While there are numerous aspects of my relationship with Sadie that trouble, perlex, or just plain vex me, I would say that the most tender point for me is how I talk to her when I want her to hurry it. Which is to say, how I talk to her almost all the time.
“Sadie, come on! Mommy’s hungry.”
“Sadie, please come now, it’s getting dark.”
“Sadie, let’s go in now before Mommy’s migraine turns into homicidal rage.”
I find myself trying to speed her up so much more than I want to. First of all, it doesn’t work. I don’t think my cajoling Sadie has ever once resulted in her quickening her pace or focusing more closely to the task at hand, which is usually getting into or out of the car (or the park or the bath or a playdate). It doesn’t work, but still I beg for more speed from her. I could avoid some of the strife if I packed more snacks I was willing to eat, because then I wouldn’t have to negotiate with Sadie while my blood sugar dipped well below Kelvin zero. (I know that doesn’t even make any sense, but I have been dying to work “Kelvin zero” into a conversation, so humor me.)
But I am not sure an extra Mommy-sized string cheese would really fix this flaw in the fabric of our relationship. Unfortunately, this flaw isn’t one I can fix with better and more consistent nutrition, which is something I realized for the first time tonight. This evening, as Sadie and I were preparing for a two-block walk to the park, Sadie insisted on walking and pushing her stroller (as opposed to perching in the stroller with snacks and a refreshing beverage at her finger tips in her snack tray, just like she’s the freaking Queen of the Universe) even though the sun was going to be glaring in her eyes and her hand-me-down Crocs were 2 sizes too big. I spent all of 1 second trying to convince her to get into the stroller and then, POOF!, a “GOOD PARENTING IDEA” (hereinafter “GPI”) came to me: What if I go at Sadie’s pace? What if we just amble along these two measly blocks on this lovely spring evening, looking at every single rock and root and discarded water bottle top? Who cares? Why am I trying to rush to the park anyway? We’re not catching a trans-Atlantic flight– for Ryan Gosling’s sake, we are just going to swing and slide and scream with glee until dinner time.
I have tried this before and I usually can surrender to Sadie’s pace for about 4.5 minutes. Then, my default setting asserts itself and I am back to shooing and hurrying her up just like some school marm from the late 19th century. Tonight, however, I found myself explaining to Sadie that she was going to be the leader and my job was to follow her because she was in charge; that’s when I had an insight about why this practice of surrendering to my toddler’s pace is physically excrutiating to me. It’s painful because there is a constant thrum in my head, my heart, and my cells that is always unrelentingly prodding me to go faster. “Hurry up, Christie. Hurry up.” It’s been part of my consciousness so long that I have ceased to question it; I simply obey. I am sure this speedy ethic served me well when I was in the professional world– everyone wants a lawyer to find an answer quickly or to review 2 million documents on a rapid basis. But it predates my relationship with the law; it’s been fueling me for as long as I can remember.
I remember being a kid and wondering why the cashiers at the grocery store moved so slowly as they bagged our groceries and counted back our change. My mind says, “if you can do it faster, you should.” Speed was my moral imperative before I knew what a moral imperative was. As a kid, I think that trying to do my chores faster and racing through those awful trigonometry problems felt like a way to control the anxiety that they produced. I have always hated having things hang over my head, so I do them as soon as possible to relieve the heavy pressure of anxiety that builds when the dishes are still not washed, the emails not sent, the letters unopened, the voicemails unchecked.
I don’t want Sadie to internalize my pleas to go faster. An insidious subtext of my requests that she get the f*cking lead out is a message that her way of moving through the world is wrong, and therefore, she should change. More specifically, she should change so that I will “approve” of her and be pleased with her. I wondered tonight if my voice will one day be replaced by her own little voice, which will take over the role of prodder and whisper (or scream) to her the message a thousand times per day that she is not doing it fast enough– whatever “it” is.
While I certainly get the impression she is just ignoring me, especially since I have only seen her hurry when she thinks there is chance to see videos on the iPad, I know she’s absorbing everything, her noncompliance notwithstanding. If she absorbes messages from me, I hope she gets better notes that the ones that provide the ambient noise in my head, which are like horrible muzak in an elevator I can’t exit. I want Sadie to hear symphonies of affirmation and arias of self-worth that reinforce the idea that she is right with and in the world.
Tonight, I made it almost 10 whole minutes without hurrying her down Monroe Street, which I took as a victory for me and my aspirations as a mother. In those 10 minutes, I knew I didn’t need to hurry anyone anywhere– I just needed to be taking those little half steps, holding Sadie’s little hand, and stepping away from pushing her or me any faster.