My toddlerbeast has a book called ‘In My Heart’. It’s currently her most favourite book, which means that we must read it a minimum of 57 times daily. It’s a book that teaches children about different emotions. It’s a sweet book the first five or six times you read it. After that it starts to get a bit old.
When she went through her ‘Spot Counts To Ten’ phase I begged her to just choose another book, something with some semblance of a plot line. But toddlerbeast’s heart wants what it wants, and so we read Spot Counts To Ten (the title of the book literally summarises the entire book, Spot counts to ten, that is all) until I couldn’t take it anymore. I just fucking couldn’t. Do you know what it does to a person to sit around reading a book about a dog that counts to ten over and over and over again? Nothing good. So I did what all parents have done to books that they just cannot read one.more.fucking.time. I waited til she wasn’t looking and hid the book.
Sweet relief, at last! With the book out of sight there was no more Spot Counts To Ten for me for several days. One day after a big tantrum while I was trying to change her nappy, I reasoned with her (I know using the words ‘reason’ and ‘toddler’ in the same sentence is an oxymoron, but I was desperate) that if she stopped pelvic thrusting and trying to grab handfuls of her shit while I was changing her that I would read her a book when we were done. She complied and I kept my word because I didn’t want my broken promises to be the reason she grows into an adult with trust issues. Also, I was feeling kind of bad for her as during the pelvic thrusting and attempts to grab at her poo during the change I had raised my voice. Don’t judge me, you try keeping your cool while someone is trying to paint themselves and everything in a 5 metre radius with their own shit. It’s a stressful situation. I stand by my decision as it ultimately prevented a cataclysmic poop event.
Anyway feeling slightly guilty for raising my voice and seeing actual tears well up underneath her eyes, (which were there before I raised my voice, but whatever, mother guilt you know) I decided to throw the kid a bone and bring out the old Spot Counts To Ten book. Except I hid it so well that I couldn’t actually find it. I saw the In My Heart Book and decided to make this ‘a teaching moment’. All these new aged parenting articles keep coming up in my Facebook feed, and even though I know most of them will be judgey as hell (especially when you read the comments attached to them, which I always seem to find myself doing, despite my better judgement) I still find myself clicking on them.
According to most of these articles I’ve already failed at parenting, and should probably just throw this kid out, cook a new one and start afresh. I didn’t exclusively breastfeed or co-sleep, and I am the worst kind of monster because I sleep trained my daughter and wait more than the 0.003 seconds to identify what her cry is before I go into her room at night. Basically, according to the studies in these articles (and the Facebook comments beneath them, which are of course based only on hard scientific evidence) she is at best going to grow up to be a psychopath, and at worst a meth addicted criminal. I listed the options in that order because apparently many people have psychopathic tendancies without violent urges and go on to be high achieving CEO’s of companies who just destroy everyone in their path rather than becoming serial killers (just in case you were wondering). If she grew up into the murdery psychopath type then that would probably be a worse option than the meth addicted criminal. Ideally, I would prefer neither of these outcomes for her.
Anyway, in short it’s looking like I have a lot to worry about when I read these articles. But the one glimmer of hope is that I can foster good emotional health, and starve off the psychopathic tendencies. I can do this through teaching her how to process her emotions and understanding. So even though throwing my own faeces around the room like some crazed baboon in heat is not MY idea of fun, it was important to HER, and understanding her intense feelings about being denied such a toddler privilege/right of passage is a pivotol part of helping her develop emotionally. So I get it kid, I hear ya loud and clear, I’m a party pooper. Your feelings are valid and A-OK by me.
So that’s why I read her the book about the emotions in her heart. We read it once and it was nice. I felt like giving myself a big parenting high five. Validated toddlerbeast’s feelings and taking care of her emotional development and wellbeing, big tick for me! The second time I read the book with almost the same amount of enthusiasm as the first. A+ for effort I thought to myself, look at your patience for the boring mundane tasks of motherhood. You’re doing so great, you’ve almost made up for yelling at her earlier.
Skip to the sixth time I have finished the book and I close it saying ‘finished’. She turns it round to the first page and says ‘read gen’ in her cute little toddler voice. I try bargaining first ‘How about you read it to yourself this time?’ her response: ‘READ GEN!’. I read it again, and again, and again.
