“How are you feeling?” asked another mom at preschool drop-off the other day. It’s a solicitous question that many moms tend to ask every pregnant woman.
“I’m actually feeling great,” I said. “I feel fat, not pregnant. I’m pretty sure this means I’m going to have a difficult third trimester, since the first and second trimesters have been so easy.”
“Or a difficult child,” she suggested. “I heard that an easy pregnancy means a willful child. So you’d better hope for a bad few months, since that will be better than a bad 18 years!”
“Oh,” I said. “Ummm…. thanks, I guess.” Then I got in my car, thinking, it’s odd how quickly that conversation went from sweet to sour.
And of course it stuck in my mind. Partly because I’m willful, myself. Ben’s willful. Every time that Sophie is stubborn or bossy, we look at each other and joke, “I wonder where she got that characteristic?” We are both stubborn and bossy. We’re usually quite proud of Sophie’s willfulness and our own.
Lately, though, Sophie has been excessively willful. Lately, she has been checking to see how much she can challenge our comfortable routines.
“I am not going to school!” she announced a few mornings ago.
“Sorry,” I told her, “but you have to go to school. You can play here for one more minute, but then we do have to put on your shoes and go to school to see your friends and play there. What do you think you’ll do today at school?” Redirection often works wonders.
“I am not putting on my shoes!” she declared.
“Well, then, I’m just going to kiss all your toes,” I said, and did, until she giggled uproariously and submitted to socks and shoes. And went to school, and ran off happily to play. This tends to be the end of most of her willfulness: if I can stay cheerful and remind her of how much fun life really is, she is generally willing to go along. I feel lucky with my kid.
But this past Monday night, when I was working late as I do every Monday, the willfulness went out of control. Sophie did not want to take a bath in the bathtub Ben had filled up. Ben refused to fill up the other bathtub to comply with her whim. They clashed.
Really, Sophie just wanted to delay bedtime until I got home from work, but I don’t get home until 8 pm on Mondays, and Ben needed her to understand that she can’t change my work schedule. The result was more than an hour of screaming tears.
Brilliantly, Ben actually went about the bedtime routine without her. He had filled the tub, then, 20 minutes later, he emptied it, while she just kept screamingly refusing to bathe. Then he sat on her bed and read bedtime stories that she refused to listen to.
Eventually, she sat on his lap for the second story, and he rewarded her with a third story. She was asleep when I got home and Ben was shell shocked.
I talked to her about it the next morning. I told her that such screaming just makes everyone unhappy: she’s unhappy, Daddy’s unhappy, and I’m unhappy too. I suggested maybe we should call her Dad to apologize. (In our imperfect system of tag-team parenting, Ben goes to work before 7 a.m., so I’m the only one around in the mornings.) Then we did other things, had breakfast, got dressed, played with her stuffed animals, watered the seeds she just planted.
An hour later, she asked to call her Dad. We got his voicemail, so I told her to leave a message and to say “Hi daddy,” and “Bye daddy.” Then I took back the phone, but she said, “Wait, I have more I want to say to him. Daddy? I was having a tough day yesterday and I’m sorry I screamed at you.”
It was the sweetest message ever.
I am so proud of Sophie. She may be willful, but she knows how to care about the feelings of others and she knows how to say sorry, and so we’re doing okay. Maybe even better than that other mom at preschool drop-off.