The gorgeous little Button-Pusher and I made some Christmas cards at the weekend (I know, I know: it’s only October but that’s how we roll in the Baffled household. Well to be honest, Mr B thinks I’m mad to have started so far in advance of Christmas, so perhaps it’s just how I roll…). It took about 15 minutes to get everything out and ready, half an hour at the end to clean the kitchen and B-P of paint and glue, and in-between there was about 20 minutes of defcon 4 type hell. Why was it hell? I was making cute handprint reindeer Christmas cards with my adorable 2 1/2 year old. Life’s good right? But honestly my frustration button was being pushed and my lack of patience was evident for anyone to see. I take my hat off to every artistic, creative parent, primary school teacher, nursery assistant and anyone else who choses to work with toddlers and craft supplies at the same time. Seriously, I do not know how you do it. I also realised that my expectations of what we’d achieve during out crafty little jaunt, were not, and could not, be met by a toddler.
I’ve previously mentioned a wise sage friend of mine whose advice and support I truly value. And recently she blew my mind with another of her fabulous sayings:
expectation will kill you quicker than crack
She admits she got it from a wise sage friend of hers, and it is such an amazing piece of advice to hold onto when you’re parenting a toddler. So many of my frustrations each day are born from the fact that I expect B-P to do something or behave in a certain way, and invariably, she doesn’t! She’s not working to my timetable and couldn’t care less if we’re late for ballet. She doesn’t know that protein is an important building block of bones and muscles, and would pick cake over chicken at most meals if offered it. And, as I learnt this weekend, she really doesn’t care about making just the one nicely positioned handprint on a card or sticking wobbly eyes in the right place in order to make it actually look like something resembling a reindeer. She didn’t care about that one bit.
Here’s how I thought it would go:
Me: shall we make reindeer handprint Christmas cards today?
B-P: yay! Good idea Mummy! What’s the optimum amount of paint on my hand to make a decent handprint? Where do the eyes go to best look like a reindeer Mummy? How much glue to I need to put on the red jewel to stick his nose on properly Mummy? Or should we just use a glitter glue splodge? Mummy look at the beautiful hand crafted reindeer cards we made together. Shall we make the Christmas cake now? Let’s get ahead so we don’t feel rushed in December.
Yeh, that’s not really how it went down at all. Like I said: not sure my expectations were going be fully met by a 2 1/2 year old on this one.
So. Mindful of my friend’s wise words, I took a step back and watched B-P in action. Smearing way too much paint on her hands and smiling as she playfully got to grips with how feels on her fingers. Sticking jewels of all colours onto any bit of card she could find with more glue than is necessary to stick even an elephant to a wall. Mixing paint colours to create muddy shades that Farrow & Ball would never consider using. And generally having a whale of a time getting messy. It was so sweet to watch for about, ooo, 5 minutes until I realised that you know, I’m me, and not someone else who is patient and relaxed about paint in a white kitchen. Plus those reindeer handprint cards aren’t going to make themselves are they? I dug deep into the patience reverses and to be fair, not only did we have fun together, we also ended up with a few cards that really do look (a little bit) like reindeers with eyes and a nose in roughly the right place.
I recounted this story to a friend who came over that evening for dinner who, sticking up for my carefree little B-P, said “there are no rules when being artistic”. I of course put him in his place with the words of another wise sage, Monica Geller: “rules help control the fun.” But therein of course lies that problem with expectation again: if I expect B-P to follow my rules and do it my way, the only person who ends up unhappy is me. I’m not saying our toddlers shouldn’t learn to do as they’re asked: it’s a happy healthy well developed child we’re after here not anarchy. So I can teach her to do something, I can ask her to do something, I can explain that if we don’t do it, something else isn’t going to happen. But if I expect too much, too soon, or to run to my timetable with limited or no notice that playtime is over, that frustration button will be pushed.
I think I’m supposed to be the one managing my expectations. I’m the grown-up. B-P’s the toddler. Expecting her to behave like my idea of a grown-up before she’s ready, well I know what my friend would say about that.