Her little voice sounds through the rooms, “Can somebody come and play with me?”
“Honey, just a few minutes, I’m trying to make dinner,” I tell her.
“Can somebody play with me, PLEASE?” she calls more insistently.
My heart breaks as I think of her believing she simply did not properly formulate the request. She must have been proud to remember the correct way to make a request of someone. Can I really deny her again? If I did, what lasting damage might I do?
I hurry, mixing the ingredients and oiling the pan. I do a series of equations in my head. Would it be better to order out more often, so I didn’t need to spend as much time prepping food and cleaning up? Would any negative impacts on our budget and health be made neutral by my daughter’s increased happiness?
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To be constantly calculating is exhausting. I ask myself why I can’t just be more flexible, why I can’t just play with her and then worry about dinner. Then I think back to two nights ago when she became dangerously hungry before mealtime and had a fierce evening meltdown.
Some days feel like an impossible puzzle, trying to fit all our various needs into the same limited number of hours.
I think back and try to remember if her older brother had such a phase, a time when he needed more from me than it felt possible to give. Things should be easier the second time around using what I’ve learned, right? I remember that it seemed like a quick progression, that he moved quietly from wanting to do puzzles with us to fulfilling more solitary pursuits—drawing elaborate monsters, making LEGO landscapes. I realize this was likely necessity as when he was this age, I had an infant requiring nearly constant attention, and my daughter has no such need to work around.
I get dinner in the oven, and we settle into a roleplay session with her working at a restaurant (of course), taking my order, and making it in her play kitchen. It’s not lost on me that she wants to do whatever I do. It’s not lost on me that this will carry over to making time for people or being too busy.
After dinner, she wants to keep playing, to draw together.
She hangs on my legs as I rinse the dishes and set them in the washer. I wonder if I’m making it difficult for her to learn units of time, hearing the different excuses coming out of my mouth . . . “Just a sec!” “Just a minute!” “Two more seconds and I’ll be able to!”
I just wanted to finish the dishes, to cross one thing off the list. To lock the doors and prep the coffee and lunches for the next morning. To save myself a bit of time, get a few minutes more sleep, and maybe feel less weary tomorrow.
But I can get by with a bit less sleep. Yet, I’m the only one at this moment who can fill her cup.
When you try to borrow against the future, you don’t fully enjoy the present.
I show her how to draw a star, a smiley face, a heart, and a flower, knowing that soon enough, she’ll wake up before me and be happy to make these shapes on her own. But, for now, she needs me by her side if only to get it straight in her mind that I will be sure that her most important needs are always met.
The dishes will always be there. The window of time when she’s small enough to fit perfectly in my lap won’t.