I can’t hug, I can’t say I love you back without a trace of fatigue for the tenth time in a row, even though obviously I do love her back beyond words, and I love to snuggle with her. In fact, in those moments, I start to feel fury, like I need a force field around me, just so I can have the space to move. Sometimes I have to steel myself if we ever want to leave the house, or get something as simple as cleaning the bathroom done.
I know this sounds mean. But when someone’s been inconsolably crying for half an hour because you made “that face,” it’s hard to be patient.
The truth is, feelings ARE contagious, especially if you are a sensitive sort of person. I often wonder when we’re having a rough day if it was Fiona or I who got us off on the wrong foot – our feet are so closely intertwined in the choreography of our schedule that it’s hard to tell who was grumpy first. And as much as I try to allow her to feel whatever she needs to feel, it is hard to deal with the expression of those upset feelings, even if she is not actually striking out or doing anything wrong.
The interesting thing is, I think we have very similar needs and feelings – she just has less mature ways of expressing them, naturally. She is a kid, after all. The more tolerance I show for her feelings, the less she might freak out when I start to get stressed.
And tomorrow I might try saying IloveyouIloveyouIloveyouIloveIloveyouIloveyouIloveyou and so on while grabbing at her shirt just to see what kind of reaction I get. Sounds kind of fun, actually.