I went to Target this week in search of a shirt that I bought there at least three years ago. A mustardy, harvest-goldish colored short-sleeved t-shirt from the toddler section that has black bug outlines on it.
The first time I bought it was for Jack, but since dinosaurs were more his thing, he really wasn’t that interested in wearing the shirt. It turned into one of those things I held on to because it was still in good shape, and I thought one of my younger two kids might wear it.
Ellie wore it once or twice before I put it on Gus this summer, and now he asks to wear it every day. If it is not clean, he would rather go shirtless than find a substitute. Mornings turn into fights, and I hate starting the day like that.
“Why are we catering to our children’s whims?” my husband Ben asked me that morning when I told him going to look for a new shirt was on my agenda. I thought if the stars aligned and by some crazy off chance they still had one of these shirts sitting on the clearance shelf, I would buy it just to have another one in our arsenal.
In my mind, finding a second (or honestly third or fourth – I probably would have bought a handful of the shirts if they had actually still had them) was because I wanted to avoid the tears when getting dressed in the mornings.
This kid and I have been trying to find our footing since before he was born, really. When I was pregnant, there wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t get sick. Very early in the pregnancy, much earlier than with the other two, I quit being able to sleep more than an hour or so at a time. He could never get comfortable in there and stayed on my right side, forcing me lopsided from carrying a heavier and heavier load with each week.
When Gus was born, he was most happy with his father instead of me. I tried to nurse him a million times and finally just gave up the day that, at only a few days old, he got so mad that he pooped all over me. I told him then: “I hear you, Gus. Bottles from now own.”
Just a couple of months into his life, the COVID-19 pandemic happened and we went into lockdown. Instead of quiet, peaceful bonding time for the two of us, he was forced to take the back seat to his father’s unexpected home law office and Zoom court hearings that took over the dining room, the virtual reading and math pre-K lessons for his big brother and all of those very involved teletherapy sessions for his big sister to finally learn how to walk.
His eat, wake, sleep cycle was always interrupted by the sound of kids screaming or running through the house, distracting him from every one of his tasks. In each room at some point during the day, he would sit in his baby chair in the corner and cry.
“I hear you, Gus,” I would say. “You aren’t alone. I will be there in just a minute.” Usually reaching him just in time before a sibling tried to “help” me by patting, rocking or just plain loving him a little too hard.
“I hear you, Gus. We are going to figure this out, I promise,” I would tell him, night and day, in the master bathroom, his little body held against mine with his face tucked into my neck. There was no nursery just for him, so we set up his crib in our bathroom in the earliest days. He and I both spent many hours in there, crying and swaying back and forth, both trying to calm down.
Now from the back seat of the car he does everything he can to get my attention. “Mama! Look! Trash truck!” or “Wow! Mama, look at all the cars!” or “Mama! River!” I hear over and over until I acknowledge him with a “Yes, Gus! I see!”
The two of us spend a great majority of our days in the car driving kids to school in the mornings and sitting in the car rider lines in the afternoons. We wait at piano lessons and therapy sessions, sometimes not so patiently, and I find myself saying, “I hear you, Gus. I am ready to go home and play too,” as he loudly voices his opinion.
So, when I thought about what my husband said about catering to Gus’ whims while I was scanning the racks and racks of clothes at Target for that familiar yellow color, it struck me. Gus and his whims, more than the rest of us, have been put in the corner of the room to wait while the world spun around him for his whole life.
Maybe I AM soft and am giving in more than I should. I will allow it is POSSIBLE that by not letting him cry it out over not getting his favorite shirt, I am teaching him lessons that will affect his ability to function in the world and build meaningful relationships or that by not giving him the foundation to understand how long laundry cycles take he will one day argue with his spouse about household chores. I absolutely agree with the next guy that a dose of adversity is healthy and not getting your way is brain-building and important for development.
But, after I got online in the parking lot to look for the shirt that I could not find in the store, I decided that he needs to know that he is special and that, while the rest of the world may not always stop for him, his momma’s does. That I hear him, and that we are going to figure this out — even with just one bug shirt.
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