The day had started so well. Then, as happens all too often when you’re a parent, things went awry.
My mom was due to fly in at 11:30 am and I was ecstatic because I hadn’t seen her in six months. She’d spent almost a month with us in July after my son James was born, but her October trip was canceled when my uncle got Covid and our Christmas trip to see her in Tennessee was canceled because of the holiday surge in cases.
I couldn’t wait to see her and for her to see how much James had grown and developed over the past six months. I’d cleaned up her room, gone shopping for some of the special things I knew she’d need, and picked out both my and James’s outfits that we would wear to pick her up from the airport.
Then it was time for breakfast. When I got James dressed, I was smart enough to skip pants or long sleeves, but I thought the short-sleeved onesie I’d put him in was a pretty safe bet. James has been on solids for several months now, so mealtimes usually aren’t nearly as chaotic as they were at the beginning. However, he really likes to do things by himself, and today, that independent spirit expressed itself at breakfast.
“James, no! I hold the spoon! You’re going to make a m…” I didn’t even get to finish the sentence before he grabbed the spoon and had flung carrot and beet purée across both of our faces.
I wiped us both off despite James’s protestations and whines of ever-increasing volume. I tried to start again with a fresh spoonful of purée when he went for the spoon again, this time managing to smear the food all over his neck and collar between his periodic gummy smiles.
“No James! You just got food all over your collar!” The smile vanished and tears started to well up in his eyes.
“Fine, you’re already a mess, have the rest too I guess.” I angrily set the rest of the bowl in front of him, which he immediately tipped over and let drip all down his front. I turned back to my bowl of cereal and finished eating in silent, angry protestation while he happily smeared the remnants of his breakfast all over the placement.
A bit later, after a bath and a change, we sat down to watch an episode of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, which is a spin-off of the timeless Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.
It was Daniel Tiger’s birthday, so he took the trolley with his mom and friends to the bakery to pick out a special cake. First, Daniel Tiger accidentally smudged the icing and thought the cake was ruined, but his mom reminded him, “When something seems bad, turn it around into something good!” Daniel Tiger was able to incorporate the smudge into the design and the crisis was averted.
As this was happening, I was half-listening, but mostly I was trying to make sure James didn’t go after the electrical cords again or hit himself in the face with his activity cube.
Next, Daniel Tiger used his big strong Tiger muscles, “Grr!”, to carry his cake home, but when he got there the cake had been smushed, beyond repair. Daniel Tiger thought that his birthday party would surely be ruined, but his dad reminded him, “Remember, when something seems bad, turn it around into something good!” Then he asked, “Now, what do all birthday cakes have in common?”
“They’re yummy!” Daniel responded. Even though he was disappointed that his cake got smushed, he and his friends still got to enjoy how yummy it tasted.
I looked over at my little monster who was now gurgling to himself while trying to stand and hold himself up on the back of the couch. He hadn’t been paying attention to the lesson Daniel Tiger learned, but I had.
Most experts agree that there is little benefit in showing babies television shows before 18 months, but today at least, I had to disagree with them. Although James may still be too little to learn from the lessons in Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, it’s not too soon for me to learn how to be a better parent.
I’ve never been a patient person, but the struggles of the postpartum period and transition to moving in with my in-laws, all against the backdrop of a global pandemic have only exacerbated this less-than-admirable personality trait. There have been so many shattered plans, unforeseen complications, and unmet expectations over the past year that it’s all just started to pile up. Some days I can keep a lid on it, but others, I’m one spoonful of liquified broccoli away from total meltdown, and today was one of those days. I wasn’t proud of it in the moment, and I was even less proud when I thought about how I’d lost my cool over something that was about as serious as the conflict in a TV-Y television program.
Today, Daniel Tiger reminded me that although you can’t always fix something, you can always turn it around. James getting food all over his special outfit was a disappointment, but a minuscule one compared to many of the trials we endured this year. There were a million ways for me to turn that disappointment into something good, even if it was just by letting my silly boy paint his high-chair and develop an appreciation for “art”.
So too, I can’t fix how I reacted this morning, but I can still turn it around. Just as the world didn’t suddenly go “back to normal” when the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve, today’s breakfast fiasco is far from the last parenting disappointment I will have, even with Daniel Tiger’s help. Perhaps next time I will find a way to turn it into something good so that James can grow up to be a more patient person than his mother.