My sweet Little Leo is such a little pain in the ass lately. And it's a different pain in the ass than he was a couple of months ago. He is better behaved, but he is suddenly helpless. Every single sentence that I begin with "Leo can you please..." is answered with "can you please help me?" Somehow, my proud, independent boy suddenly decided that he cannot get himself dressed, put on his shoes, brush his teeth, or find ANYTHING himself. It breaks his little heart when I ask do something all while I am doing those very things for his little brother and sister. I must not love him anymore if I don't want to do every single thing in the whole wide world for him for the rest of his life.
But we are getting past this. I am constantly reminding him that there are still millions and millions of things that I have to do, want to do, or am legally obligated to do every single day for many, many years to come, so if he could be a big boy once or twice a day, I would consider it a favor and love him even more, and maybe even give him some candy.
One of my first born's first sentences was "I can do it myself". It made me so proud. I was raising an independent child. A girl no less; a strong, self reliant little woman. Just what the world needs more of. Four kids later, and I can say with decent certainty that this is a phase most kids inevitably go through. The key is to make it stick.
And because I have four children, I take this responsibility VERY seriously. My life depends on it. It is just not humanly possible to do EVERYTHING for EVERYONE ALL THE TIME! I CANNOT even answer to EVERY "MOMMY" that they bombard me with daily...minutely...secondly. It would destroy me. I'm only hanging on by a thread as it is. I can't imagine how insane I would be if I answered the 50%-70% (probably more) that I ignore.
So, the second that I start to see them attempting to exert some independence, I run with it. If my 13 month old reaches for the baby wipe in my hand while I'm changing her, I don't logically assume that she just wants to eat it, I'm optimistically thinking that maybe she wants to wipe her own poop off her own butt, and I'm willing to let her try. And she may try, and THEN she will attempt to eat it. And it was still worth a try.
Their early attempts at emancipation almost always end in disaster. And they will absolutely ALWAYS create more work for me. It takes a very patient parent to foster and encourage the autonomy of a toddler. Before I had kids, I was the most patient person I knew. Now I just feel a little less crazy than one or two other really crazy people I know. But I still try to let them try most of the time.
I clean up a lot of spilled juice because I have heard the question "mommy can I please have some juice" one too many times, and now, sometimes I just flat out refuse out of protest. So they have no choice but to try and get it themselves. And I'm really ok with having to clean up the mess, as long as it means I didn't have to get the damn juice!
I frequently go out in public with at least one child who has his/her shoes on the wrong feet, because at least they did it by themselves and shaved a good thirty seconds of off the 45 minutes it takes me to get us all out of the house.
I have cleaned my share of potty training incidents because, as long as it meant that we were working towards the goal of me changing a few less diapers in a day, I was perfectly willing to give them some "privacy" on the training pottty, only to come back and find a successful attempt to poop on the potty, a very proud two year old, and a celebratory smearing of the poop all over the bathroom afterwards.
I am in a constant wardrobe war with my children's clothes because I insist some of them get themselves dressed in the morning, which for some reason seems to translate to "pull out every piece of clothing that you own and throw it on your floor and then pick out the same two pieces of clothes you wear every single day". So it's ok that I'll have to re-fold all those clothes that it took me four days to get to folding in the first place. It's ok that I'll have to sniff through all of them to sort out which ones are clean and which ones smell like my funky kids. It's ok that Leo goes to preschool in ripped pants. It's not the end of the world that Madeline went to school two days in a row in the exact same pants and sweatshirt,looking like she slept in those clothes. "It's fine Mommy, I changed my under ware." And it doesn't bother me at all that they both, frequently, wear two different socks, or that my otherwise intelligent and articulate 8 year old daughter, occasionally still puts her jeans on backwards and walks out the door (yes, I know, she sounds just like her mother). The point is, it is two less people that I have to dress every day.
On the occasionally rough morning, I applaud any child that climbed up onto the kitchen counter and snuck into the cookie jar to steal a cookie, because at least they took the initiative to get themselves breakfast without pestering me before I had ample amounts of coffee.
I have eaten many a shard of egg shell because Lennox wants to help me cook, and I've sacrificed many a beautiful flower or plant in my garden because Leo wants to help me "pull the weeds". They want to HELP ME. I would be a fool not to encourage that behavior.
I suppose if I only had one or two kids, it would be fun and cute and special to dote over them and wish for them to need me for the rest of their lives. But around here, there is simply no time for that. In this house, we are all learning survival skills. If we are going to thrive as a family, we are all going to have to learn to function as individuals, and leave Mommy the hell alone sometimes!
These are the milestones that I look forward to. I still get a huge kick out of first steps and first words. But the first time one of my kids wipes their own butt really brings a proud and thankful tear to my eye. My kids will always need me, not to do things for them, but perhaps to remind them that they can do it themselves; to tell them that they are capable and wonderful, and to smother them in hugs and kisses and love whenever I please. Otherwise, they're screwed.