Everybody’s a critic, my fifteen-month-old included. Even with a vocabulary that’s mainly a jumble of verbal approximations, she can make her preferences very clear. I can hand her a sippy cup of water and she’ll request “muh” (milk) instead, or “wawa” if I’ve given her milk. I could give her a slice of apple and she’d ask for cheese. I’m happy to oblige, wanting nothing more than to reinforce these first forays into real communication. But when I walk into her room morning after morning only to find her shaking her head, waving her hand and tearfully declaring, “No! Dada!” she cuts me to the core. Apparently, I’m out. Dada’s in. And it’s driving me crazy.
I ask myself if I’m not, on a certain level, reveling in the old Mommy Martyr Syndrome. I’ve got loads of fodder. I did Dr. Sears proud, after all. Natural childbirth. Exclusive breastfeeding. Forsaking the stroller for the sling despite aching shoulders and back. Plus I’m home with her full-time. So where’s my attachment parenting pay-off? I’m attached; why isn’t she?
Okay, I know it’s not that. I stand by my decisions as the best for our little family unit. But feeling like a third wheel within my own family actually has me wistfully recasting those early, sleep-deprived days as simpler, easier times. She cried; I picked her up. Nursing always on demand. But now the demands have changed and become more complicated. What’s more, they can really sting when what she’s demanding is for me to take a hike.
So why can’t I just rise above it? Is this simply a game of hard-to-get, where I should work that much more earnestly for her affection? Am I laying the groundwork for latent mama trauma because I don’t? That instead I walk away, leaving her to her beloved Dada? Finding myself alone, sulking over a glass of wine, I wonder if I’ve become the real baby of the house.
A friend told me that she’s happy when her daughter shows preference for her partner. “I’m relieved to know that there are other people who can comfort her.” she says. “It takes the weight off of me a little.”
I appreciate this perspective, and have tried it on a few times. Of course I’m glad there are people in my daughter’s life with whom she shares a mutual affection. I don’t want to be the end-all, be-all, center of her universe. But at least let me orbit a little. Share the same solar system. When she shuts me out, I feel so resolutely out that I find myself wondering if I were to go take that hike, would she even notice I’m gone?
It’s the cross all stay-at-home parents bear from time to time. This I know I have to accept. We lack the glamour the working parent has by virtue of his or her ritual absence and our own ritual (yawn) presence. But for me I think it goes a little deeper than that.
When she’s a teenager, I will have to weather the “I hate yous!” I’m among the population of women for whom it takes a village, not to simply raise the child, but to conceive it as well. Only after assembling a dream team of highly talented fertility specialists and therapists, and through much trial and error, was I able to become successfully pregnant. And even now, two years after that fateful embryo transfer, I’ll catch myself in the mirror carrying my daughter and I’m shocked by what I see: me, a mother. Infertility will do that to you, convince you that for your kind, motherhood is going against nature’s grain. But there’s no better fix for that than motherhood itself. Loving and caring and nurturing a baby can set that record straight.
And that’s what I have to keep reminding myself even now, as my daughter’s fickleness rekindles that doubt and uproots those vulnerabilities. I am her mother. I’ve more than earned the designation. And when she’s a full-blown, door-slamming teenager, I will have to weather the “I hate yous!” and “I wish you weren’t my mothers!” I will have to muster up all my reserves, much like I do now, and like I did on the way to becoming a mother in the first place.