Yesterday was Valentines Day, and I had it all figured out. On weekdays, the bear is in KiTa (German kindergarten, which is actually more like preschool/daycare) seven hours a day, but for the past two days, the teachers have been striking, so he was home with me.
My plans for the day were something like this: sleep in, eat breakfast, do some crafty things and make a sweet Valentine for his daddy, eat lunch, take a two-hour nap (that I would likely join in on), wake up, go on a walk, have a playdate with a friend and her baby, come home, eat dinner, relax, go to bed.
It will come as no surprise to other parents that my day didn’t follow those guidelines at all. After a rough night of fitful sleep, the bear woke up early. He ate his breakfast along with half of mine. Our attempts to make art resulted in him trying to eat the watercolor brush rather than painting, uncapping and recapping the markers, pulling all the colored pencils out of the box, and refusing to color with all the “Valentine colors” of crayons I put out for him. Lunch ended up all over the floor. He refused to nap until almost three hours after his normal nap time. We had to cancel our playdate. By the time my husband got home, I was so exhausted but we were out of breakfast foods for the following morning, so I spent an hour doing shopping (most of that time spent looking for avocados at every store in the neighborhood). I came home to the middle of the bear’s bedtime routine, and then he went to sleep.
In short, I had little to show for all of my big plans. But wasn’t that naive of me to assume it would all work out as I’d imagined? Our expectations are always at odds with reality.
So often as parents, especially when we’re the primary caretakers, we have these ideas of how we want to spend our time. We plan schedules and we curate the lives of our toddlers, and more often than not, it doesn’t go as hoped. Yet even though I know what I’m up against, I still can’t help but be frustrated when this goes on.
When it does, I have to force myself to step back and approach the situation differently. Yes, my kid doesn’t want to do what I want. But why should he? He’s his own person, with his own will to assert, his own desires to act on, his own way of existing in the world. It’s a bummer for me when he doesn’t “cooperate” and make some kind of art like I’d envisioned, but then I think about how he happily played with his crayons for 10 minutes, methodically putting them into a jar, one by one, then screwing on the lid, then handing me the jar and requesting my help opening it, then taking the crayons out and repeating the whole process. I may not see value in an activity like this, but he does. It’s how he learns and makes sense out of his world.
It’s a challenge to keep from forcing our own narratives onto our kids (please tell me I’m not the only one), but it’s also important to let them discover their environments in a way that makes sense for them. Next time things aren’t unfolding “my way,” I have to remind myself of this fact.