I've been staying with friends this week, attempting to work remotely with a toddler running around. I have learned things.
THIING ONE: I can do about 10-15 minutes with the child before I'm bored/annoyed/want to do anything else but wait on her every need, and this is a child I adore. On This American Life, in its Back to School episode, Ira Glass referred to babies (as seen through the eyes of teenagers) as "these incomprehensible bundles of need", and that's what this child is.
She isn't a bad child, by any means, she's just two, and that's what two-year-olds are to me. It's especially the case for toddlers who aren't verbal. She's bright and appears to comprehend well, but she's barely talking aside from babbling, which just plain frustrates everyone, including the baby.
THING TWO: The primary job of a toddler's caregiver appears to be keeping her from accidentally killing herself. Not just hurting herself, mind you — pain is an excellent teacher, and if she learns that putting fingers there means pinched fingers, that's a life lesson. I'm talking possible DEATH. It's the stray piece of sharp(!) plastic in her mouth that came from god knows where. It's the heavy thing on the shelf she can just barely lift. It's the gate above the stairs you swear to god you clicked shut — or hell, did she figure that out too? It's keeping her from putting her finger in the dog's eye/ear/butt and pissing him off. It's the drawer she figured out how to open and the knife you carefully set on the counter that's juuuuuuuuust within reach of her tiny fingertips because she developed the ability to stretch just a little further. It's constant vigilance.
THING THREE: As a parent, your life is a series of little messes. Cereal bowls poured on the ground, crackers crumbled on the sofa, yogurt covering the baby. Diapers and dishes and blah blah blah. So many messes, all the time. And when she's cleaning up, the baby NEEEEEDS her attention, so while she's doing the dishes, baby is whiiiiiiiining, a sobbing mess on the floor because she's not the center of attention. Mom has to turn off the part of her brain that says "I am causing my child pain" because it's not pain. It's manipulation. It's a game. Which leads me to…
THING FOUR: Holy crap, are toddlers manipulative. Figuring out when they're hurt and when they're crying wolf is a crapshoot. Everything is a crisis. Not responding to a whine? Try a cry? Let's make it sound like I'm in pain, that you're actually harming me. It's awful. To someone as sensitive as I am, it quickly becomes emotionally overwhelming, even though I know that taking my Kindle away from her so she doesn't destroy it is not actually causing her traumatic physical pain.
They say it's different when they're your own kids, and to that I call bullshit. It's not different. You just have the love that balances out the awful more, but it's still awful. On a bad day, Mom calls baby the Soul Sucker. While baby is up, it's all about baby. She wants to work, but realistically she can't concentrate on work until baby is in bed. It's not different. It's just "worth it" I guess? I don't know.
And it's not just that. It's the series of broken Xbox controllers from being thrown around. It's Mom's brand new iPhone that got dunked in her cup of water because all the sippy cups are dirty, and the shelves full of things pushed way to the back, out of baby's reach, and the annoying door knob covers and drawer locks aimed at keeping her from getting into things she shouldn't get into. It's the screaming when she DOES get a hold of the expensive, breakable thing you tried so hard to keep her from getting her hands on. But it's "worth it"? I guess?
I found myself escaping into the basement to work in peace this week because even when baby wasn't bothering me, her emotional neediness, mom's frustrations, they weighed on me so much that I couldn't focus on my work. My guilt weighed on me too, for being annoyed when the kid is just being a two-year-old.
The adorable moments are great. But this week, I recognize those moments and say "these are the moments they say make it worth it. It's just not moving me." Right now, she's breaking up saltine crackers and crumbling them into the sofa and I've lost my will to tell her not to do it. I can't anymore. I'm tired.
It's now just one more mess for mom to clean up. Lucky her.