Usually, I’m a proponent of long-game parenting. For Ida and me, the mullet model is often the right fit; take care of the business in the front so you can enjoy the party in the back. I ask myself “how does the way I’m interacting with Ida help her turn into a happy, capable adult who can do things for herself, overcome frustration, and navigate relationships?” Instead of just trying to do what it takes to get her to stop annoying the bejesus out of me in the moment, I try to think about how to get her to knock off the annoying behavior for the long haul. So even when she’s whining and it’s driving me nuts, I can (sometimes) calmly say, “Ida, I want to help you, but I can’t understand or find the desire to help when you use that voice. If you can find your strong voice, I’ll be happy to help” or some similarly obnoxiously awesome shit. I strive to proudly play the long game. And for all of the things I stink at as a parent, I’m pretty good at playing the long game.
But in the words of a Facebook pal who empathized with me last week, we unexpectedly entered a “beyond thunderdome” situation. Baruch Spinoza famously said, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” I, Liz Joynt Sandberg, am here to not so famously say that nature fucks with a mother and her plans.
Last week, Nate’s 4-day business trip turned into “I’ll be home sometime in the future.” E.T.A. THE FUTURE (which ended up being 12 days. 12). I had some realizations. They weren’t cute. I scrambled to put together a bunch of childcare (because I scheduled a plethora of performances not knowing Nate would be gone – this trip came up with 3 days lead-time). I ate an unmentionable sum in take-out and ice cream. Ida had an even more astronomical number of fits, meltdowns, and bouts of sleeplessness. One night, I came home from a show at 1AM, paid the babysitter, and just as she departed into the night, Ida woke up screaming and stayed that way for two hours. The episode ended with both of us crying ourselves/each other to sleep in my bed.
Upon waking the next morning, Ida rolled over and screamed when she saw my face covered in smeared makeup. It was in that moment that I decided. That’s it. No more long game. “We will be giving zero fucks from here on out”, I resolved. That’s when I started to say yes to everything I could, avoid conflict at almost all costs, and embrace the “we’re just going to get through this” vibe that the situation was crying out for. In that moment, I shifted and started playing the short game. And I played it HARD.
More TV than usual? Fine.
Waffles for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? Sure, and here’s some extra whipped cream.
Want to match stripes with stripes and strips in an avant-garde preschool outfit? More power to ya, kid. And yes, the jelly smeared all over your face matches too.
Roller-skating in the dining room? I can’t see how that would end badly.
Sleep in my bed? You had me at “sleep.”
You want to lie down and cry in the middle of the sidewalk? Me too. Let’s do this.
But through this initially rough experience, I have come to value the short game in parenting. Here’s what that looked like in Ida’s and my life this week:
The main thing I realized is that if I was going to survive this crazy no-end-in-sight solo parenting stretch peppered with a ton of shows and rehearsals and classes that I was expected to be at least semi-coherent for, I was going to have to minimize conflict and maximize peace. I’m all for very firm boundaries about very few things, so while it continued to be not okay for Ida to hit, scream in the house, or be a general asshole, I relaxed all non-essential rules. I realized that it was a special circumstance for both Ida and me. If I was going to give myself a pass on cooking (among other things), I decided that it was fair for Ida to get a pass on some non-essentials too. We talked about what special things might be comforting to her. In a terrifying display of chip-off-the-old-block, Ida mostly stuck with the three T’s – treats, television, and tantrums. She wanted to have some extra treats like whipped cream with her (er, instead of) her waffles, some more television time, and to have the privilege of tantruming in the living room (usually my policy is that if she wants to have a tantrum, that’s cool, she just has to do it alone in her room).
I was afraid that this would derail all of my long-game efforts, but in the same way that I started (okay, plan to start real soon, honest) cooking dinner again and patiently answering every “why” question rather than pretending to have sudden narcolepsy, Ida adapted pretty easily back into our usual long-game routines. And I left the thunderdome with fresh perspective, a little more flexibility, and some unexpected bonding moments with my girl.