My two-year-old’s face has collapsed on itself and is beginning to leak. “I don’t wanna nap!” she wails for the fortieth time. “I don’t wanna nap! I don’t wanna nap! I dooooon’t waaaaannnnaaa naaaaaaaap!” I notice she hasn’t moved so much as a millimeter toward the sink where I am waiting to brush her teeth.
I sigh and adopt my most motherly tone. “I know you don’t want to nap, but that doesn’t change the fact that you need your teeth brushed. Now please come here.”
She shuffles two steps before howling anew. “I wanna stay up! I wanna stay up! I don’t wanna nap! I’ll be good! I waaaaannnna staaaay uuuup!”
My patience is beginning to look the worse for wear. Through my head marches a ticker-tape parade of all the tasks I need to finish before a meeting tonight, though their footsteps are drowned out by Sophie’s wails, sounding ever more like an untended car alarm. What I want to do is yell at her. Matching her pitch might not be the most mature option, but it would feel awfully satisfying. I should know; I’ve yelled plenty of times before.
What I feel like I should do is force her into compliance. I was taught that children should never get away with disobedience, and I don’t want to set a precedent for bad behavior that will insure her a future as a card-carrying degenerate. I’m worried that I’ve somehow encouraged her current meltdown by being too lax a parent.
I do neither of these things though. I take a deep breath, and the confetti-strewn chaos in my head quiets. A gentle presence shows the shoulds to the door, and I’m able to see my little girl with perspective again. I remember cuddling her in the hospital bed after she was born and free-falling in love. I remember how she bounded out of her classroom at school an hour ago and ran giggling with happiness straight into my arms. I remember her affection, her sparkle, her imagination… and how her world crashes down around her when she’s tired (a trait she inherited from her mother). I remember that she’s only two.
I know exactly what to do. I scoop up my daughter, plant a few kisses, and brush her teeth as her protests subside. Then we snuggle up on my bed to read a pre-nap story. Her choice? “Olivia”—a picture book about an impulsive little pig whose mother has always seemed like a pushover to me. When Olivia replicates a Pollock painting on the living room wall, Mother Pig merely puts her in time-out before drawing her a bath and giving her a delicious supper. I’ve wondered from time to time why the mother didn’t make her scrub the wall or feed her raw brussels sprouts or, at the very least, yell her vocal cords ragged making Olivia feel properly miserable about her mistake.
This time, though, I understand.
When we finish the story, Sophie’s tears have dried. I kiss the ticklish spot below her ear until she bubbles over with laughter, and I tuck her under her covers where she curls around her beloved stuffed dog and closes her eyes. I borrow a line from Olivia’s mother: “You know, you really wear me out. But I love you anyway.” And as I tiptoe out of her room preparing to panic over my unfinished tasks, the leftover grace tiptoes after me.