Monday, January 28, 2008

The Payback Kid

Whenever I gave my own mom an especially hard time, she used to say to me, "You should have three just like you."

Though sometimes it feels like I do -- with demanding twin three-year-olds and a neurotically needy, if adorable, cat -- the reality is that only one of them lives up to the moniker, "The Payback Kid."

One of them at a time, that is.

Within two weeks of being born, my daughter clearly held the title. That's because she came down with a mysterious virus, developed a high fever, and had to be hospitalized for ten days, undergoing two spinal taps, giving us all a terrific scare that she had meningitis (she didn't, and I'm still awaiting an apology from anyone responsible for the mix-up at the hospital's lab). I was forced to shuttle back and forth between Thing 2 at the hospital's neo-natal intensive care unit (AKA the NICU) and home, where Thing 1, like his sister, was in need of feeding and cuddling.

But a funny thing happened during Thing 2's hospital stay. Thing 1, who seemed to begin life as my mellow, Zen baby, turned into a needy Thing indeed, refusing to calm down without near constant holding, swaddling, and swinging. Thing 2 returned home healthy but more independent, content to snuggle into her swaddle blanket and settle down without much fuss. Thing 1 continued his demanding ways for months on end. It looked as if Thing 1 was going to lay claim to the title after all.

Smash cut to about two and a half years later: Thing 2 learns to say no, refuse to go to bed, stamp her feet in vehement protests. Thing 1 picks up a few of these tricks from her. They both throw tantrums when they don't get what they want, whether it's ice cream, another ten minutes of Baby Einstein, or the ability to wander off into a busy street unattended. But while Thing 1 can be easily distracted, or at least we can wait him out (he recovers from blowing his top quickly), Thing 2's temper proves longer lasting. Her fits are tougher to squelch, her desire for limit-testing seemingly insatiable. The title has been swapped again.

Six months later, Thing 2 seems determined to retain her crown.

Bedtime is her battleground. But then, I recall, it was mine too. One of my most vivid childhood memories is being put out into the hallway of our New York City apartment -- not an internal hallway, I mean the one where people got on and off the elevators -- with my pink blanket and furry bunny. Apparently, mom had had enough of my refusal to go to sleep. I'd been banished.

Today you might call child welfare if you saw an unattended kid curled up with a blanket and a bunny in the hallway of a New York apartment building, but in those days, when we knew all our neighbors and nobody got by the doorman without being buzzed in, I was safe.

I was also undoubtedly a pain in the neck.

Sadly, my mom isn't around to see me struggle with getting Thing 2 to bed. One of the hazards of being a late blooming mom is that all the grandparents don't necessarily come with the package(s) that took so long to arrive. Mom never got to see Thing 1 and Thing 2.

Despite the temptation to do what mom did to me, I've never put Thing 2 outside the condo with her striped blanket and cherished toy ducks. That's one childhood memory I don't want her to have. But I've lost my temper, I've yelled, I've stormed out of her room -- I've basically lost it in front of her. I've run the gamut of stuff a good mom is not supposed to do in this situation, and vowed to do better.

Whenever I've had enough sleep to get some perspective on it, I laugh.

That's because somewhere, I know my mom is laughing ... at me and my payback kid.

1 comment:

Zekiye (your neighbor) said...

This one made me a bit teary-eyed because of the grandparent remark which hit close to home. My parents are still alive but my dad will be 77 and my mom will be 70 this year. Great job Holly, I truly enjoyed reading all of your posts.