She threw her boots off, ran up the stairs and slammed her door.
I took a deep breath. We’re here already? I felt a knot in my stomach, and wondered if I had handled things poorly.
We had been playing in the park with another dad friend and his two girls. When Cassidy urgently had to use the bathroom, I left Mischa with our friends and ran Cassidy back home. By time we returned a few minutes later, the other girls had hatched a plan to all come over to our place for dinner. Don’t know if the dad had endorsed the plan (I’m guessing not), but when I told them that today wasn’t a good day for it, the girls did not react well. Mischa whined and vehemently refuted my answer, while the other 6 year old dissolved into angry tears. We left, and when we were on our way into the house, I told my daughter quite plainly that she should not make plans with friends before talking to me first. I told her that things had ended very badly at the park because she had not asked me permission before she invited her friends over. I never said anything as direct as, ‘It’s your fault,’ but I was blaming her for upsetting everybody.
That’s when the boots went flying and the door went slam. And I was left standing at the bottom of the stairs with a toddler who was now crying because we had left the park, and the very distinct feeling that I had chipped away slightly at the self-esteem that was just beginning to become identifiable in my young daughter. I felt horrible.
Once Cassidy had calmed down, I went upstairs. Mischa was under her covers. I asked her if we could talk. She told me to get out. I told her I didn’t want to get out, I wanted to talk. My manner was gentle, and all I wanted was to scoop her up in my arms. She continued to reject me. I asked her if she wanted me to leave, or if she wanted a hug. She screamed at me to get out. I told her I would leave her alone, and I did.
When did things get so complicated? When did we reach the point where instead of pining for the comfort of my arms, she runs from it? And when did I start to feel like every word I said had became laden with the possibility of damaging our relationship?
I already felt guilty about what was happening, but I knew I had the power to help it end well. I wouldn’t take it personally; I wouldn’t yell back; I wouldn’t reject my daughter or tell her she didn’t have a right to act this way. I was feeling sad, not exasperated, but I also felt like I had the opportunity to really be the mother I wanted to be. I knew there were more slammed doors and more hurt feelings in my future. I have two girls who will one day been teenagers. I’m not kidding myself on this one, but I am determined to have a good, respectful and solid relationship with them. I don’t want their teenaged years to be like mine.
I gave it about five minutes, and headed back upstairs. Mischa looked at me and immediately yelled at me to get out. I rubbed her back for a minute and I could feel her body begin to relax under my touch. We’re going to have these moments. I’m going to make mistakes and she’s going to make mistakes. I will always be me with her – I don’t know how to put on a mummy voice or adopt a different persona for my kids – but I will try to refrain from saying things that I will regret later, no matter how justified the words seem in the moment. I will say I’m sorry when I am. And I will let her know that we can be upset and still love each other.
Do you want me to leave, I asked again, or do you want a hug?
She leaped into my arms.