In one of those countless phases of child development that wax and wane, taking on paramount importance when you’re in the midst of them and then becoming forgotten within days after they subside, my 7-year-old and I are in a Difficult Mornings phase. For the past several days, it’s been torturous to get her out of the house in the morning, and it never fails to amaze me that after eleven years of parenting, there are situations like this to which I still haven’t figured out a solution. I’ve been getting kids ready to leave the house for daycare, preschool or regular school for well over a decade, I remind myself. How is it that I still have a problem with it?
When I complain about my own ineptitude to my husband, he’s always quick to remind me that for the two years I was working outside the house and he was responsible for morning departures, it all ran like clockwork. It always does when he’s in charge, because he simply brooks no dissent and takes no prisoners. Children are dressed, groomed, packed and ready to go when he starts the car because it never occurs to him – nor therefore to them – that there’s any other option.
Alas, not so with me. Now both Rick and Tim are gone by 7:30, and I have a whole fifty minutes alone with Holly to get her out the door. Yet the past several days have found me practically bursting a blood vessel as Holly stalls and dodges, sometimes for reasons of her own and sometimes for reasons I impose. She’s not dressed warmly enough. She’s wearing the same shirt as the day before. She didn’t brush her teeth yet. (My reasons.) She forgot the stuffed animal that she promised a friend could play with at recess. Her ponytail is fastened with a pink elastic and she likes only purple now. The dog needs to have her stomach scratched. (Holly’s reasons.)
I remind myself over and over again to choose my battles. Holly insists on fixing her own hair these days, and I tell myself it’s okay if her part is crooked and her pigtails mussed. But what about wearing the same shirt she wore the day before? Is that a battle worth fighting? I’m not sure. The ineffective tooth-brushing and my insistence that she go upstairs and do it again is definitely a battle worth fighting, as poor dental hygiene is serious business, but that doesn’t make it any less awful when we’re about to miss the bus and Holly is arguing with me about whether or not the use of toothpaste matters.
One problem with finding a solution to the challenge of leaving the house on time is that it’s hard to find an immediate bargaining chip. Unlike, say, not being ready to go to the playground, it’s not like I can say to Holly “If you don’t get ready immediately, we’re not going.” She has to go to school, and we both know it. Incentives based on after-school activities often seem too far off to have much impact, and at the age of seven, she’s a little beyond being motivated by a sticker chart. The fact is, she knows I’m going to be sure she gets to school one way or another, so it often seems like the onus is on me to get us out with any kind of efficiency, and without major temper tantrums on either of our parts.
Yesterday wasn’t much of a success, but maybe today will be better. Last night when all was calm before bedtime (interestingly, bedtime is not an issue these days; we read and then Holly goes to sleep, easy as that), she and I had a talk about it. I told her why I think it’s important to wear different clothes from one day to the next and why I’m certain it’s important to brush your teeth. She promised to get an earlier start on all of it next time.
The consolation as far as obstacles in schoolday morning routines is that you have so many chances to get it right. Five days a week, ten months out of the year. If yesterday didn’t go so well, I know I have the chance to make today go better. We’ll see if I can. And if not, I just remind myself that each stage passes in time. If now I’m getting apoplectic every morning insisting that Holly brush her hair and wear a fresh clean outfit, the day will quite likely come when she spends hours on her hair and clothing, and I’ll wonder what I ever worried about.
When Tim was just a few weeks old, a mother of a baby just a few months older said to me, “The bad phases pass quickly, and the good phases pass quickly. Whatever is going on with them changes, for better or worse.” True today just as it was eleven years ago. Today’s battles will yield in time to tomorrow’s battles, whatever they might be. And when that happens, I’ll remember that they too will pass in time. For now, I need to focus on the fact that it’s more important to have clean teeth than clean clothes, and that as long as I get the kids to school on time and safely and remember to kiss them before they climb onto the bus, the rest is just details.