I think there's a secret force in the world destined to keep mamas humble. It goes by many names: the common cold, picky eating, middle-of-the-Gap disobedience, and--my personal favorite--explosive diapers in public places.
It strikes me when I'm feeling most proud of my mothering: when Hadley is finally eating green vegetables, when I give other moms tips on helping their kids sleep through the night, when I cruise the aisles of Whole Foods with a happy, chatty kid who wants to hold the broccoli. (Certainly there is a nutritive osmosis by which the broccoli actually seeps into her body, right?)
Just when I think I've figured it out, something happens.
This week, "something" is a nap strike.
I'm taking it personally. Silly, right? But I love nap time. I love the sudden quiet of our house and the knowledge that I get to do whatever I want for two whole hours! Exciting babe that I am, that usually involves cleaning, laundry, bill-paying, and writing. But it's MY time...and if I wanted it to include a private karaoke session with the entire "Thriller" album, it could. Because I know all of the words. (When Hadley is 14, she's going to think I'm so cool that she'll let me drop her off only a block from the movie theater.)
And it's just not the same when Hadley is not sleeping, particularly because nap strike sounds like she's working very hard to keep herself awake. It's hard for me to relax while she puts on a tiny one-woman Broadway show. She sings all of the tunes she knows at the top of her lungs, pausing in between to ask Bunny Bear (her sleeping companion), "You like it? You like it? What I should sing next?" Girlfriend is taking requests.
Then she builds a fort with her blanket and tiny pillow, practices her baby yoga moves, or steamrolls Bunny Bear. (I hear her say, "Steamroller!" and then she giggles.)
After about two hours, she hollers for me and when I walk into her room, she says, with her biggest, most charming grin, "I waked up!"
"You didn't sleep," I say.
"But I try hard!" She pretends to be earnest.
I know what's coming: 5:00 meltdown because we can't find the Little People princess or the marker cap doesn't go back on right away or we didn't go swimming today! And before I can wish for a fairy god-nanny, Hadley falls to her knees, hangs her head, and cries big, no-nap tears.
It does no good to say what I want to say, which is: "Hey, kiddo. This is what happens when you don't nap. You feel lousy. I feel lousy. And when Daddy walks in the door in a few minutes, I'm going to give him the evil eye because he's 7.3 seconds late getting here."
Frustration makes me a street philosopher, so here's what I've decided: Parenting guarantees nothing. Just because your kid ate peas yesterday does not mean she'll eat them today. In fact, there's a good chance she'll put them in her pockets and you'll find them gummy and soggy when you pull the wet laundry out the of washer next Tuesday. (Okay, maybe that's just my kid.)
But just like life doesn't guarantee the simple things, it doesn't guarantee the big things either. Nobody promises me she'll do and learn all of the things I hope she does; I don't get to presume she'll always be healthy or happy; there's no assurance that tomorrow, my biggest worry will be whether she will sleep in the afternoon.
So if the nap strike has taught me anything, it's the futility of trying to control the things I cannot. Hadley is her own person, alive and exposed in the world. I cannot make her do everything (or sometimes, anything) I want, nor should I. And more frighteningly, I cannot make the world the kind of place it ought to be, for her or the billions of kids who wander its edges. And most of their parents would be so happy to trade worries with me for a day.
It's all so...humbling. (If I had a nickel for every time I thought that since Hadley was born, girlfriend could go to any college she wanted.)
I'm going to remember the goodness of this life we live the next time Hadley's one-woman show fills our house with song at 2:00 p.m. Maybe I'll try sitting back and listening to the sounds of a joyful, satisfied child.
Or maybe I'll put on my own show. Where did I put that "Thriller" CD?