Thursday, August 24, 2006

True Confessions Time at WWYG?!

Readers have pointed out to me that when I talk about my girls, I focus on the difficulties that I experience with Grace and talk about Sarah's successes.

I can only admit that this is true, but I must beg you to understand that this doesn't mean that Grace means less to me than Sarah does. I think (hope) you know me well enough to know that while my relationships with my kids are different, I dearly love both of them.

It is natural for a relationship between a father and a six-year-old to be conducted differently than one between a father and a three-year-old. The concerns, problems, successes, interactions occur on different levels. When Sarah was three I had similar problems, I just didn't have a blog to write it all down.

I am saying these things to myself to try and understand how things can go wrong between Grace and I (yes, this is one of those stories again).

Last night, Lynda was off to go to a small jewelry party hosted by a friend. I stayed home with the girls to give them baths and get them ready for bed. Lynda wasn't going to be gone that long, but if I could get the bath out of the way, then great. My first mistake was getting a bit frustrated when Grace would not listen as I tried to herd her into the tub. (She has a bad habit of doing the absolute opposite of what I/we ask.) But, eventually she got there and I had the girls in the tub when Lynda left--without announcing to the girls that she was leaving (sometimes it's better that way). This idea was fine with me and would have been my suggestion if she had asked.

Everything was okay for a few minutes until Grace started complaining about a rash that she had and began pulling on her skin in an attempt to show the rash to me. She began to cry. I tried to reassure her that I would put cream on the rash once the bath was finished but she was slipping into the emotional loop that I have seen three-year-olds get into--a loop in which they are so fixated on their current emotional state that nothing can break them out of it. It's like when your computer freezes up while trying to load an internet page. Something isn't connecting from one place to the next, but the computer continues to whir, attempting to finish the task.

Grace was emotionally fixated on the fact that her rash hurt and that she wanted Mommy to fix it for her. I simply wasn't allowed to do it. She began crying and crying and crying and no amount of reassurance and kind words that I could muster would break through the tears. I tried to tell her that Lynda wasn't there and that I could administer the medicine right away, but logic failed to penetrate.

I began to get frustrated as he crying escalated and as Sarah started to get upset as well, as much over the amplified noise in the bathroom as the fact that my daughter seemed to not want me to touch her. My defeatism got in the way of common sense and the reality that I am an adult dealing with a small child. But as the crying continued, my resolve cracked. In desperation, I called Lynda to come back and calm her down (Lynda was only a few streets over, if that matters.)

I have to say, I have never felt like more of a parental failure in my six years in that capacity. My sometimes suspicion that Grace doesn't like me (deep down) was bubbling to the surface, my paranoia that I have yelled in frustration too many times and have convinced her that I am "bad" was growing, and the embarrassment that I called Lynda to diffuse the situation was the final straw. It was an awful stew of emotions.

When Lynda arrived, I had them out of the tub, dried off, and in their pajamas. Grace was calm but I was trying to talk to her about why she had not let me help her. Whether I led her to this answer or whether she came up with it herself, I don't know (don't want to know?) now, but she did say that she "didn't like me" and that I was "a bad daddy." On top of everything else, that really stung.

Lynda calmed Grace down and then tried to talk my emotions down as I was tearing up. (During all of this Sarah had finished drying herself off, put her pajamas on, and was coloring. I went to talk to her while Lynda was negotiating with Grace and apologized to her for making her the odd one out in all of this, making her deal with this by herself while I was handling Grace. She seemed okay about it, but it wasn't fair to her either.)

In the end, we all calmed down. Grace and Sarah watched The Jungle Book and had ice cream while Lynda returned to her party. Grace even came back to me (totally unsolicited) and gave me a kiss and said I "wasn't a bad daddy anymore."

But I need to take lessons away from this event. As Lynda said, I can't let Grace manipulate me so easily and I have to remember that she is not an adult and that everything she says doesn't reflect that level of thinking. But the both of us have a very stubborn streak within us and when we but heads, neither of us wants to back down. Since I am an adult, however, I need to be smarter and not take these dust-ups as a personal attack or a symbol as my failure as a parent.

I went back into her room later that night and watched her sleep. She's a beautiful kid and I love her dearly. I know that our relationship will be challenging and deeply meaningful as she gets older. But it'll be the most rewarding challenge I ever face.

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