20 Months: [the sound of a human being breaking]

Well, my dear, it only took you twenty months, but you finally did it. You broke your mother. In the past month you have been your usual self (CURIOUS HILARIOUS PRECOCIOUS LOQUACIOUS RAMBUNCTIOUS, which you recite off like the world’s most important checklist), but somehow turned up to eleventy-jillion, minus any sleep, plus two new teeth.

So it’s been a fucking deal, I’m dead inside, I love you, but I’m fucking losing my shit.

It takes a lot for me to be able to say that in public, because there are a lot of people who really want to see me fail as a parent, or who think I am already failing as one, or have already failed as one, and this just gives them more fuel for that fire that is probably engulfing me alive but I am too tired to feel it.

This morning after nursing nonstop for about an hour you woke up for good at five. I’ve been up since four. I was hoping to be able to write this update tonight at 8, after delightedly tucking you into bed, because the silver lining, the usual silver lining, in the new reality that is my life–a life where I am no longer hanging on by my fingernails but by one raggedy half-sliced-off fingertip, where I am drowning in stress from the work I cannot do because I am either nursing or caring or attempting to have someone else care for you but failing because sometimes nobody else will do–anyway, the usual silver lining in a life where you are a 20-month-old who no longer takes a daily nap is that you now usually go to bed with little trouble at 7:30 on the dot.

But not today. Today, you collapsed at 4:45, after making it thirteen hours straight, after deciding you’d had enough of waking life at precisely the moment your mother was laden with groceries and in the process of paying for them, and you got upset in the way that only your father and I really know, the way when you don’t just whimper and ask GOOM GOOM NOW (your only non-complete sentence is your most insistent; it literally means “nurse now” but it really means everything from “My gums hurt” to “I am a little scared” to “I am sick of waiting in this checkout line at the Whole Foods”).

Nope, in the past month you’ve rediscovered your “loud cry,” and today for the first time ever, you debuted it in a crowded public place. People were not sympathetic. Everyone glared at me. GLARED at me. Like, What did you do to that kid. What did you do to her. Why won’t you shut her up. Why won’t you just die already. Why did you even have a kid if you can’t control her. Why why why why why why why. It was either drop $30 worth of groceries on the floor and run, or withstand 45 seconds of screaming when I knew you were just fine, just tired and annoyed, and so I chose the latter, but every fucking buttinsky in the place had to come and get right in your face and go WHAT’S WRONG. OH WHAT’S WRONG. But they didn’t actually want to know what was wrong. They wanted to tell ME I was doing it wrong. They wanted to tell me just how wrong I do everything. You know what? I already know. I already know. I already know. Fuck you, and fuck you, and fuck you, too.

I snapped at a stranger today, little one. He was glaring at me, wouldn’t stop. As if that would help you stop screaming. As if he really wanted you to stop crying–he didn’t. He wanted me to burn with shame. I already did. And panic. And rage. On a normal day I would have muttered to myself or kept it inside and just tapped into my endless reservoir of patience and made an Aw Shucks Toddlers face. But for the last three days I have been cracking the fuck up. Losing it. Lost it. Gone. So I spoke to him aloud. I said: Don’t you fucking judge me. You have no idea what I’m going through today. No idea.

OK, enough about how I have lost my shit. We’ve established that. Groovy. I’m sorry. There is so much you’ve done this month that is magical. Just because I have lost my shit doesn’t mean I don’t love you. This doesn’t mean I wouldn’t throw myself in front of a freight train if it meant you would be just a little happier. This doesn’t mean I haven’t absolutely delighted in your ability to remember the lyrics of every song you have ever heard, and sing almost in pitch, and then make up your own version, replacing key nouns with the your favorite things, like cats, and ducks, and pigs.

