Yes, I am referring to the frustration, anxiety, and exhaustion mentioned in the last post.
Let's begin here, shall we?
In this particular episode, frustration takes the form of 4 preschoolers, all vying for the lion's share of my attention. A snuggle here, a kiss there, an occasional story, or perhaps the fulfillment of yet another VERY specific and sometimes bizarre food request. Yes, I'm referring to the 10 days in October in which I graciously took on the care of my dear friend's two 3 year old boys as well as my own two children while she basked in the Caribbean sun.
It was hectic, the details of which I'll spare you. But I did it. And I'm proud of that fact, especially considering that we were in an unfamiliar house, sleeping in strange beds, and having no semblance of our familiar routines (which serves as a nice segue into the anxiety portion of tonight's programming).
In the end, no one was hurt, everyone was fed, everyone was relatively rested, no doctors were seen, the boys got on the bus ON TIME every day, and I did not collapse. And as the days passed, I watched our collective broods bond and form a pint-sized, gang-like posse, faithfully coming together to conquer the all-too-enthusiastic resident golden retriever, or the seemingly insurmountable playground obstacles, or me for that matter. And in those moments, when the 4 moved as one, I thought of my friend...and how close we are...how she is a sister to me in every way but biology...and how our own children are forming that bond. It was in those moments that I was surprised by a bliss and serenity that I never could have imagined.
Or as I like to call it, "The Effects of Spending a Month and a Week Away from Home."
You think you know your children. After all, in most cases, they've been with you since before they were born. You've fed them, nurtured them, rocked them, soothed them, cajoled them, taught them, etc., etc. etc. But then, one day, you get the bright idea to take them out of their element and upset the very routine to which you have begrudgingly adhered for 3 years despite your own free-spiritedness (is that a word) because you know how fruitfully they have thrived on it. So you pack your bags, fly to New York, and spend a month moving from one place to another, securing trusted (but strange to you and your children) babysitters, meeting and greeting more people than you can imagine, saying goodbye to said people, and basically living in chaos. For me, it was heaven. I thrive in this environment. Emma does not.
Like I said, you think you know your children. I thought I knew Emma. I thought she was a very secure, very mature, intelligent, well-adjusted, vibrant, adaptable little girl. And she is all of those things...except two very important traits when it comes to chaotic traveling. Turns out, on the secure and adaptable counts, I was dead wrong.
Unlike myself, Emma is a creature of habit. She thrives on routine. And I mean capital T-H-R-I-V-E-S here people. This is a kid who wants to know what's coming next, how it's coming, from whom, what is smells like, what color it is, how it will taste (when applicable), what it expects of her, how long it will stay, and generally what purpose it serves. I also apparently forgot that she is JUST 3, and by "JUST" I mean recently turned 3. She is, in so many ways, still just a baby in the grand scheme of things.
So, put the not-so-adaptable-or-secure-in-strange-environments ingredients together with the fact that she's basically still just a baby, let it stew for about a month at 65 degrees and VOILA....anxiety soufflé! Oh, and add to that a quick trip to California a week after returning home for reasons I'll get to later. Yep. I have never seen a kid go from independent, happy-go-lucky to clinging to my leg at school drop off while vomiting from hysterics brought on by the thought of separation so dramatically. Apparently the trips to NY and CA (not to mention the motivation for going to CA) threw my beautiful little girl into such a state of heightened anxiety that everything she once found such joy in, like dance class and school, now terrified her. For two weeks she would not leave my side, not even to let me use the bathroom. She was terrified to go to bed at night. She had to be by my side while I put her brother to bed, when I showered, while I cooked, etc., etc., etc. And having never had to deal with separation anxiety before, I initially was at a loss as to how to deal with the situation. Obviously I comforted and reassured her as much as possible, but as time went on and the situation didn't seem to improve, I watched my previously happy, confident, vibrant daughter cower more and more despite my attempts to re-establish a sense of security. And in the end, I wasn't sure who was more anxious, her over being separated or me over whether or not she would ever feel safe and secure again.
It is only in the last few days that she seems to be returning to her old self again, going to school without hysterically crying the entire time to the point of vomiting, comfortably spending time away from me, and sleeping soundly. But in the last few weeks I've learned a few things: 1. there is nothing like a previously happy, now emotionally crippled child to make you doubt the quality of love and parenting that you provide. I'm still feeling very insecure about my abilities and judgment as a mother despite her improvements. 2. A three year old, despite how intelligent, verbally sophisticated, or mature she may be, is still, emotionally, a three year old who requires a degree of stability and security that only familiarity can provide. 3. As much as I may think I know my children, they will constantly surprise me. And it is my job as their mother to be open to the ever-changing kaleidoscopes that they are, always adjusting my viewpoint, and relishing whatever it is they may put forth.
The final chapter in our episode.
This one is really a no-brainer...traveling for one month, 4 kids under 3 for 10 days, stuck in an airport with two small children for 6 hours, crippling preschool-aged anxiety for 2 weeks, and a virus that developed into an infection requiring antibiotics, an inhaler, and an antihistamine for myself, my husband, and the two kiddos. Yup. I'm tired. But frankly, this wasn't really what did me in. Let's add one more scene just for kicks...one that encompasses all aspects of tonights episode: frustration, anxiety, exhaustion, and a little bit of grief.
My grandma died...while I was away in NY...taking care of the kids. She was 89, and the closest thing to a saint on earth. She is the woman after whom my daughter is named. She meant the world to me. And while I said goodbye and told her that I loved her before I left for NY, it's not the kind of goodbye that I wanted to be our last. And on Nov. 6th, in the warm California sun, along with my brother, mother, and step-father, my daughter and I stood in front of her resting place and said goodbye for the last time. I miss her dearly. And my own sense of security is shaken in her absence.