I was in our bathroom, drying my hair. Saoirse had been playing downstairs, and Quinn was at my feet, pushing around a toy minivan that usually resides in Saoirse’s room, next to her dollhouse. Keep in mind, please, that SK never, ever plays with this car anymore. Ever. We’re just keeping it in her room for the moment until we find out what our next move will be (get it?! “Move?” Because we’re trying to sell our house?).
Within ten minutes, Saoirse had heard the music this van makes (for the record, my favorite is the hip-hop tune) from her spot on the playroom floor and was rushing into the room, in tears, because “Quinn is playing with my caaaaarrrrr!” She collapsed in her room in sobs, completely put out that a) her sister was playing with her toy, even though she’d forgotten that toy existed until it was in the little hand of a 20-month-old, and b) her mother was–this was the worst of it, I think–siding with her sister. So, the tears. The moaning. The weeping.
I kept drying my hair.
Saoirse would pop into the room every couple of minutes ago to make sure I knew she was still crying and that THIS WAS JUST SO UNFAIR. We talked, I admonished, I explained. SK wept. Quinn played. SK wept some more. I finished my hair and put the dryer away. By this point Saoirse had removed herself back to her room, and I took a deep breath to settle the tenseness in my spine that always creeps in when there’s a child screaming for minutes on end.
Suddenly, I heard the boom-boom-boom of toddler size 11 feet on our carpet. “Mom! Look at me!,” I heard, and Saoirse burst into the doorway. “I’m wearing my princess dress!” I turned to see my child, her face filled with red blotches from crying, her nose pink and swollen, standing in front of me with a tentative smile. There was still water in her eyes. I complimented her on her neat dress before Quinn distracted me by knocking the minivan into our freshly painted doorway. Saoirse raced away.
I was just putting down my brush when Saoirse ran back into the room. “Look, Mom!” she exclaimed. “I have my crown on!” And this time I saw my oldest daughter standing before me, framed by the doorway, wanting me to see her, adorned in her pink princess dress and Valentine’s Day necklace. She held a purple purse in one hand and wore a fuzzy pink tiara on her head. This time I didn’t allow myself to get distracted by Quinn swinging the toy van around her head like a lasso. This time, I took in my older daughter, let her know I noticed her, commented on her crown.
It’s the little moments like this that make parenting hard. This is what I worry about at night, or what will bother me weeks after the fact–the quick snap of time where I have a chance to make something right, change the course of the moment, not mess up.
One daughter wanted my attention. The other daughter had it. An issue like this is commonplace over the course of the day with young ones, I know. But seeing Saoirse standing there, actually dressed up for me, well, that’s not commonplace. That’s just a young girl asking to be in the limelight for a second. That’s a young girl who doesn’t understand why she gets sent away when she misbehaves, while her sister gets her parent’s full focus, or why talking like a baby or making noises while she eats doesn’t have the same effect as when the other person does it.
I think I messed up today. Not in a big way, but in one of those little ways, that, over the course of time, can add up with a lot of other little ways to make a whole big mess later on. And that’s what parenting is. It’s not the grand gestures, or the stretches of day that are routine that make up this job. It’s the little details that show us what kind of parent we are, and what kind of parent we want to be. Because the kids are going to remember the details, you know that. They’re smarter than we are. I mean, look at Saoirse: I spent 20 minutes painstakingly blowing out my hair to make it look like it does every single day, and my daughter throws on a ballgown and crown, does a twirl, and is instantly the happiest person in the room. Because it’s the fleeting moments that add up to the memories, for good and bad. And I need to remember that right now, when my children’s moments are playing out in front of me, I’m the one deciding which ones they’ll remember.