Yesterday morning, I cried at the mall. Julia has had a cold since last Thursday, and it's been raining, and over the past 6 days, we had already baked cookies and muffins and done stickers and read books and watched TV, and I needed to get out. No preschool, no gymnastics, just my grumpy girl and pregnant hormones for company. So, we made a plan, and even though she whined about going, Julia was happy when we got there.
We shopped for fall dish towels at Crate and Barrel, got treats at Starbucks, and then went to the play area so Julia could climb on the dinosaurs. Okay, I thought, this is good. After about 20 minutes, I suddenly had to pee, in that way that I only ever experience during pregnancy: 4 seconds ago I didn't have to pee, and right now I'm going to explode.
I promised Julia that we would return to the dinosaurs after I went to the bathroom, but said I needed her to help me and come now. She smiled, turned, and ran further into the play area. I told her that if she came now, we could come back and play a little more after the bathroom, and with all of the calm I could manage, I picked her up and brought her to the stroller... which is when she started kicking and not quite screaming, but more... growling. I somehow got her clipped in, and while rushing to the bathroom, went through a litany of comments about how I was angry and we were leaving. I was furious. Post-bathroom trip, as I started for the doors to the parking lot, I paused. I pulled Julia out of her stroller in the food court, sat down with her in my shrinking lap at a little table, and started to cry.
"Julia," I said. "Do you know why I'm angry?"
"Yes," she replied. "Because I was picking my nose."
"No, sweetie. I'm angry because I asked you to help me when I needed to go to the bathroom, and instead of helping, you kicked me." Julia didn't say anything, and we sat there for a few minutes. I was unsure of what to do; she was probably still picking her nose.
"How about if we play for 10 more minutes," I suggested, "and then when I say it's time to go, we leave with no kicking?" Julia agreed to this, and happily ran back to the play area. I gave her a 5 minute warning, and then a 1 minute warning, and then, when I told her it was time to go, it was like deja vu. The running away, the kicking, the growling. A few moments after getting in the car (I had been silent during the kicking/ wrestling into stroller/ wrestling into car seat ordeal), Julia said, "Mama, now I'm really happy."
"Oh," I said, thinking, what should I do here? I mean, happiness is good... but is this really a time for praise?
"Are you really happy too, Mama?" she prodded.
I can't remember exactly what I said. Something about how I was a little sad that she had kicked me, probably, but that I was glad she was feeling happy. We got home, and Julia's mood darkened again. I picked her up and put her on the counter. "It seems like you're feeling angry, sweetie. Are you angry because we left the mall?"
"No," Julia said. "I'm just feeling a little sad." Then she got quiet. "Next time, I won't kick or scream."And then I cried again.
Yesterday afternoon, I processed the events of the morning with my mom, via phone, and with my friend Libbi, via text. And it seems like, while two is notoriously terrible, three is presenting its own special set of challenges. I know, too, that with a baby on the way, Julia will need more support, rather than less, over the next six months or so. So frequently, I can see the beginning of Julia figuring out how her actions affect the people around her, and it feels like a big job to coach her through this process... especially when what I really want to do is sit at the mall and drink a latte while I watch her play for 30 minutes. And so,this rainy morning, I'm armed with coffee and the mantra "Accept all feelings, but limit behavior" (a reminder from my mom). I am looking forward to a return to our routine, and hoping for sunnier skies ahead.