Baby Steps, Part 1
My oldest daughter was born after a long labour and complicated delivery. She swallowed a lot of meconium during the birth, so the doctors insisted that we stay an extra 24 hours so that they could monitor her.
That first night, she was next to me in the hospital crib when she suddenly started to throw up a whole lot of dark brown blood (it was just the meconium…) When that happened, I suddenly realized just how precious and how fragile this little human being was. The feeling of love, care and concern I felt for her was so powerful, it caught me completely by surprise. I was sobbing for an hour.
Over the following days, weeks and months, I had further insights: my daughter was pure, holy, amazing. She was the biggest gift I'd ever been given. I would do anything for her. I would go anywhere, I would fix anything.
After a solid week of practically no sleep, I was ready to throw her out the window.
It's not that I thought any less of her, or loved her any less; it's just that in my limited, stunted human state, I couldn't seem to give her what she was asking of me.
I needed my sleep!
This was my first real understanding of the massive gulf that existed between the parent I wanted to be, and the parent I actually was. As my daughter grew, that gulf seemed to yawn wider and wider.
I had a very demanding job, and even though I cut my hours down to 'only' four full days a week, the job was still my first priority. My daughter got shoved into daycare from 8am to 6pm. She hated it. Tiny as she was, she fought me every step of the way.
We fought over what clothes she was going to wear - I'd spend 10 minutes dressing her in the morning only for her to rip the clothes off and run away. When I tried to put them back on, she struggled and fought me for another 20 minutes. All of a sudden, I was half an hour late.
I went ballistic, and the very little patience I (didn't) have evaporated completely. I would roughly shove her back into her clothes, manhandle her into her car seat (which she also hated…) and drive off to daycare with her screaming and crying her lungs out the whole way.
Bedtimes were also a nightmare. I started sleep-training her from very young (I needed my sleep!) and she wasn't impressed. I felt so guilty leaving her to scream her heart out for half an hour, night after night. But I had a job to do… a massively important, high-status, responsible job. If I didn't get a decent night's sleep, I wouldn't be able to function properly the next day…
The fights between me and my tiny, beautiful, strong-willed, impossible-to-handle daughter mushroomed with each passing day: we fought over food (she would throw massive tantrums for me to buy her a donut every time we passed a certain bakery); we fought over clothes - whatever I bought her, she refused to wear. We fought over brushing hair, having a shower, taking medicine, going to nursery school - we fought and we fought and we fought.
And I realized, when she was barely two years' old and I was pregnant with my other daughter, that I was morphing in to a monstrous mother. In the deepest parts of myself, I still loved her so much. Day-to-day, all I seemed to do was yell at her, bully her and fight down the urge to hit her (which occasionally, was completely overpowering).
I signed up for the first in a series of six or seven parenting courses that we attended in the UK, before we made aliya. The parenting courses were being done by a religious Israeli woman who had eight kids and talked a lot of Torah and sense. For me, it was like being slapped in the face.
All the things I'd been making excuses about, or trying to play down, or making a joke out of - I understood after the first of those parenting courses that unless something changed radically, I was well on the way to completely screwing my kid up.
This was long before I heard of 'Breslev' or emuna, but I still asked G-d to help me change and to get a grip. If He didn't, I had no idea how I was going to start addressing all the terrible character flaws and problems that were starting to spew out of me like a volcano.
A lot of the obviously terrible behaviour stopped then. I stopped smacking her (G-d forgive me.) I stopped locking her in her dark room to make her go to sleep (G-d forgive me.) I stopped trying to force her to do every little thing 'my way'. I took her shopping to pick her own clothes. I let her sleep with as many dolls as she wanted on the pillow next to her. I eased up on the 'no sweets' rule (I'm not sure that's a good thing, but hey…)
I realized that I was angry at her so much of the time because I was really angry with myself, and my seeming inability to parent her in a kind, patient, 'normal' way. I was doing to her what had been done to me, and that realization was absolutely devastating.
I'd sworn to myself, as a child, that I would listen to my kids. I'd sworn to myself that I wouldn't be so selfish as to always put myself and my needs first, over theirs; that I'd buy them whatever they needed so they wouldn't feel a 'lack'; that I'd love them unconditionally; that I wouldn't yell at them, or hurt them, or hit them. And here we were, barely two years' on, and I'd already stuffed it all up.
Out of desperation, I upped the day care. I tried to spend as little time as possible with my kids, because they just kept pressing enormously painful buttons in me that would make me explode with rage.
Summer time was the worst. I dreaded it for months, and I tried to work out all sorts of schemes and activities that would keep my kids busy - and away from me. It's not that I didn't love them. I loved them tremendously. But I felt I was so destructive to them, and I didn't know what to do about it, so permanent childcare seemed like the best solution.
I threw myself into work, I started up my own business, I entertained like a mad person, I made aliya…
And that's when everything really fell apart. But as we'll see, that's also when G-d, in His kindness, started to show me that it was possible to really heal the pain, and to bridge the enormous gulf between the parent I actually was, and the parent I really wanted to be.
To be continued...