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Emotional Manipulation

December 21, 2011

Today I picked up my son from playschool. I felt guilty because I was late, and it’s not like it was the first time. When am I not late, lately?

I am the teacher liaison, so if the teacher needs to complain about a parent, to whom does she come to to do it? To me. So I feared that I was about to be spoken to, or not spoken to because it would be uncomfortable, and I burst in rather breathless at ten after twelve.

I’d already used the “I needed to find some pants that would fit me before I could leave the house” excuse with her last week, so I went with, “I’m so sorry and I promise that I will make a real effort to be on time in the future.”

The teacher, who can’t start her cleaning and prep for the next class until the last child is picked up, stood Henry up. They’d been reading together while they waited for me, and she handed Henry a holiday card, sealed, in addition to a little art project they’d made, and told him to hand them to Mommy.

It took a few tries to achieve the handoff but finally, I had the handful of paper. I figured I’d open the card later but I glanced at the art project as I took him by the hand and turned to bustle off with him.

What I saw seemed to be of a more framable quality than the cheerful gluey messes we normally bring home. It was a little square of very tasteful green paper, about 3.5 by 3.5 inches, with slightly smaller white square of paper glued in the center, and in the middle of that, a dark red painted handprint , anchored by a dark red glued on paper heart in one of the corners. Ok, another handprint, I thought. We see a lot of those.

But then, in cursive writing — clearly not Henry’s — it said “This is the hand you used to hold when I was three years old.”

And then I made an unplanned, unholy noise, a wail of happiness and sadness coming up in my throat. I lost control. Crying, snorting, tears, immediate blurred vision. “Whoops, those are some pregnancy hormones,” someone commented. The teacher explained that she did not mean to make me cry. Well, no. But it was nearly impossible to get ahold of myself. I quickly told Henry that I wasn’t sad, but that I just loved him a lot.

Despite the factual error — Henry is not three yet, but competitive New Yorker that I am, I stuck him in with a group of 3 year olds — it struck a loud and lovely but also overwhelming chord. It was like a church chord on Christmas in a place with very high ceilings, where you feel like you’re going to be blown away by the divinity of it all, the beauty and weight and emotion of the music and all of the love and care and belief that is behind it, even if you’re not a religious sort.

I am so savoring this moment in time with Henry, our last moments alone before life changes forever, again. 

What if he isn’t always almost three and this close to me? Guess what, he won’t be. What if I forget what his squishy little hand feels like this week? It’s not like I remember perfectly what his hand felt like at 18 months, that one sunny afternoon when he was wearing a striped sunsuit and climbing the stairs to our porch and I tried my hardest to never forget even one detail of that moment when he was so beautiful and ripe and perfect, but in a very different way than he is beautiful and ripe and perfect on this Wednesday afternoon almost a year and a half later.

And I feel with great acuity a stab of guilt at my potential for another great love who is coming down the pike. While I want a sibling for Henry, and I want more love in my life, I don’t want to inflict the hurt and displacement every child feels when another child arrives on the scene. I know that it’s all for the good, but now more than ever I want to be able to do something well, to act gracefully in order to protect someone else’s feelings. And now more than ever, I will be distracted by the newbie, and crabby because I’ll be tired. It’s hard. It’s normal. People do it. Whatever.

But the teacher certainly got me.

Looked at another way, I got her, because she can’t quite scold me for being late while I’m sobbing at receiving a preschool project so perfectly planned and executed.

Who is manipulating who, here?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Karen permalink
    December 21, 2011 5:02 pm

    Oh Meredith. Good thing we are not really manipulating each other all the time! Although it can seem that way, for sure. FWIW, I put Mia in a 3-4 yo dance class when she was not yet three and had not been to school to learn about being in a group and disdained group activity with 2 yo indifference. That young Russian ballerina leading the class has probably not yet forgiven me. My nanny tells me (and she is not given to hyperbole) that it was “a disaster.” I felt just like you- a competitive New Yorker.

    I hope Henry stays as sweet and wonderful at three as he has been at two, and his hand stays squishy. Mia now gets me all verklempt when she says “I love you too, mama,” which she has been doing lately.

    She is also the biggest foot-dragger in the history of toddlerhood, and when I try to hurry her along of a morning, in the nicest possible, opposite-of-exasperated-mommy tones, you know what she says?

    “DON’T yell at me momma! Don’t say that ANY MORE! OK? Do you understand?”

    Wow. Or, “Oooh, snap!” as a fellow mom said, walking the other way holding the hand of her obediently trotting toddler. That comment seemed lacking in Mommy Solidatiry to me. But whatever. The “do you understand” she has heard a million times, coming out of my mouth. Fair.Enough.

    Mia won’t let me hold her hand, because she thinks I’m going to make her walk faster. So…. we get up 15 minutes earlier now. And leave 15 minutes earlier. Part of me says she needs to respect my need to sleep AND get to work on time. But part of me says you know what? She’s three, and there’s no reason to hurry if it can be avoided. Even if it’s to look in the same windows every morning, and ask, every morning, if it’s a d or a b on the duane reade sign, and why the lollipop barber shop is not open so she can have a lollipop, et cetera….

    Hold that squishy hand:)

  2. secret admirer permalink
    December 23, 2011 9:46 pm

    Change is good. The key to change is to change before you even know you are bored with the old order–just when you begin to feel comfortable with the way things are shaping up to be. A revolution is not a dinner party.

    –Mao Tse-Tung

    Siblings are good. They love their brothers and their sisters as much as their parents love them. Only together do they have enough power to gang up on their parents and they are very important for each other, especially in the early years. The first duty of an education is to stir up life, but leave it free to develop.

    –Maria Montessori

    Three is the new two. Two is the new three.
    –New York Magazine

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