Dear Cee: About those tantrums and tears
We have had a lot of change in our lives lately. You have started day care, and I have started going to this strange place we call “work.” (I always wonder what you picture when I say I’m going there. I think you’d really like climbing the stairs in the 300-person lecture hall where I go to tell stories to sleepy college kids. You’ll have to check it out sometime.)
We had these nearly two years of spending almost every minute of every day together, living in our quiet, predictable rhythms. As an infant, you clung to me and had little interest in being close to other people, even Daddy at times. Our early attempts at leaving you with a babysitter were traumatic for everyone. You would cry and cry, refusing a bottle. I would sit at my desk, unable to concentrate on my work, and instead checking my phone for text messages from the babysitter. You let me know that you needed me. I accepted this and stayed close.
I was nervous about this change, but you love going to day care. You jump right in to play, often only pausing for a quick hug goodbye with me. And when I return to pick you up, you greet me with a grin and a hug, but then you go back to playing and it is often a struggle to tear you away. You embrace your new caregiver as if you have known her all your life.
I am so relieved to see that you are comfortable with this change. But it is also bittersweet for me, I admit. It is a LOT of letting go. In fact, you may have noticed that I have been hugging you an awful lot lately when we are together. That’s the only way I can ease myself into the reality of your growing up.
But also? It is magical to watch you become your own person.
You walk confidently and run joyously. You disagree passionately. Sometimes you are agreeable, but you’re passionate about that, too. You demand band-aids, piggy-back rides, and one more bedtime story. You try new words, first listening, and then testing them out. You pause, you reflect, you nod with understanding. You protest holding my hand as we cross the street. You pretend play – serving me dinner of plastic veggies and grinning as I nibble at them and complement your cooking.
And you still need me. You don’t show me this by clinging to me, like you did as an infant. You’re showing me this in the way you test me over and over. Cee, I won’t let you climb on the table. Cee, I asked you not to climb on the table. Get down, please. Cee, we don’t climb on the table. Again and again. You watch for my response, which comes as predicted. You get down. And then you try it again.
And then some small thing happens – your band-aid comes off or I ask you to walk instead of being carried or I physically lift you off the table with a firm no. You fall apart. I try to reason and explain, but you are in a different place.
This is what I want to be sure you know today: It’s OK. You can test away, and when I tell you no, I’ll be here to hold you while you cry. I’ll try not to take it personally but rather as a compliment. You need me. Still.
Your day care provider tells me that you are even-keeled all day long – cooperative, uncomplaining, bouncing back from disappointment. Funny, because I feel like I hardly get to see that Cee anymore. Our time together now seems to be reserved for testing and tantrums. It seems that all the little bits of tension that you feel during the day break open for me, fast and strong.
Change is hard. It is stressful and scary. All of these new social interactions you and I are engaging in – they are draining. At least, that’s the way I feel. And those emotions build over time. In me, they sit and wait, often unnoticed. And then one day some small mishap comes along and the damn breaks. I may not know why I’m crying, but I know it feels good.
A few nights ago, after a long day for all of us, you wanted your socks, but not just any socks – the ones you had left in the car. And when we couldn’t find them in the car, you wanted to play in the car. And when I said that we needed to go inside and get dinner on the table – you fell apart, in a high drama way. Big tears. One of many tantrums triggered over the last couple of weeks.
I sat down on the floor and pulled you in close. You cried on my shoulder. After a few minutes, your tears were gone, but you kept whimpering in a way that many would dismiss as a fake cry.
I could tell you weren’t that upset anymore, but you weren’t ready to get up and move on yet. I thought about how sometimes when I cry, and the tears eventually dry up, sometimes I want to cry a little longer. It feels good, especially when someone you love is holding you. You want to squeeze out every last bit of emotion into the arms of someone willing to share it with you.
I want you to know that you can dump your sadness and stress on me anytime. You may not know where it is from. It doesn’t have to be because you’re in pain or afraid of something tangible. It can be from some unnamed emotion that you feel but have no words for. I’ll hold you close and share it with you.
That “fake” cry? Is it manipulative? Maybe it is, but that doesn’t make it wrong. I think that maybe what you’d like to say, but can’t yet, is “I need your attention right now, Mama. Your full attention, and for a little bit longer. I need you to hold me and listen for a while.” At least that’s what I hear, and that’s how I try to respond.
Even as you step into the world, little girl, so full of spunk and confidence – know that I am here for you when you need me.
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