We are up to maybe the 10th time now that she wants to read it again. No more I think, please just no more. Pick a god damn different book. How about The Gruffalo? Or Monkey Puzzle? Or Spot Counts To Ten? Something new, get Mumma something new. I put my foot down, I lift her off my lap and onto the floor with the book. I am a god damn human being and I have needs too. Right now my need is to not read this book anymore.
Do you see this face? This is the face of someone who needs to stop reading this book right now. I sent this picture to my wife during the incident. I tried to recreate the same feeling in a picture for this blog after the fact, so I could get a more flattering angle. But you cannot recreate this amount of fed the hell up on queue.
Above is my NO MORE SPOT COUNTS TO TEN face. Fuck you Spot.
This angers her. She tries desperately to put the book back in my hands. I keep them closed in fists so she can’t make me hold it. She finds a way after many attempts to balance it on my closed fists. Then she grabs at me and starts to climb up me like a tree to get into my lap. Normally I think this is cute. Normally this is when I’d lift her onto my lap and read her a book and feel loved and needed, kiss the back of her neck and stroke her hair as I read to her. Except not right now. My body is just a means to an end, an object for her to climb and I feel her sharp nails scratch at my chest and her stubby little toes dig into my flesh with reckless abandon as she hoists herself up onto my lap. She goes to open the book, I hold the front cover down to prevent it from opening in my own childish show of defiance and rebellion. I’m still a person I think to myself, I still have free will, it’s OK to not want to read this book again, I’m in charge here. Stop letting a one year old have you by the balls, stand up for yourself woman!
My resolve to stick to my guns and ride out her persistence weakens as I think to myself: ‘How much more time in her life will she be so filled with joy by something as simple as a book?’, ‘Her joy is so pure and beautiful, and you just love her so fucking much that it feels like your heart may burst, so just take this opportunity to make her happy while things are this simple’, ‘Just give her this simple joy and watch her face light up.’ ‘Take it all in, she is growing up so quickly.’
Mother guilt centre of my brain kicks into high gear and I read the story a dozen or so more times. Eventually I’ve memorise all the words, and the task becomes an automatic reflex for me. This leaves room in my head for my own thoughts to trail off. I begin to wonder what my brain would look like if I were to undergo a functional MRI scan right at this very moment, I wonder could they see my mother guilt centre lighting up like a Christmas tree? What about the part of my brain that is slowly withering and dying at this moment as I am forced to read this book again?
A few days later I take her to the doctor because she has been snuffly for a while and I am a hypochondriac. The doctor checks her over and says there is nothing else that can be done other than to aspirate her snot with one of those snot sucky bulb things. I don’t have one, so the doctor is kind enough to offer me a free one. We live off one income, so I take free shit where I can get it. Instead of a bulb at the end, it has a long tube which you put in your mouth and suck to create the suction which draws the snot out. Why they would create this product when there is a perfectly acceptable alternative method of creating snot removing suction that doesn’t involve potentially ingesting your child’s boogers is beyond me.
I look at the snot sucker and I feel the same feeling I had about that book. This time I don’t try to put up a fight, I just accept the fact that I am going to become a human snot sucker. If there was ever a product that summarised the widely held belief that mothers cease to exist as autonomous human beings with their own needs and personality (who have the very real and normal desire to not suck snot out of another person’s body) once they pop out a kid, then this is it.
Thanks for kicking me when I’m down Naspira.
I will keep reading that book again and again because I know you love it kid, and yes I will suck the snot out of your nose using a giant straw. All because I love you very, very, very much. I know you know that.
But while I do these things, I am giving myself permission to keep repeating over and over in my head that I am still a person, with my own needs and desires and aversions to mundane and/or gross tasks. I’m allowed to hate this book and still love you. I’m allowed to not want to partake in activities that involve me accidentally ingesting your boogers, and still be a good mum. I’m just a person who needs to stop counting to fucking ten a million times a day, and maybe find the money in our budget to buy a snot sucker that doesn’t involve my mouth. My dignity is worth that expense.