Since I embarked on my final fieldwork placement followed by research report Windhorse has been spending weekdays with other people. She has one day with her other mum, one day with her grandmother, and three days in childcare (I usually take her there, and the bus trip and short walk together is usually fun). It feels like a bit of a treat to have a day with her, so last night I was looking forward to today, when I would take her to visit a new friend with a baby and then we would go to her swimming lesson.
The day began sweetly, with Windhorse saying she wanted “two more rest,” a phrase I think she has picked up from me saying she can have “two more minutes” of something she is enjoying. So we snuggled up together and had a delightful little rest.
Later there was porridge and milk splattered all over the floor, the high chair and two walls. Then grizzling in the car seat. Then a visit to a new friend with much cuteness in toddler-baby interactions. A slightly trying swimming lesson.
Then things went horribly wrong. It started with the shampooing. Then she did not want to have a nappy on, but I (foolishly?) pushed ahead because I didn’t want her to wee on the floor. Clearly it was a terrible assault on her body and her autonomy. She ripped the nappy off and tried to make a break for freedom. I was dripping wet and wrapped only in a towel. I did not want to follow her into the public area so I tried to block her. She screamed and wailed and punched my legs and the bench. She got away, I grabbed her and dragged her back and tried to dry myself as quickly as I could. She tried to crawl away under the bench and I dragged her back. I pinned her between my legs while I put on a bra, then plonked her on the bench. Got one leg into my undies, while she tried to bolt. Plonked her back on seat. Other leg, drag and plonk and bolt, repeat, with interludes of my kneeling, grabbing her by the shoulders and half shouting “Listen to me, listen to me! I can’t go outside in my undies!” (as though saying “Listen to me” loudly to someone in the throes of intense distress and rage is going to result in some kind of breakthrough). Once I was dressed I let her run because I actually didn’t know what she wanted. She ran out of the change rooms and I tried to carry her back in while she kicked and squirmed out of my arms. At one point we ended up on the floor, me saying “please, please, you need to wear a nappy” (as though pleading with a two year old who is beside herself is going to help) and trying to hug her while she looked at me an expression of rage and distress and the despair and shock of being betrayed and abused by one of the people you love most. I tried not to cry. Windhorse scooted away still lying on her back screaming. Strangers tried to help even though they didn’t know how and nor did I. Eventually she pointed at the individual change rooms with baby change tables. “You wanted to go in there?” Nod and sobbing. “Ok! Ok! We can go in there. Which one? One two three four” (as far as she can count.” “Four” (said in a tiny whimpering voice). I flagged down one of the kind strangers to watch her while I went back to the main change room for the nappy, then joined her in cubical four. “Do you want to be changed on the bench or the change table?” “There” (pointing at table). “Like a baby? Sure, of course!” And she stopped crying, and let me put her nappy on, and we left, me with a grateful wave to the kind stranger and my legs a bit wobbly and the tiredness that usually comes after running a long way.
Did she not get the memo that this was going to be quality time?
Please share your disaster moments with me, because right now I think I’ve never seen another parent with a child showing quite that level of distress, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a parent almost shouting “listen! Listen!” or close to tears and pleading with a toddler in a public place, and it’s hard not to feel like I’m failing at this parenting gig.