My daughters are in opposite places right now: Maxine, my youngest, is like a sticker adhered to my pants that I just can’t peel off: Wherever I go, she goes, and if I wander beyond a 2-foot radius of her, she panics. Three-year-old Edie, on the other hand, wants only Dad. She barely tolerates me at best.
Both extremes are exhausting.
Edie’s refusal of me intensified recently. She screams if I try to unbuckle her from her car seat, carry her inside or put on her boots.
Everything we do together becomes a fight. If I am at the table, she refuses to eat. If I come into the bathroom, she refuses to wash her hands. If I am in the bedroom, she refuses to put on pajamas.
When she wakes up, I greet her with a sunny, “Good morning!” Her response: stink eye, then, “Where’s Dad?”
When your daughter wants only you
Maxine, on the other hand, is always by my side — or, more accurately, always on my side, either breastfeeding or hitching a ride on my hip.
She clings to my legs so that I can’t walk. One night I tried to put her in the carrier while we were in the house — I just wanted the use of both my hands — and she nearly threw herself onto the floor from my back.
Her piercing screams are so bad that I have taken to holding her while I use the bathroom, and I am more adept at making meals one-handed than I was when she was a newborn.
Worse, although she wants me and no one else, her fussiness skyrockets when I’m nearby.
The other day I walked in the door and Maxine had gone from happily playing with blocks to heavy metal screaming before I’d even closed the door. “She was just fine,” Eric said as she sprinted to me, tears and snot streaming.
I guess she saves the best for me?
This too shall pass — right?
I’m trying hard not to take the I don’t want you/I want only you phases personally, but it’s hard not to feel rejected when, well, you’re being rejected.
At one point when Edie was throwing a semi-violent protest after I offered to make her breakfast, I got up and locked myself in the bathroom for a few minutes. “They weren’t joking when they called this age the threenagers,” I texted to a friend. I felt as if I were getting a glimpse into my future with an angsty teen who can’t stand the sight of her mother.
Within seconds of shutting the bathroom door, though, Maxine began pounding. “Ma ma ma ma ma!” she bawled, releasing her fury over our separation through her fists.
Yet this phase is not all bad.
“I’m soaking this in while I can,” Eric told me the other day as Edie draped her arms around his neck, the rigidity of her angry limbs relaxing in his hug.
So lately we have resorted to the divide-and-conquer parenting philosophy. Eric handles most things Edie (except for doing her hair; apparently I’m “more gentler” with the comb) while I take point on Max.
I remind myself of my girls’ other difficult phases — like the period when Edie wouldn’t eat unless I was singing to her, and the months that Max wouldn’t nurse unless I breastfed her while bouncing on a giant stability ball — when I am near my breaking point. Those trying times passed, and this one will, too.
The emotional pain of Edie literally kicking me away and the physical pain of pulled muscles from constantly carrying Maxine hurts. But at some point, Max will sprint away from me on the playground and Edie will run to me with a smile.
That is parenting in a nutshell: The push-pull of kids needing you and needing independence. All I can do is be present — and assure them I’ll be here. Whether they want me to be or not.