We had an incident Friday. It got so bad that we had to leave the gym. It all started like this: my four-and-a-half-year-old daughter wanted to watch a movie when she got home from camp. She picked “Santa Paws,” which I couldn’t believe was still in play. Because she’ll read/watch/wear Christmas stuff at any time of year (just like her grandma), I’ve taken care to pack up ALL Christmas stuff together for storage in January. But she found the movie I left behind. I played it for her. After all, I told myself, I wouldn’t be watching it. I had to make coleslaw for a potluck.
I left her in the living room watching the movie, and went into the kitchen. Unfortunately for me, it doesn’t take long to make coleslaw, so I quickly returned to the living room to watch the movie with her. By the time I got there, Paws, Santa’s dog, was in trouble. He’d lost his life-force-crystal and turned into a stuffed dog, and a mean old foster mother had thrown him away. He wound up lifeless and helpless on a slow-moving belt heading for the incinerator.
My daughter burst into tears, jumped up and ran to her room, sobbing. “Paws is gonna die!” she wailed, “And Santa!” I missed that part, but apparently Santa had lost his crystal too, sending him to the hospital in critical condition.
I went to get my daughter. “Sweetie,” I said over her sobs, “The movie’s not over yet. You’ve got to see what happens next.”
“Paws is gonna die!” she sobbed.
“I don’t think he is,” I said. “Come watch the movie. Sit with me.”
So she sat on my lap as we watched Paws’ last-possible-minute-rescue and life-force-crystal recovery. And once the head elf brought him to Santa, the dog gave Santa his life-force-crystal and once again, was turned into a stuffed dog. I had just gotten her calm and believing in the spirit of giving and Christmas and all that crap. Thank you, Disney. Thanks a whole f-ing lot.
So she started to cry again, and I urged her to watch the movie. Everything turned out all right and everyone lived happily ever after and when the movie ended, my daughter cried and ran to her room. I’d seen this before.
“Honey, are you sad because the movie’s over?”
“Ye-ess,” she sobbed. “I wanna watch it ag-a-ain.”
I dragged her out of her room and put her on my lap. “Honey, it’s time to go to the gym. They have movies there. Maybe they have it.”
“They have it,” she sobbed.
“So you can ask them to play it for you,” I said, trying to calm her down.
“I wanna watch it here,” she sobbed.
“Honey, Daddy’s home and it’s time to go to the gym. Do you think you can calm down so we can go?” I said.
“Ohhh-kaaay,” she sniffled.
So we got ready for the gym. My husband and I dropped the kids off at Kids’ Club — no problems. We locked up our stuff in the locker rooms, and got on the bikes. Two minutes and forty-eight seconds into our workout, they paged my husband to Kids’ Club. “What now?” he grumbled as he fled the bikes.
Figuring he had to change a diaper, I had just grabbed a magazine to pass the time when he came back and angrily announced, “We have to leave!” as he swooped in for his stuff and disappeared into the locker room. I did the same and I met him at Kids’ Club, where my daughter was sitting on the ground, crying. “She started this stuff again,” my husband barked. “I’m sick of it. Can’t do anything with her pulling this crap!” I let him take our son and followed with my daughter at a distance.
“Why is Daddy mad at me?” my daughter asked as my heart broke for her.
“Because he doesn’t understand,” I said.
When we got to the car, I hugged her and said, “Sweetie, you have a very big heart and it’s great that you feel so much. Not everybody is as sensitive as you and that’s what makes you sweet and wonderful.”
“Is Santa real?” she sobbed.
“Yes, Santa is real, but you were watching a movie, and that wasn’t the real Santa. Remember we talked about characters? (She’s going to be the writer in the family – can’t learn this stuff too early.) The people in the movie were actors playing characters. You know how you see the dad from ‘Modern Family’ on the orange juice commercials? He’s an actor. He plays the dad, and he plays on the commercials, but he’s just playing characters. The characters are part of a story. They’re not real.”
“I wanna watch Paws again!” she sobbed.
“Right now we are going to get dinner. Maybe you can watch Paws tomorrow. Can you hold it together so we can get dinner?” I asked.
She nodded. I got in the car.
“I’m sick of this crap,” her father said. “I can’t ever do anything for myself.”
“I don’t know why you didn’t just come get me. I could have talked her down.”
“Then she would have lost it again. It doesn’t matter.”
We drove to Costco to get sushi. I waited in the car with the kids while my husband ran in. Within two minutes of waiting, my daughter was asleep. Everything started to make sense.
When my husband came back, he saw her sleeping and said, “That explains a lot.” But I still needed to talk to him.
“You can’t get mad at her for her feelings. She’s sensitive. Her preschool teacher told me that she believes that all of children’s feelings are valid, and it’s important to listen to them.”
“Plus, I used to be like her. I don’t care now, but before medication, I felt for everything and everybody. It was part of being bipolar.”
“Don’t you think I worry about that?” he said. “Don’t you think I worry about her having it?”
“I worry about it too, but she is who she is and you can’t get mad at her for that.”
“I just wanted to do something for myself. I wanted to work out, and I wanted time with you.”
“I know why you’re mad, but you’re hurting her by not accepting her feelings.” We drove the rest of the way in silence.
I’m pretty sure I’ve said this before, but whether or not our daughter is bipolar, whether or not she’s too sensitive, whether or not she’s too tired, we’ve got to parent her, and she’s not going to change to suit our parenting style. We have to adapt to her, and continue adapting as she goes through her phases. And sometimes she’s going to interfere with our plans. We have to be parents first, people second.
Kids are unpredictable. They can get sick the day before you go to Disney World, but you have to deal with your disappointment. Every time my daughter skipped her nap when she was younger, I lost my alone time. At first, I’d get really mad, but that didn’t help anything. Now I just get really disappointed, but I shrug my shoulders and move on. There’s nothing like having a kid to make you realize you have to grow up, right?
How has your kid forced you to grow up?