This doesn’t mean I don’t treasure the endless late nights we do spend together, on the days, like today, you nap, talking with you late into the wee hours about your favorite story of Smooch the Pig and Quack the Duck, who are best friends. (You made this story up; I just embellish it.) This doesn’t mean I don’t have an incredible time when I take you to Gymboree (I think I love it at Gymboree almost as much as you do), or the playground, or IKEA, or the ice cream store. DON’T TELL PAPA, I tell you as I shove down a chocolate-chocolate cone; he gets home and says What did you do today, Fluffy? And you smile and go DON’T TELL PAPA, ICE CREAM.

Your honesty. Your honesty in mischief. It’s humbling and maddening and wonderful. Whatcha doin, Fluffy? CLIMBING. What you climbing? THE TOILET. Are you supposed to climb the toilet? NOT FOR CLIMBING. Whatcha doin, Fluffy? DUMPING MILK. Do we dump the milk? WE DON’T DUMP THE MILK WE DRINK THE MILK! That’s right! Watcha doin now? DUMPING THE MILK! The reason I have not left you out to be eaten by a Wooly Mammoth is because you are the cutest and most amusing creature in existence. That is how toddlers don’t all end up sold to the circus. It’s evolution, bitches.

Little one. Just because I’ve completely cracked doesn’t mean I’m mad at you for being your rambunctious self, crammed to overflowing with the life of fifty full-grown MMA fighters dancing inside you at all times. I would not want to change a single thing about you. I just need a little bit of rest, and Fuffy Trouble at 20 months old is not one for granting that rest.

One of these days, maybe you will allow a caregiver who is not me to watch you for more than an hour at a time. Next year at this time you may even be in preschool. And I will drop you off in the mornings and try not to bawl as you hurtle away from me to your little friends, gulping back tears as I think back on the day that I snapped at that smug childless fucker at Whole Foods, the day you broke me, the day there was still ten even stronger versions of me inside that me, ready to love you forever. If only you would let her sleep.

My little one. My TODDLER KID, as you would say. Bear with me. Stay with me. I am not worthy of you, but I love you so much that one of these days I will realize I am unbreakable.

8 thoughts on “20 Months: [the sound of a human being breaking]

  1. So here’s the deal. You are broken because you are doing the world’s hardest job in a society that places very little value on what you do. And it gets harder. When her heart is broken by some nasty kid at school – you won’t be nursing anymore. So no comfort there. YET, yet, there will be transcendent moments you would never get any other way.
    And in 25 years or so you will have this other human who was so so so well cared for and is so interesting and creative and giving and begins to actually appreciate your effort. And you get her as a friend and your family forever and forever and nothing is better than this responsible, useful adult you share with a greatful world.
    Good for you for sharing the truth about your mother-job. Hang in there. There will be ultra lovely moments in your future.
    (From cousin Vikki, who’s been there)


  2. As the mother of a boob addicted 17 month old who has recently discovered the joy of constantly screaming NEIN at me and then running away (usually directly into someone’s cart/bike/legs etc… who then give me the ‘Control your kid, lady” look), I feel your pain. But I just have to say, You look fantastic in that picture. I guess I mean sleep deprivation and stress look great on you?!


  3. Yeah. I’ve been broken a few times over the past months between the combination of toddler + pregnancy + PhD work, and now toddler + newborn (with school on hold until next semester, thank goodness, otherwise I’d be slated for graduation in May and be on the market now. No thanks.). So much undying love and so much capacity for unsavory emotions. Sending you wishes for deep and restful sleep!


  4. I just finished reading Elisa Albert’s novel After Birth. If you aren’t already familiar with it, you should look it up. Albert’s writing voice reminded me of you a bit. 🙂


  5. It gets easier.
    And you know what the worst is? People with easy kids who are like, “Oh I just tell my kid to stop.” Hahahaahaha. But at least you know your kid is cool and brilliant.

    I know it is really expensive but paid childcare is the best thing that ever happened to me. Paid. By an experienced childcare provider who knows their shit.
    Not volunteer. You would love it and school is the same thing and I bet you will love that.


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