“You’re a little weird about the cat, Kat.”
I don’t recall being weird. I wasn’t making out with the cat or murmuring sweet nothings in her ear. I wasn’t measuring her for a band uniform. I don’t exactly remember the circumstances, as it was almost ten years ago. But I do remember my brother, Chris, saying those words to me when he came over to hang out one night.
Ok, I tend to go a little overboard lavishing interest on people (and pets) that I love. I recall having a conversation with another kitty lover about how to enhance our cats’ development- as if cats develop beyond sleeping, eating, and pulling urine stained litter out of the box and on to the floor. God, I just got a vision of myself as the weird cat lady- I am currently sitting here wearing the perfect sweater for it.
Anywho, where am I going with this?
I was reminded of this conversation while I was out with a group of mommy friends a couple of nights ago. I was explaining to them that I am struggling to get Liam to complete “quiet time.” (I’m pretty sure who ever came up with the idea of quiet time for toddlers either didn’t have children or was born without ears.)
The problem is after two to three minutes of quiet time, I see a little blonde head pop around the corner. Liam looks at me with those big blue eyes and says “did I do quiet time yet?” I tell him no, and ask him to return to his room. He gets tearful and responds “But I really need you to play with me.” He shuffles back to his room only to return a few minutes later and ask me to close my eyes. I oblige and he puts some small toy in my hand- a dinosaur or a lego man. I thank him and he questions “now will you play with me?”
My heart breaks. In my mind, it isn’t that he doesn’t want to complete quiet time. It is that he needs me. How do I say no to that? I don’t. I rarely do. I play with him in the morning before school. I play with him when he is supposed to do quiet time. I play with him before and after dinner, right up until bed.
I’m explaining my dilemma, expecting to be met with understanding commiseration and comments on what a great mother I am. Instead I hear:
“You spend too much time with Liam.”
Ouch. What? Oh no, I’m a little weird about the cat! I immediately equate myself with the smothery mother who sleeps with her child until he’s in double digits and video tapes every experience outside of defecation. I’m the weird mom!!!
I didn’t hear much of the conversation after that. I just kept imagining myself as an old lady staring lovingly at a shrine of my little boys while I feed seventeen or so cats named things like “Mr. Winkles.”
I woke up the next day, and it was still on my mind. For once, I actually handled the situation in a somewhat mature fashion- I called the person who made the comment and told her it bothered me.
She immediately apologized and said she should have assured me that I spent plenty of time with Liam, not too much. She then asked why it bothered me.
I admitted that I felt judged. But I also confessed that there was a little truth to the comment- something I hadn’t been ready to face. I didn’t know how to resolve the issue in a way I felt good about. In my mind, if a little parental attention ensures healthy development, then a lot of attention must equate to stellar development. I want my kids to have every advantage I can provide for them. I want there to be no doubt in their minds that I love, like, and believe in them. In my quest to spend adequate time with my kids, I kind of went off the deep end.
I would tell Liam to do quiet time, and he would respond “these are my choices. I choose something different.” Most moms responded to this description by telling me three year olds do not make the choices. But that didn’t sit right with me. I have specifically tried to empower him to make choices. I didn’t want to back down on that.
My friend told me she said what she said to ease my guilt and let me know I was doing a good job in raising Liam. Part of empowering Liam is teaching him how to entertain himself and spend time on his own. Yes, he needs my attention, but it is ok for me to need a break sometimes too. It doesn’t make me a bad mother to ask him to play in his room for awhile.
Another friend suggested we- gasp!- switch our routine. Switching our routines is like asking me to cut off a finger. But I heard her out. I had been allowing Liam to watch a TV show while I put his brother down for nap. After the show, I would tell Liam quiet time and he would of course refuse. She suggested I flip the routine and make TV the reward for completing quiet time.
I knew Liam would not be amenable to this change. But we had a doctor’s appointment that day for an unrelated manner. I mentioned the quiet time struggle with the doctor and he made a similar suggestion about flipping the routine.
During lunch, I told Liam about the change, and he said “that’s not my choice.” I let the doctor take the blame.
“Well, Doctor Dave said it’s important that we do it this way. Remember when I asked him about quiet time? He said you have to do quiet time, and if you do good, you can watch a show.”
To my utter surprise, he bought it. No need for me to force “mommy makes the choices” and set foot in tantrum territory. Just explain the situation and blame the doctor.
It’s only been three days, but it seems to be working. Maybe I won’t end up as the weird cat lady organizing an all feline marching band. That’s too bad though- what’s cuter than a kitten with a tiny trombone wearing one of those giant fur hats with a plume on top? Not much.