So the other day, I was watching a mom trying very hard to gently put her small child into a car seat (#thestruggleisreal). The child was flailing and arching their body inhumanly as this poor mom did her best. It totally brought me back to an amazing life lesson that Aria taught me years ago, when she was just over a year old.
Let me set the stage.
Aria and I were heading out for a busy morning of errands and appointments. The whole morning so far, she had been her get along little self. For those of you who don’t know her, she’s vibrant but pretty easy going (meaning that she’s not typically one for tons of tantrums or crying as long as she’s stimulated and engaged).
This is great except for one little thing…when she DOES have a meltdown, it sort of freaks me out since I don’t always know what to do. I know, I know, great problem to have. I don’t take it lightly, trust me.
And we all know that, as moms, when our precious little ones are upset it realllllllly gets to us, unless I’m the only one whose blood pressure, pulse and body temp immediately reacts when I see the red start to pop out on Aria’s face. So back to the morning narrative…
We are heading to the car and all of a sudden, Aria starts squirming and whining. We get to the car and she is now starting to cry and twist. We open the car door and lean in, attempting to put her in her car seat and she is now in full on spasm mode where her body no longer bends in the way that is required to sit in a car seat and she is letting loose banshee wails that make you squint.
The utilitarian ‘grown-up’ in me had the flash – “yes, I’m strong enough and determined enough to get this little baby arm to go through that belt, and yes, this is unpleasant, should we just ‘do it’ like ripping off a band aid and then she’ll ‘get over’ WHATEVER it is that she’s on about?” But thankfully the MOM in me had a better plan.
The MOM in me asked “what is hurting my baby’s heart so badly in this moment that she is so unlike herself? What could possibly have happened in the last 45 seconds to change her so? Is there SOMETHING I can do to release my poor little baby from this terrible moment we are in together?” And as mommies often do, I was then only concerned with making her feel better, so I pulled her back out of the car and stood there to hold her. As soon as I stood up, this thrashing, wailing, furious and miserable toddler melted into exhausted tears into my neck. I rubbed her back and gently told her it was ok (thinking to myself whatever ‘IT’ was). After about a minute of the calm down, she picked her head up and looked me dead in the eye and pointed back toward the house. I assumed she wanted to go back to play so I told her “Yes, I know you want to go back in, but we have to go do some important things. Are you ready to go in the car now?” I immediately saw the flash of frustration across her face again and she pointed more vigorously.
So I took a step back. And then I saw it…
One of her favorite toys, Little Deer, must have fallen from her arms to the driveway on the walk out to the car and I failed to notice. In my baby’s mind, I was heartlessly prepared to leave Little Deer alone on the driveway, most likely running him over on my blind path to the to do list that morning, never to be seen or heard from again.
With a gentle and accommodating child like Aria, I often take her nature for granted. I don’t have to deal with many fits or tantrums (yet…). But that morning taught me a few things. First, maybe when our babies and toddlers are having these ‘spells’, things aren’t always what they seem. It’s not that she wanted to go back in the house, it’s not that she was resisting being strapped into her carseat, it certainly WASN’T ‘JUST BECAUSE SHE’S A TODDLER…it was because we had accidentally abandoned her friend and she didn’t have a good enough way to tell me yet. It wasn’t good enough because, pretty much, I wasn’t listening.
The other thing it reinforced for me is gentleness. I’m so very grateful for my gentle baby. The funny thing is that ‘gentle’ isn’t actually a trait I cultivate in myself. But the moment I decided to diffuse the mini battle we were about to have about going in the car seat is the moment Aria felt safe enough to let go too and the whole ordeal shifted. Energy begets energy, sleep begets sleep and most definitely gentleness begets gentleness.
And don’t worry, we still got everything done that morning AND Little Deer lived to see another day.