Thursday, February 28, 2008

Am I Raising Sybil? Are You?

Back when I was a kid, this book came out about a woman with multiple personalities, SYBIL. Not long after, you might remember it as a movie with "You Like Me, You Really Like Me" Oscar winner Sally Field. (I'm really going to date myself now, but before NORMA RAE, I always thought of her as "The Flying Nun" -- yes, there used to be a sitcom about a nun who could fly; what can I say, it was a simpler time). Anyway, this is a longish way of getting to my subject: how toddlers can be sweet-as-pie one minute, and banshee-wailing, tantrum-throwing, Linda Blair-in-"Exorcist"-mode maniacs.

This is what happened yesterday.

I go to pick up Thing 1 and Thing 2 from preschool. They run into my arms and greet me with great big bear hugs, the kind that make you soooooo glad to be a parent. (One time a preschool teacher of theirs watched them bestow these hugs on me after running into my arms and exclaimed,"Wow, I wish somebody would love me that much.") In this moment, they more than live up to the nickname a friend of mine and her husband have bestowed on them: The Adorables.

I coax the Adorables into their car seats and get them buckled in with offers of a treat: a small, wrapped, hollow milk chocolate chick, the kind that's crowding the supermarket seasonal displays in preparation for Easter. (Sidenote: yes, I bought my Jewish kids what is technically an Easter treat, but pagan celebrations of spring predate Easter AND Judaism, and besides, few bribes work as well as chocolate.) So we're driving home, and happy chocolate consumption is going on in the back seat, with all its gooey messiness...

Then it happens. Suddenly, and without warning, Thing 2 -- my daughter -- turns on a dime, morphing from Ms. Sweetness-and-Light to a screaming, writhing She-Creature of the Dark. She's finished her chocolate treat and suddenly noticed she's wearing a long-sleeve shirt over a short-sleeve shirt. It's the same outfit she's had on ALL DAY. But for no explicable reason, she now finds it offensive, and it must be taken off this minute. Nay, this second.

Those moms reading this and thinking, "It's your own fault, you gave her chocolate," can congratulate yourselves on calling out my tactical parenting error. But in my defense, I must add that chocolate has never previously had this dramatic -- and quick -- effect on Thing 2.

I tell her I'm driving. I tell her I can't stop now. I tell her we'll remove the offending garment the minute we get home.

But she cannot wait.

I have a choice: let the screaming ruin the drive home for myself and for Thing 1 -- who is still in some kind of chocolate-induced bliss, but won't be for long if this continues -- or I can pull over, unbuckle the She-Creature from the car seat, and whip off the shirt.

I do the latter, in the interests of peace. I recognize, even as I do it, that it's a mistake. I have given in. Thing 2 has played the Mommy Slot Machine and won a jackpot, and now she's going to keep playing, hoping she'll win again.

Still, I'm foolishly optimistic. I buckle her back in, letting her do the final "click" (a must when it comes to getting her into the car seat without fuss) and pull out.

Ms. Sweetness-And-Light has returned.

But her reign is short-lived. She-Creature is back within moments. Thing 2 can suddenly no longer abide the hair scrunchies and clips that have been in her hair ALL DAY. They must come out now, no matter how much of her own hair she pulls out with them. The trouble is, she can't pull them out herself. They get stuck, and she wails for my help. She demands, as commandingly as a highway patrol cop, that I pull over.

I'm damned if I'm going to comply, because then all is lost: she's going to know, if she wails long enough and loud enough, that I will give in.

So I compromise. At a stoplight, I put on the emergency brake, pray to the traffic gods the light stays red long enough, unbuckle myself, reach back, and pull out the offending hair paraphernalia.

The light changes. We move on. Ms. Sweetness-And-Light doesn't return, but neither does the She-Creature. Instead, Thing 2 becomes The Silent One.

Is this some utterly new personality? Or is she just tired? I don't have long to contemplate.

Thing 1 (my son) pipes up. By now he, too, has finished his chocolate treat. And now he declares it is his turn to pick the song on the car music system. He wants a particular song. I comply quickly, switching over to the requested song. Thing 1 insists this is not the song he wants -- even though I know damn well it is. "I want the other song," he says, then adding the same title of the song that's already playing. I have no clue why he thinks there are two distinct songs with the same title, or if there's some other song he's thinking of but can't articulate its name. All I know is, he is going on and on about it, becoming increasingly upset.

In protest, his shoes are flung off, scattering sand from the preschool playground all over the back seat.

They're quickly followed by his socks.

Then Thing 2 ends her silence. "It's MY turn!" she wails. She-Creature is back.

Before we get home, she's shoeless and sockless too.

Somehow, I restore calm, put socks and shoes back on, and haul them each out of the car into the garage, all the while singing "Ring Around The Rosey" to them -- when in trouble, distract, distract, distract!

Now my challenge is to get us inside the building lobby before we reach "All Fall Down" in the lyrics -- when they undoubtedly will. I don't want them to get filthy from plopping down on the garage floor, though the prospect of dirt doesn't phase them.

Happily, they throw themselves into singing, and race into the lobby, where they fall down in giggles, abandoning themselves to the perfect, giddy silliness that can only be achieved by three-year-olds. Once again, they are the Adorables.

And I am left wondering ... should I have named them each "Sybil?"

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