Tuesday, November 17, 2009

My Toddler, The Basketcase



October was a really trying month for my little Aubrey and me but we made it through with a little help from Skype, Nelly the snuggler elephant and cabernet...

I know everyone thinks their kid can do no wrong and for a while, mine was pretty darn close. I'm totally aware that this sounds SO stuck up, but in the great scheme of things, she really was a textbook "good" child. Especially for a two year old. Very few tantrums, likes to share, naps and sleeps well, potty trained like a champ, eats almost anything you put in front of her, never gets sick, plays well alone or with others, intelligent and kind. And beautiful... because she looks like her mother. I was kind of living on toddler easy street until - dum dum dum dum (you're supposed to sing Beethoven's 5th there) - my ex, her father, went on a three week business trip out of the country.

Neither of us had ever been away from her that long and I truly underestimated what a traumatic effect it would have on her as she had always been such an easy going child. My ex - let's make up a name for him so I can stop referring to him as "My Ex". How about Lex. It rhymes with ex and also reminds me of Lex Luther. Lex and I split when Aubrey was still an infant. We have shared custody and a full time, live-in nanny between our two homes so Aubrey is accustomed to a back and forth lifestyle but she had never gone without seeing one of us for more than a week at a time.

During the first week of Lex's trip, things were pretty normal, but slowly, sneakily, the anxiety started to seep into my child's behavior. First were the sleep disturbances. She woke during the night crying, completely inconsolable. She fought naps, crying for over an hour at times until she finally gave in to exhaustion.

Next came the potty regression! NOOOO!!! Suddenly, there was no more interest in going pee pee on the potty and forget the poo. She didn't even want to try anymore and I had just gotten her to about 90% potty trained. Whenever I asked her if she wanted to try a pee on the potty the answer was always a sad frowny faced, "no". Sigh.

Then the mini hunger strikes began and then the aggression towards the dog. Pushing and kicking poor Bob Barker. This is the first time I've had to work with her on saying "I'm sorry," and it wasn't pretty.

There was also the expected increase in separation anxiety from me. It got to the point where I just walked in the next room and she would start crying for me. You can only imagine the drama when I had to actually leave the house for real. But of all the manifestations of Aubrey's daddy missings the weirdest of all was this - a video of the Happy Hippo singing The Lion Sleeps Tonight on YouTube.

Aubrey's old nanny used to play her this video over a YEAR AGO when she was a baby. She used to like to watch it and it made her laugh. She literally hadn't seen it since then and we had never talked about it. Then one day, out of the blue she said to me in a sad little voice, "Hippo? Wi-mo-weh song?" I thought she wanted to see the video so I pulled it up on my iPhone and she began screaming in terror, covering her ears! "No no no no no no! I don't want it. I don't want it!"

After this incident, the mere utterance of the word "hippo" would send her into a panic attack! Eventually, we had to turn it into a game and joke around about hippos:

Aubrey: There's a hippo in my room?
Me: Noooooo! There's no hippo in this house. Is Mommy a hippo?
Aubrey: Nooooo!!!
Me: Are you a hippo?
Aubrey: Nooooo!!!
(And then, much laughing would ensue. Hi-LAR-ious. I may use the hippo bit in my next show.)

So we figured out how to Skype Lex and we had a daily Skype appointment which helped quite a bit, but I can't tell you what a treat it was for me to have to see my ex and his girlfriend Skyping from their hotel room in bathrobes every day at 6pm. It was a little weird, but hey, this is my child's mental health we're talking about.

Oh and it's worth mentioning that to top all of this craziness off, Aubrey had a cold the ENTIRE time he was gone. Yes. Three weeks of coughing, sneezing and runny nose. I'm grateful it was nothing more serious, but it certainly contributed to my stress level.

Aubrey has a wonderful nanny who came up with the idea to buy her a calendar so she could decorate it and cross of the days in a count down until daddy came home. This was... not very helpful. Oh well. We just kept trying. At a certain point I realized that a two year old just can not grasp the concept of how long "three weeks" is. No matter how many times I told her that daddy was coming back in X number of days, she just didn't believe me. In her little toddler mind, she truly believed he was never coming back. It was so heartbreaking to see her this way. To see your child suffering and not really be able to help them - it's one of the worst feelings in the world.

The end of the three weeks finally came and I never thought I'd say it, but I couldn't wait for Lex to come home! I had never been so relieved to have him back and Aubrey was glad to see him too. This was a real trial for Aubrey and me and I think we both barely made it through with our sanity in tact. Lex has been back for about a week now and had promised to not take another trip that long while she's little. Aubrey is still working through a lot of separation anxiety. She still gets very worried when one of us has to go and she still doesn't want to use the potty for me or her nanny. A new twist is that she has also exhibited some anger towards Lex. She's a little mad at him for leaving her for so long. Complex emotions for a little person, huh?

Trying to look on the bright side of all of this, it has given me a new appreciation for Lex. As much as most people don't LOVE their ex's I will say that I'm very glad that Aubrey has a daddy that she really loves and that he is in her life, actively caring for her and helping provide for her. I know so many single mom's who don't have this basic need met and my heart goes out to each and every one of them. I don't know how they do it alone.

Also, it has reminded me how intense and sincere a toddler's emotions can be. I think twice before I laugh at little things she says and I really listen to her when she is trying to express herself. I'm lucky that I have a very verbal child. She was using full sentences by 18 months, so communication has been pretty simple for us, but we all too often dismiss our young children's emotions as child's play or toddler manipulation. Sometimes we even think they just don't know what they're talking about - but they do.

My father was a commercial airline pilot (side note: he was one of the pilots of the DB Cooper hijacking!) and when I was right around Aubrey's age, he was flying international routes and would be gone for several days at a time. I went through the exact same trauma that Aubrey went through, thinking my daddy was never coming back each time he left, and I remember it vividly. I went through many of the same anxieties - minus the hippo - and I think I turned out all right. I had a loving mommy who helped me through it and my daddy always came home, just like my mom told me.

Aubrey is at her dad's house today and I'm enjoying my alone time. I'm going to go to the gym, watch some grown up tv, catch up on some work and have a nice dinner with my boyfriend. Bob Barker is also enjoying her alone time.

2 comments:

  1. I think it's hard when your toddler starts exhibiting a trait that you struggled with as a child. Eli has started being more fearful about things, and I was SOOO hoping he wouldn't inherit that tendency from me. It takes a lot of time, energy and creativity to actually try to help them work through it. Sounds like you're doing a great job with Aubrey and great that Lex is stepping up to the plate to support her emotionally too!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Aubrey is so lucky to have a mommy that appreciates her complex emotions. It's great that you don't dismiss them as immature. There is a little person behind those beautiful eyes.

    ReplyDelete