The other day I was feeling kind of crazy and went to Target and Buy Buy Baby with both my toddler and my newborn in tow. I had exchanges to make at both stores and figured the errands would eat up a good chunk of those why-isn’t-it-bedtime-yet hours. We went to Target first, Phoebe in the Ergo, Gabe in the shopping cart. No, scratch that. He didn’t start in the cart. He wanted to walk (ahem, run wildly) and look at everything (pull merchandise off shelves).
While I was making my exchange at Customer Service, he darted away from me towards the registry machines, laughing hysterically. He ran far enough away to get out of my sight so I had to go after him in the middle of my transaction. I nabbed him and pulled him back to the counter where the sales associate was waiting for me. I gave him a lecture (to appease the Target employee as much as because it was actually warranted) and told him to stay next to me. The second I was done and turning away from the counter, Gabe exclaimed with glee, “Okay now go!” and made a beeline for women’s accessories.
We made it to the baby onesies. Needed some 9-month sizes for my not-yet-3-month-old. I’m flipping through the Carter layettes and Gabe is running lawless through the neighboring men’s athletic section. About three times I went over there and told him to stay close to Mama, ushering him back into the aisle I was shopping in, and every one of those times he darted right back to his mischief. In between these three unsuccessful attempts to reign in my toddler, I debated between hot air balloons and floral patterns for Phoebe’s wardrobe, while pretending Gabe was someone else’s kid and flat-out ignoring him. Eventually I decided I couldn’t allow these shenanigans to continue and I grabbed his little body, which started thrashing in my grip. I was done and didn’t feel like cruising Target with a screaming soundtrack so I handed over my iPhone with YouTube cued up. I was mailing it in and I didn’t care. Compliance, silence, yes please. Just work with me.
I picked out set of onesies and walked through some random aisles afterwards even though there was nothing else on my shopping list. But Phoebe had fallen asleep in the Ergo and Gabe was quiet and I thought…Let’s go look at the kitchen stuff…and the home decor…and more baby girl clothes. But then I thought, No, Halley, just get going to Buy Buy Baby, Gabe’s already had too much screen time today. Phoebe will keep sleeping in the car seat anyway. Except that she didn’t stay asleep in the car seat and therefore only had about a fifteen minute nap. And Gabe took FOREVER to get into his car seat, which is typical, and then melted when I took the phone away from him. And it was over 100F outside so I was melting too.
Phoebe screamed all the way to Buy Buy Baby. The car cooled off about the time we parked in the parking lot. I put screaming and sweaty Phoebe back in the Ergo, got Gabe out of the car (“Stop running! You have to hold my hand in the parking lot! Stay where I can see you!”) and grabbed my items that I wanted to swap out. We entered the blissful AC and Gabe quickly latched on to a Cookie Monster stuffed animal. I steered us toward the diaper section as Gabe remarked on every sight along the way. I picked up the All-In-One cloth diaper I wanted instead of the pocket diaper I’d been gifted and grabbed a couple board books for the kids’ library to get instead of the diaper inserts I already had enough of at home. I took tubes of Neosporin and toothpaste away from Gabe who was treasure-hunting in the adjourning aisle.
We made it to the checkout counter. Phoebe is ballistic by this point and we are in triple threat mode: wet, hungry, and tired. She is screaming as loud as she can and I cannot hear what the sales associate is saying to me. Receipt? What? No I don’t have one. Registry? Huh? Yes. It’s under Halley Kim. The woman goes over to her computer and types in my name. “Hmm, is your co-registrant ‘Ryan?'” “Umm, no, it’s Simon.” “It’s not Ryan?” “NO IT’S SIMON” I half-shout over Phoebe’s wailing. “Odd…are you registered in this state? When’s your due date?” Oh my word. Seriously lady. “It was April 25th.” (Gabe is doing the 25yd dash from the counter to the restrooms this whole time, with occasional trips behind the build-your-registry of 578 baby items table). Phoebe keeps screaming. The employee keeps bumbling to find me in the system. Suddenly Gabe is gone. “Hang on, I lost my toddler.” I find the little rascal and yank him back to the general area of not-close-enough-to-consider-you-obedient-but-not-far-enough-to-bother-chasing-you. It dawns on me what the registry problem is and I place my upper teeth behind my lower in my best I hate you but I shouldn’t face. “Kim is my LAST name” (#koreanhusbandproblems). “Oh! That’s your last name! Here you are!” (Argh!). We’re in business. She completes the exchange; I swipe my MasterCard to cover the difference. Phoebe is now a frightening alien creature and the pregnant woman in line next to me looks uncomfortable. “Shhh, sweetie, you’re terrifying all the pregnant women!”
