I read somewhere that oldest children are like tester pancakes, they never really turn out as good because you almost have to mess up one before you get good at making them. As the oldest child, I thought it was kind of a lousy way of looking at it, but as a mother, I somewhat see the wisdom of it. Not that Jessie isn’t going to be as “good” as the others by the time I’m done, but she’s the one that teaches me. Because of her, I’m a better mother to Sam. And Julie benefits from having both of them come before her. I know what I’m doing, because I’ve figured it out, somewhat. I know how to do the “mother of a six year old” and “mother of a two year old” – I’ve done it before. But Jessie’s always at a new stage, it seems, and each time, I have to realize again that I really have no idea what I’m doing.
It’s an established fact that at some point, your child will scream “I hate you!” at you. I was prepared for that. In fact, Jessie (and Sam) have both already, at least once, said it to me mid-temper tantrum. But last night, Jessie yelled me “I know you hate me” and it took my breath away. My baby girl, my beloved child, the child who has owned my heart from her very first breath, thought that I hated her.
She’s a smart kid, she knew that I was ready, to some extent, for her to hate me. I could have handled that. But to say that I hated her – it devastated me. Want to know why she thought I hated her? Because I wouldn’t let her watch Dance Moms. Worse, I insisted she either go to sleep in her own bed, or she could snuggle up next to me and watch George Stephanopolis. When she objected rudely to George, I told her she was welcome to go to her own room, and she stormed out.
But she only went as far as the bathroom doorway. If she’d gone to her room, I would have let it go. Would have been pleased to let her go, because she would have fallen asleep that much faster. But instead, she stood in the middle of the bathroom doorway, in an otherwise dark and silent kitchen and screamed hysterically (overtired, much?). When I (rather calmly, I thought) told her that it wasn’t an option for her to stay there, she could go to her room or come back to mine, but she had to lay down and go to sleep, she hollered out that she knew I hated her, she didn’t want to be anywhere near me, she just wanted to be left alone, and stormed into her room to cry herself to sleep.
And sleep she did. Me, not so much. I laid awake most of the night, wondering. How did I get here? Am I screwing up that badly that she honestly thinks I hate her? Intellectually, I get it. She’s a dramatic kid, with intense and real emotions, and she’s never had any trouble tapping into them. She’s also scary smart, especially when it comes to reading people, and she knows how to push my buttons. It was, absolutely, the one thing she could have said that would guarantee that I’d feel as bad as she did.
Which is why I was thinking about the tester pancakes last night. Not because I think I’m screwing up, I know intellectually that she knows I love her. She confirmed it this morning, when she apologized and said she was just so tired that she thought it was true, but now that she’d gotten a good nights sleep, she knew differently. I tell her I love her all the time, her preferred spot is still (most of the time, anyway) on my lap or next to me, and I like to think that we’re pretty close. But first children have shock on their side. It’s not that I won’t ache if Sam or Julie says it to me, but it won’t be as awful as it was when Jessie did it. When Sam said he hated me, I wasn’t delighted, but I was able to brush it off easier because I had been thru it with Jessie. When Sam has had huge staggering temper tantrums – they aren’t any worse than Jessie’s were at that age, and thus, I’m able to ride them out without second guessing myself the way I did with her.
So Jessie, if you’re reading this ten or fifteen years from now – please know that I always, always love you. And that you have an incredible talent with words and a scary ability to perceive exactly which words will have the most impact – and you should wield those weapons with care. And also know that, for sure and for certain, I’ll be making sure that the television is off before the previews for Dance Moms start next Tuesday 🙂