featured post: “the ballad of clingy smalls” by girl’s gone child

It only takes a single glance at just the right moment, but when it happens it’s startling, and the phrase flashes through your brain– “My baby isn’t a baby anymore, is she?” This is my reality right now, with toddlers who are rounding the corner of two years old in just a few months.

Many people allude to toddlers being like tiny teenagers, and it’s true for reasons beyond their propensity for moodiness and tantrums. Toddlers exist in a state of in-between-ness, straddling babyhood and childhood with their awkward baby-mullets, their desperate desire to do something themselves when they still really can’t do it at all, and the occasional, unexpectedly precocious expressions that sometimes cross their faces. Toddlers are contradictions who speed forwards through some parts of babyhood while clinging fast to others. This is why it catches me by surprise– sitting with one of my little girls at bedtime with her sleepy eyes half-open as she’s draped over my shoulder, pacifier firmly in place (we’re going to get rid of those so soon, I keep promising) and then I realize that their legs are so long now, they’re so heavy, their hair fits perfectly into ponytails, and are these pajamas getting small already, didn’t I just buy them? And by the way, how is it she knew to pull the chair out from the table earlier and then climb onto it to reach, and spill, my iced coffee?

In those moments, I realize that I think of them as babies all day and I call them babies, but the evidence is slowly accumulating that at twenty months old, they aren’t really “babies” anymore. Some days, I don’t know if I’m ready for that.

Rebecca of Girl’s Gone Child wrote a beautifully poignant piece about this phenomenon, balancing nostalgia with a measured practicality about the role of accepting fluidity and change as necessary considerations for parenting:

I almost didn’t write this post because last week, like magic, Revi let go. Maybe it was a change of scenery or maybe it was just a change but suddenly she didn’t want to cling to me anymore.

So I put her down and she went running through the yard and didn’t cry when she realized I was on the other side of the patio, walking away. But before last week, and for the past couple of months, it was a very different story.

…it helped me realize that everything is kind of preposterous. How temporary all of it is. How we’re all trying to find answers and clubs and groups to help us figure out how to define everything but we’re really just trying to define a moment. Because you can’t “babywear” a ten year old, you know? You can’t breastfeed a teenager. You can’t call yourself a Freerange Grandparent. We’re all just working through the moments. Doing what’s best for our kids. Revi wants to be held all the time. Meanwhile, I let Bo go running down the beach with her siblings. Freerange attachment parent class of 2013, that’s me.

A friend of mine with three boys ages nine and up recently remarked upon how long it’s been since she measured her own mothering successes and failures in terms of breastfeeding, sleep training, or pacifier use. And it’s true– in the beginning, when we’re trying to define ourselves as parents (sometimes as the parents of newborns and young infants; sometimes as the adoptive parents of older children), we patch labels and philosophies onto ourselves like bumper stickers on a funky old car. The question “what kind of mother am I?” is often answered, in our own minds, with a list of the sort of things we do to or with our children. You can test this theory in nearly any alternative parenting forum online that contains signatures in users’ postings: “I’m a co-sleeping, extended-breastfeeding, cloth diapering mama of 3!” There’s nothing at all wrong with this, mind you; it’s part of how I define my parenting style when asked. When your children are still very little the reality of parenting them is in the nuances of stamina and baby-care style, not in negotiating friendship crises and the frustration of academic struggles. But Rebecca, like my friend with the three boys, has older children and has been in the parenting game a bit longer than I have, and so her perspective on her identity as a mother is different from mine.

That isn’t all of it, though. This post is a two-parter for me in a big way because of what she says next:

Most of the time we’re taking this parenting thing way too seriously. Myself included. I mean, sure, we need to be awesome. But putting labels on philosophies and styles and children who are a little clingier than normal, feeling guilty for things we have no control over, is just….well….kind of a waste of energy.
And I realized that instead of trying to “get to the bottom of why she is the way she is”… instead of trying to understand the psychology of a twenty-month old via google and babycenter… instead of trying to “fix” or “change” her, to rush her out of her phase/issue/problem, I needed to chill out and give her what she so desperately needed. To be held.

I needed to hear that. Because my girls are late talkers and one has sensory issues we’re just starting to figure out, and I am an intermediate-level Googler and professional worrier. My early childhood degree is of no help in this arena, I promise you– parental paranoia trumps any and all useful knowledge of toddler development that I have ever learned. While the words above won’t negate our need to continue engaging Early Intervention services and potentially some outside occupational therapy, it really meant something for me to read those two short paragraphs above.

This is a phase, right? Because some day my girls will be talking loudly and incessantly and I’ll have a terrible headache and I’ll wonder if the noise will ever stop, and maybe it won’t even occur to me in that moment that once upon a time I was googling every known developmental disorder and pouring over the “could your child have this?” checklists. It’s true, because these days when my little Chicken clings to my hand and grabs desperately at my skirt, I sometimes forget that just a year ago she was the “more daring” baby who seemed to have no fear at all. It’s easy to label them once and forget that they will constantly change, and we’ll have to keep up.

It just so happens that at the moment Revi doesn’t need me to hold her every second on my lap. But last week she did and next week maybe she will again and this is the dance we do as parents of complicated human beings with complicated human being minds.

Rebecca’s entire entry is a gem. I strongly recommend reading her post, The Ballad of Clingy Smalls (and other songs), and thinking about the role labels and parenting play in your daily experience and identity as a parent. How do you define yourself and your style? What are your parenting priorities, and where were you at during other phases of your parenting experience?

As always, commenting will be closed here to encourage commenting directly on Rebecca’s blog. Thank you!

Rebecca, in her own words: Rebecca is a writer and mom of four living in Los Angeles. She blogs at girlsgonechild.net.

*****

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