Gabe had a hard time saying goodbye to Cookie Monster but managed to give him a hug and a kiss and hand him over to the employee to “keep him safe.” We got out to the car and I opened the back passenger door and told Gabe to get in. Again he’s taking his sweet, sweet time. My poor daughter is miserable and my sanity is hanging on by the tiniest thread. Gabe wiggles into the foot area of the back seat rather than into his car seat, which he loves to do. “Gabe you can get in your seat yourself or Mommy can put you there.” (No response). “One…two..” “Ok, ok!” (Takes one step in the right direction and starts dawdling again). I do the threatening count to 3 again; he repeats the very slight obedience followed by more stalling. I closed the car door with him in the car but not in the car seat. I went around to the other side and put poor Phoebe in her car seat, gave her her pacifier, got the AC going. Went back to Gabe’s door and started the process once more of getting Gabe to sit in his car seat. Same story, second verse. All games with this kid. There is zero listening going on here. And then I snapped. My restraint dissolved in the Missouri July heat. I grabbed my two-year-old and forced him into the seat. He’s strong, but I used more force than was necessary. I was mad and I wanted him to know it. I YELLED IN HIS FACE. I put a scare in him and I felt vindicated. My wrath would win the day.
We got home; Phoebe nursed and slept, Gabe and I made it to bedtime without much further drama. I was exasperated but we all made it. Life went on.
The next evening our AC went out right around bedtime. I was in the flurry of getting both kids to bed while Simon was working, and I didn’t notice how hot it was in our house until after the littles were sleeping. My new neighbor came over to have a cup of tea with me and I felt our home turning into a sauna as we chatted. I kept turning the temperature down on the thermostat but it didn’t make any difference. My friend left a little before 10 and it was in the low 80’s. I decided to wait til morning to bother our kind landlord and set to work making the house as tolerable as possible. Generally Gabe’s room is the coldest room in our house and therefore he wears long sleeved and long pants pajamas, plus his microfleece sleepsack, even in summer. But tonight was different and I knew he would bake. I tiptoed into his room and unzipped his sleepsack and gingerly pulled his limbs out of it so that he was simply laying on the fleece rather than being enclosed in it. I toyed with pulling his jammy pants off too but decided it was too risky (don’t wake up, don’t wake up!). Before I left I cranked up his fan as high as it goes and hoped that would suffice.
Well, praise Jesus, just as I was getting ready for bed, it occurred to me to try changing the batteries in the thermostat. It seems like batteries are one of those things you always have when you don’t need them and never when you do, but happily I found AAA batteries in the bathroom cabinet and made the switch. Presto! My air conditioning was back in business! I figured it was a tall order to go from 85 to 70 so I set the thermostat lower than I typically do and just turned Gabe’s fan down one notch to compensate. I climbed into bed way too late, nearly midnight, but glad I had solved the AC mystery and thankful to have had the chance to kiss my husband when he got home just before I fell asleep.
I was awake at 4AM nursing Phoebe and suddenly I heard Gabe start to cry and call out, “Mama, mama!” I got Phoebe back to sleep and went to check on my first baby, who generally sleeps soundly. It was freezing in Gabe’s room. He was so confused to be out of his sleepsack and his feet were cold to my touch. I picked up that big but not big boy and turned off the blaring fan. He clutched me tight and made one precious and pure request: “Cuddles.” We sunk down into the papasan chair in the corner and my son melted into my chest. I wrapped his sleepsack back around him and zipped it up properly. And I just sat there, rubbing his size-6-but-still-tiny feet in my hands through the sleepsack, and getting a whiff of his barely-there-but-still-present baby scent. He buried his face into my neck and breathed heavily. We kissed each other’s necks and half slept. I let Gabe fall asleep right there in my lap and was overwhelmed with big mama love. I stoked his back and nuzzled his brow and thanked God for waking us both up for such a sweet time and a needed reminder.
I had forgotten. I have a new baby, who is so obviously tiny and dependent, and although my son has 29 months on his sister, and although it’s right that I should have expectations of him, he too is still tiny and dependent. He is still a toddler. He’s only two. HE’S ONLY TWO. He runs at Target because he’s happy. He touches everything because he’s learning about the world. It’s not his fault that his sister cries. Or that it’s stupid hot outside. Or that his mother is very much still learning how to be a mom of 2. And although that car seat routine drives me bonkers, and despite that Gabe is forever testing my limits, the fact remains — he’s only two. It’s normal toddler stuff. And he’s learning how to share me just as much as I’m learning to share myself! And while I can and should and sort of have to ask MORE of him these days, I cannot ask everything of him (when I do it ends in tears for both of us). I have to let him be two.
I keep getting it wrong; I’ve yelled at Gabe numerous times since this particular incident, cursed him under my breath, even felt like I could shake him (stop biting your sister!!!!). Two steps forward, one step back (or the opposite) is my parenting journey. But for fifteen or so minutes in the wee hours of a Wednesday morning none of it mattered. I had my baby and my baby had his mommy and God smiled at us in the dark and spoke truth to my heart. He’s only two, Halley. He is still so little. Give him grace. Give him time. Teach him, guide him, correct him, but always give him grace. Grace for him, grace for you. Phoebe is your new baby but Gabe is your first baby. Keep seeing him. Keep seeking him. He needs you so much. Cherish this boy I gave you in love. Just keep loving him through these trying days.
I cried. And cried. And said thank you. And kissed my baby boy twenty more times. At some point I stood up with that half-asleep darling in my arms and whispered, “More sleep now?” And Gabe said sweetly, “Ok,” and went willingly back into his bed. I arranged his stuffed animals the way he likes and stole a final kiss. “See you in the morning, angel.” “Goodbye, mama.” And he went back to dreamland without a peep. Sweet, amazing, crazy, two-year-old of mine.