Get Out of My Face: Kids Get Sick of Their Parents

08.18.10: Leo's 27th Month

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Why did we decide to drive to the Outer Banks of North Carolina? From Brooklyn. With a two-year-old? Ah well, we did, anyway, and day two of our trip was a ten-hour creep through beach-bound traffic. Ugh.

Leo handled himself quite well. True, he sang out “I want to get oooouuuuttt! I wannna go to the beach!!!” at regular intervals. But I think we all did. I felt terrible putting him through that trip. Toddlers don’t even sit still long enough to finish a meal, and we strapped our kid into a seat for an entire day. It felt inhumane. So I turned up all my entertaining mom skills, shuffling from sticker book to this little piggy to “look! A truck!” at manic speed as we slowly, slowly nudged our rental car down the endless highway.

Naptime came, and I sat there enforcing silence and pretending so hard to be asleep that I got a crick in my neck. Leo alternated slurping away at his binky and throwing things. Naptime went by, with no nap (clearly there’s a correlation between how much toddlers usually move around and their tendency to nap). I gave up and re-commenced toddler entertainment. Leo was grouchy. I pursed up my lips and went in to give my sweet little boy a big smackeroo on the cheek, and wham! He smacked me in the face. Twice.

This is not especially surprising behavior for a cooped-up, un-napped two-year-old. What’s surprising is that I burst into tears and had trouble snapping out of it. I guess I’m not so great at sitting in unmoving traffic for hours either, but the intensity of my reaction surprised me. “You do not hit mommy!” I said before I cracked. And Aaron turned around and said “you do not hit anyone!” Leo looked alternately surprised and amused. And I just sat there beside him drowning helplessly in emotion.

It started at the moment of contact. Smack! I suddenly realized—and fully felt—that I have been so important in someone else’s life for the past two years, and it won’t always be this way. I will eventually become annoying, smothering…a drag. People say boys always adore their moms, but even if they do, they don’t do it like babies. My little baby boy, who thinks I’m so fun, so funny, so comforting…will become a boy who at some points just wants me to go away!

As I was reeling from the realization that my supreme reign in Leo’s life is short-lived, I began feeling terrible for crying. “What’s this doing to him?” I wondered, unable to stop the tears. He just sort of looked at them, registering quizzically that I was producing water from the eyes. But was I somehow traumatizing him for life? The complexity and impossibility of it all was overwhelming to me. My poor, wonderful child, victimized by my failings.

Okay, you get the point. I cracked for a little while there. Aaron pulled over, we got lunch, Leo ran around in a loading dock for a minute and saw a butterfly, and eventually, hours and hours and hours later, we got to the beach. Leo fell asleep from sheer traffic misery about 20 minutes before we got there, and the relief I felt was shocking. I realized that being a mom to this child is like experiencing a double life—I feel doubly unhappy when things are unpleasant for both of us. And, as I have learned more and more this past, mostly delightful year, as Leo gets old enough to have lots of fun every day, I feel doubly happy (at least!) when we’re both having fun. I guess that’s why we decided to drive to the beach.

Recipe: Quinoa-Bean Salad for a Crowd

Zoe Singer is a freelance food writer and cookbook editor and co-author of The Flexitarian Table. Food Editor and blogger for The Faster Times, she tries not to eat for two now that her son is a toddler.

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