Being around a toddler is a great way to build up one’s self-esteem. Zoey can make me feel like the funniest, most beautiful, importantest person in the world. Hearing Zoey laugh at my jokes or having her reach for my hand is amazing. I love it when she climbs into my lap, nuzzles my neck, and pats my cheek. I feel like a rock star! A super hero! A (dare I say it?) good mom!
Then Demetri will get home. Or The Grandparents will come over. And I become The Devil. Lately Zoey has been screaming when I come downstairs in the morning. Her devil radar will lock on to me before I even get out the gate at the bottom of the stairs. There is a brief second of eye contact. I hope that this will be the day that my daughter doesn’t scream in horror at my mere presence and Zoey takes a deep breath. Then, she screams. Or rather, she begins screaming. She runs away from me and towards Demetri, tears streaming, head shaking in the universal sign of Get away from me! If I approach her, she hurls her entire 25 pounds of toddler rage at me. Her little hands, the same hands that I love to hold, push and claw me away. All while screaming. And it goes on. If I sit too close to her on the couch. If I look at her during breakfast. If I enter a room that she is in.
Demetri eventually leaves for work. Zoey and I go through our day just fine. We are even usually in the same room. I can cuddle her and play with her and read to her. Until Demetri gets home. The screaming starts again.
And here’s the thing I’m not supposed to say: It hurts my feelings. I know it’s not supposed to. I know Zoey is not even two. I know that she has minimal (at best) control of her emotions. I know that she loves me. And I know, when Zoey is older, things will get worse. Like when she can talk in full sentences and yell things like I hate you! or You’re not my real mother! But maybe by then she’ll have a reason. Maybe it’ll be because I won’t let her go away with her 21 year old girlfriend to Vegas for the weekend. Or because I won’t buy her a $300 pair of jeans. Or maybe she’ll still be outraged by my very presence. Whatever the reason, I’m hoping it will hurt a little less.
I was talking to my mom about this the other night. She told me that it’s a father-daughter thing. Apparently, when I was young I was all about being with my dad. I played soccer with him. Ran with him. Watched Star Trek with him. If the 3 of us went someplace I would get out of the car and go walking off with my dad. We would leave my mom behind. I apologized profusely (Again, sooooo sorry mom!) . . . and I encouraged her to blame my dad. While I was talking to my mom, my dad was hovering in the background shouting ‘encouraging’ things like “All daughters treat their mothers horribly!” When we were about to hang up my mom said she loved me and my dad yelled, “Tell her I love her too!” I told my mom that I love her more because she is my mom. My dad yelled, “That’s OK! I’m used to being mistreated!”
I hung up knowing that my parents love me. Even my mom, who I often took for granted and ignored. I never once doubted her love. It is always there. Just like she is. And I think that may be the hardest thing about parenting — to always love. And to always show it. So now I’m going to do what I think my mom would do – smother Zoey with hugs and kisses and tickles. Even when being pushed away.