Be My, Be My Baby

Last week, inspired by lots of things–one parenting guru (Vicki Hoefle, of Parenting on Track, whose cult I am totally joining), one excellent book that purports to be about parenting the ADHD child, but is really about examining your parenting style in the middle of your kid’s childhood and figuring out who you really want to be as your grade schooler turns into a teen (that would be Katherine Ellison’s Buzz: A Year of Paying Attention), my feeling of relative relaxation due to a decision to knock out whole hosts of activities for December (I love saying no. I really, really love saying no) and just a good day, I scooped up Rory while waiting for Sam to finish his hockey practice and gave her a big snuggle. Usually hockey practice is a great place to be with any kids, because the kids who aren’t on the ice get as much exercise as those who are, and no one cares if they run, climb, jump, shout and otherwise act like the place is a big giant playground. Can’t recommend it highly enough when the weather outside is frightful, really. And three littles had indeed been running and jumping like mad, but now Rory wanted a cuddle.

No problem! Bomb them with love, as Ellison would say. Connect, Hoefle would tell me. So many of my interactions with Rory ) are corrective, or directive–all of them, really, but her more than the others, because they each have at least one activity that I can sit and do with them, whereas Rory is more of a runner-around than a sitter, and we kind of haven’t found our thing yet. Working on that, but that’s another story.

Anyway, up in the lap, snuggle snuggle. After about ten minutes, Rory looks up and says “I your baby.”

“Yes,” I say, stupidly, and not really thinking–I’ve just treated myself to the Maira Kalman illustrated copy Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, and because I am a word geek, I’m engrossed. I snuggle hard. “You will always be my baby! No matter how big you get, you will always be my baby!”

Verily, I am the dumbest parent in the whole world. Not thirty seconds pass before Rory says “Goo Goo Ga Ga.” She pops a thumb in her mouth. She makes a baby cry and goos and gas again. When it’s time to go, she wants to be carried. She’s my baby! She tries to crawl out the door. (It’s sleeting, incidentally.) “GOO GOO! GA GA!” I tell her, of course, to hop up and walk. (I might indulge a lightweight 5-year-old in the sleet, but that would raise issues with the 4- and 6- year olds, and I just very rarely do).

“But I your baby!”

I still haven’t caught on. Like I said, I’m none too bright. “You’re big enough to walk, I say–kindly but firmly!–”Come on out to the car.”

“But you SAID I your BABY!”

And that began our three-day journey back to Rory’s baby-hood, which took place, actually, not when she was a real baby, but when she had just been adopted, was full of neediness (and justifiably so) and found the baby act to be a way to get from me what I was often too busy, too discouraged or just too frustrated to easily give. We had a crawling Goo Goo Ga Ga baby for months during the summer and fall of 2009.

Now listen, I get this. I find it funny, how classic a behavior this is and how easily it expresses her needs. I try to meet those needs, and when this kind of thing pops up I recognize that something more is needed. I even know that plenty of adoptive parents with kids who can’t connect would kill for this. That doesn’t mean I don’t hate it.

There is nothing, and I mean nothing, you can do that I find more annoying than following me around for hours on end, unless you want to do it on all fours, clinging to my leg and saying “goo goo ga ga” and uppy every thirty seconds, and then add trying to follow me into the bathroom, waiting for me outside the bathroom while periodically shaking the door and saying “goo goo ga ga.” And if you can toss in following me so closely that I trip over you, that if I walk two steps into a room to put something on the bed and turn around I will fall over you–well, now you’ve really got me going. And if you add to that trying to sit on my lap every time I sit down, or insisting on leaning on me for a cuddle for hours–I mean hours, too, real actual hours–well, at the end of a day or two I am going to have a really hard time being nice to you. This is actually a stage all my kids went through, and still do occasionally. I’m frequently saying, as they follow me up the stairs, wailing Mommy, Mommy where ARE you–I’ve just walked upstairs! I’ve been gone thirty seconds! Don’t follow me!

And then they do. No respecters of personal space. I really, really like my personal space, too. But as for Rory–after three days of this, I finally said, I don’t want a baby right now. I’d nipped it in the bud in a couple of ways earlier–given her a job to do in the kitchen, asked her to sit and pet the dog–but it kept coming back. I want you, I finally said, to be just you–my big girl who can do stuff.

“But Mommy, you said I ALWAYS be your baby.”

I did, of course. And I tried to add to that, now–I meant I’ll always love you like my baby, etc–feeling like I was talking into a bowl of Jello, because I know that for the most part, after the fourth or fifth word you’ve lost Rory entirely, especially if we’re talking abstractions. I finally stuck with “I love you, but I don’t want to play baby right now,” and repeated it. Often.

Today, the Goo Goo, at least, seems to have stopped. But she’s still extra follow-y. When I do go to the bathroom, I hear her outside. She needs just that much more knowing where I am, and that much more contact all of a sudden. It’s a small and sudden reversion, and I think I know why.

Part of the Parenting on Track program asks that we do less for kids and let them do more. I’ve had small rules and chores going for a while, but both Rory and Wyatt could often get me to do what they can do for themselves (Wyatt is 4.) I emptied lunch boxes and packed lunches and put away mittens and made sure there were snow pants far more than I should. Wyatt rolled with the change (about which more on my blog, Raising Devils.com, including a fantastic tale of the temper tantrum and the school concert). Rory is struggling. I can see, now, that if I don’t do stuff for her, she’s having a hard time being sure that I still love her. She checks–often–to make sure that I am also not doing it for Wyatt, Lily or even Sam. She says, again and again, in confusion–but I want you do it! And I say no, and for her, the ground is taken right out from underneath her.

I can see that. The Parenting on Track Guru says that when a kid “pushes our buttons,” we should follow that out to its conclusion. What am I afraid of, when Rory turns back into a baby for days on end? Well, that she’ll stay this way, of course, that she’ll be in middle school and something will go wrong and she’ll come home and drop to all knees and say Goo Goo Ga Ga, and she’ll be far too big for me to shut out of the bathroom., and so on unto adulthood. Parenting Guru would laugh at this point. That’s so ridiculous!

But on another level, it isn’t. Rory, more than other kids, needs her patterns. She has a need to know where she fits with me in a different way, and if this is where–if it’s being a baby and having me do things for her–then it isn’t silly to think it will continue forever. I don’t really think she’ll spend years trying to sit in my lap (or at least not more than another year or two). I do think that if she thinks having me baby her is the way I show my love for her, she is going to need babying all the time.

So really, this all comes back (doesn’t it always) to me. I need to convince Rory that my love for her comes out in other ways. We need something to do together that isn’t cuddling, and she needs to know that just because she makes her own lunch doesn’t mean I’m not there when she needs me. And I need to remember that it’s ok for her to need more and different than the other kids, and that they have their own ways of needing more and different, too.

I have my New Year’s Resolutions cut out for me this year.

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