An epiphany occurred to me a few days ago. A big part of this behavior is the preschool version of perfectionism. Groan, it’s started. He’s generally so happy-go-lucky that I thought he wouldn’t have to struggle with perfectionism, but there it was, staring me in the face.
The 3 year old was apparently drinking plenty of fluids and staying hydrated, which I suppose I could have been thankful for. But, we were camping. The pit toilet was a decent walk away. I’m currently experiencing foot issues, so my left foot is encumbered with a big, clunky, walking boot. While my children think that’s awesome and have taken to calling me “pirate”, it makes for some uncomfortable walking. All 3 Fringy kids were playing together nicely and making friends with other camping kiddos nearby. Which meant I deluded myself into thinking that I might actually get to sit and simply read a book.
Enters the 3 year old. Every 15-30 minutes the kid needed to pee. I’d see Chimp walking up, pained expression on his face, hands grabbing onto his unmentionable parts, and whining, “I need to go potty!”
The first couple of times I’d simply say, “OK, let’s go!” and walk with him over to the toilet. But, after the 4th or 5th time, my patience was wearing thin, I’d only gotten 2 pages read in the book, and I was getting tired of lugging my pirate leg over to the smelly, hole in the ground, which barely passed for a bathroom. My body language and tone of voice were obviously not masking the frustration and impatience I was feeling. Probably saying, “seriously, chimp?! You just went ten minutes ago!” with an exasperated voice didn’t help matters either.
And so, Chimp apologized. He looked quite upset that he was disappointing and inconveniencing me as he said, “I’m so sorry mom.”
And it struck me. My 3 year old was apologizing to me because he had to go to the bathroom. His body had to expel toxins and fluids and I was inadvertently shaming him for this because I wanted to sit and read a book. Yep – everyone else just take your names out of the running, I have officially won “mom of the year”.
Don’t read me wrong, I’m not beating myself up (maybe just a tiny bit at first, but I’m over it now). Nope – I’m simply using this as a wake up call. The truth is, the unending potty trips are not the only times my Chimp is greeted with an exasperated, frustrated response from me. He is the kiddo that talks non-stop. And I am not exaggerating about this. Ironically, as I’m typing, he’s sitting next to me playing a game on my tablet and . . . talking. Not to anyone or anything in particular. He just talks. And with his talking comes endless questions and requests and “mom! Watch this!”’s and needs and more questions and storytellings and . . . and . . . and . . . it is endless.
Most times I can be patient for the first 10 minutes. But then, he inevitably hears, “Chimp! What?!” come impatiently from my mouth. At which point, he usually responds, “Mom? I love you.” And snuggles in for a hug.
Chimp has the (mis)fortune of being my preschooler after I’ve been a baby/toddler/preschooler mom for over a decade. I’m tired. The incessant physical neediness of these early years of life are tiring as a parent. But, he hasn’t been a preschooler for the past decade. And he won’t be a preschooler for very much longer. It really is kinda unfair for me to forget that he simply needs more of my physical assistance right now.
He also has the (mis)fortune of being psychomotorly intense with a mom who is very introverted, as well as sensually and emotionally intense. My introverted, intense self can only handle the incessant noise of his sweet voice for so long. But, again, that’s not his fault. Nor is it his fault that his older sister requires a lot of my energy and time. I’m trying to hold it together for her so frequently that I simply don’t feel I have the energy to listen to his chatter, answer his questions, or wipe his bum one more time. There are a lot of demands on me. But, he’s just a little Chimp who needs his mom . . . and to go to the bathroom.
So, I’m going to suck it up and intentionally give him joyful parenting on the terms that he requires. And I’m going to do this in the following ways:
FIRST – I’m going to revitalize myself. I’m going to actually prioritize my own self care. I will wake up earlier in the mornings for quiet, peaceful time to recharge before the day even begins. I will take mommy-time-outs so I can be all by myself for even five minute stretches to be filled with peaceful rest before my kids put me on mommy-time-out so I stop yelling.
SECOND – I’m going to be mindful. I’m going to stay in the moment and be present. Instead of following my brain’s random thoughts and to-do-lists that aren’t related to the task or person in front of me, I’m going to breathe and refocus on the here and now. The other stuff will have their turn for my attention.
THIRD – I’m going to work and play in intervals. Like interval training, where you can keep sprinting because you know it’s only for a short period of time, I am able to stay more mindful of the here and now when I know it is temporary and there are set times ready for me to address the other stuff on my brain’s eternal to-do list.
FOURTH – I’m going to purposefully choose a mindset of joy, curiosity, and childishness while I’m with my Chimp. We do have the power to choose our frame of mind – we just have to choose it over and over and over again.
FIFTH – I’m going to do all these things until I don’t. Which means, at some point this afternoon I won’t be doing them anymore. And, when that happens, I will practice self-compassion. Just as Chimp can’t yet go potty all by himself, I can’t yet (or ever) parent joyfully 100% of the time. And there’s room for compassion in that.
OR – I’ll go buy some earplugs, make Cub take Chimp to the bathroom, and get back to my book.