11:00 am: It's preschool pick-up time, so Miles and I walk (or if the heat is insane, we drive) to the school parking lot.
Miles has been wanting me to hold him more often lately, something that's hard to do because he's almost three and 35 pounds, and walking with him on my hip in 105-degree weather is just not comfortable or practical. And, while he'll always be my baby, he is in fact no longer a baby. He needs to be encouraged to use his fully capable, strong, growing legs.
I gently tell him I'd love to hold his hand and walk beside him. He flops down on the sidewalk and begins screaming "Mommy HOLD ME! HOLD ME! HOOOOOOOLD ME!!" Tears cascade down his cheeks.
My chest tightens. He's crying because he wants me to carry him, and he's crying because things are changing. As he grows bigger, the rules are shifting.
Oh, how I'd love to hold my baby! I ache thinking about how small he used to be, how easily he perched on my hip or tethered to my chest in an infant sling. He is still my snuggle buddy, every morning crawling into bed beside me, placing his smooth little palm on my cheek and whispering, "open your eyes, Mama." There's no sweeter way to wake up.
But we can't stay in bed all day. And tough as it is, there are times I just can't have him attached to me.
"I can't hold you right now, Miles, but I'd love to hold your hand. C'mon, we need to go get sister."
He digs in and screams louder. Other parents are staring. I'm feeling the urge to give in so that he'll be quiet, so that people won't be bothered... but deep down I know it's not the best thing for him (or me). So I take a few steps toward the school, hoping he'll follow me. He jumps up, screaming louder now and runs to me, clinging to my leg so I can't walk.
"Miles, please hold Mama's hand. Walk with me. Help Mama carry these snacks." I try to reason with him. I offer him the bottle of ice water I'm carrying for him. Once we get inside the preschool gate, he sits down and refuses to get up. About a dozen parents are standing around us, and I feel like I'm wearing a sign that says WORST MOTHER IN THE WORLD. I try to make eye contact with some of them. I joke "life's tough when you're two!" but none of the other parents seem to commiserate.
This moment. This epic toddler tantrum and the responses of those around me. It's just a fleeting few minutes, but it echoes throughout every hallway of my life. I am by nature a people-pleaser. For decades, I've done backflips to make sure the people around me are happy, to seek approval. I've kept painful, unpleasant thoughts and feelings to myself so as not to upset anyone. But I've realized that's not the example I want to set for my kids. I want them to learn to be authentic, honest, open people. I want them to form connections that are deep and real, not based on "what can you do for ME?"
So, I've been slowly changing the rules, setting new boundaries around my time, my family, my heart. It's not an easy thing, but I can honestly tell you that this shift has been so freeing, that by acknowledging some pain, I'm experiencing so much more joy.
We all fall into unhealthy patterns. We're flawed. We're human. We learn to relate to one another in a certain way, and then someone changes direction and the whole system either has to shift, or it melts down. I've carried my son everywhere because he loves to be carried. Meanwhile, I'm quietly ignoring the pain in my back, the sweat in my eyes, the way he's falling behind some of his peers who are better able to separate from their mothers.
Eventually, the preschool lets out, Miles calms down and greets his sister, and B's teacher flashes me the biggest smile. "What happened?" she asks, gesturing to Miles. Of course, they could hear him wailing from inside the school. I tell her the story, that Miles refused to walk, that I refused to carry him. I confess to her, this wise teacher who we've gotten to know and trust deeply the past few years, that I'm embarrassed, that I'm worried what the other parents think of me. I feel tears welling up, the dam almost breaching.
"Are you kidding?! I wish more parents had the courage to tell their children no," she replies. "Seriously, I applaud you."
Then, she looks at Miles and praises him for using his strong legs to walk to the classroom, and she offers to walk with us back to our car. Miles continues to struggle, but we join together in encouraging him step-by-painful-step.
As we pull away from the school, Miles says he wants to give me and B's teacher hugs because he walked all by himself.
He is almost as proud of himself as I am of him.