Lucky for me, Sol is usually asleep during the first part of that. Usually. And when she sleeps through my daily prep, life is easy. Simple and sweet.
Then there are days when she wakes up during my routine. But she'll sit in front of the mirror and chatter cheerfully to the Sol staring back at her, pointing out elbows and ears, noses and toes. On these days, brushing my hair to the soundtrack of her monologue, I turn and smile at my Mini-Me chatting with her reflection. I say, "Love you, Sol." She turns to look at me and says, "Luzh-yewwww." From there, I pack things up and we're on our way. Still pretty easy.
And then there are days like this morning. I woke up on time, and in the middle of my shower, I heard the first cry from the nursery. As I turned the water off, the cries got louder. As I got dressed, the cries turned into wails. I ran into Sol's room, turned the lamp on, and stepped over to the crib. There stood my daughter, illuminated by the lamp's soft glow, rubbing her teary eyes and nuzzling her pink bunny against her sleepy face, crowned by the most delightful bedhead. She reached her arms out to me and I freed her from the confines of her crib.
However, she did not want her pajamas removed.
She did not want her pajamas zipped up.
She did not want her legs in her pajamas. Just her arms.
She did not want lotion on her dry winter legs.
She did not want to be dressed for school.
She did not want the comb.
She did not want a hug.
I gritted my teeth and left her in her room... after all, I had things to do. In my bedroom, as I was putting my shoes on, Cranky Little Sol came toddling in to my room, wailing angrily at me and wearing only the top-half of her unzipped footie pajamas, the pajama legs dragging along the floor behind her. I reached over to my nightstand and pulled out a book about colors, Sol sat down in my lap and I read it to her. We put the book back and I told her I needed to finish getting ready. Cranky Sol started wailing again, holding another book out to me, asking me: "Read? Read?"
My status was quickly transitioning from "on time" to "late." I told Sol no, we couldn't read another book, and I walked away. Sol ran after me, her pajama legs still trailing behind her, sobbing as she pulled at my legs. Very sternly, I requested that she use her words and tell me what she wanted, but the only response was more sobs. Once more she picked up her book and begged me to read to her. Stepping over her, I continued getting ready for work as I tried to tune out her shrieks of frustration.
We walked together to her room. I wrestled her into some pants and a shirt. I grabbed my phone to check the time. Officially late. Sol ran after me: "Hold?? Hold??" I told her I couldn't hold her. We were LATE. I ran down to the kitchen to pack our bags, my angry daughter making her way down the steps behind me, still shrieking in frustration. She came up to me and clutched my legs.
I pried her arms off and sarcastically thanked her very much for making me late today. Her response? Sobs.
She did not want to wear her coat.
She did not want to wear her hat.
She screamed at me: "Hold? Hold??" I flipped my wrist up to check my watch. LATE. I told her I could not hold her, and it was cold outside, so could she please put her coat on because in case she's forgotten, I have a job and she has school and we were late. Again, she shrugged her coat off, tears streaming down her pudgy cheeks, and she said: "Hold! Hold!!!!" Again, I checked the time. LATE-LATE-LATE. My stern, slow, 'follow-these-instructions' voice was now a furious yell. In frustration, I shouted angrily at her to put her coat on, and that she was making my life very difficult, and now we were late, and I don't understand why she can't follow instructions, and I hoped she was happy.
She gasped one final gasp, sobbed one last sob, and then she was still. She hung her head in silence as she offered her left arm to me, then her right, in a joint effort to put her coat on. I grabbed my bags angrily and stormed out to the car without her to throw the bags in the front seat. As I walked back up to the house, I saw her standing in the doorway, watching me with the saddest, most terrible look: a grief-stricken mixture of confusion and remorse.
She was not crying. But this was worse. Suddenly, my baby was gone, replaced by a tiny person who understood the horror behind an actual angry shout. Standing before me was a small human with feelings... feelings that were hurt. This morning, in my frustration, I hurt Sol. And for the first time ever, I could see that. For the first time ever, I watched my angry words work their terrible magic across my daughter's face. I saw my rant tracing lines of fear and shame around Sol's eyes, around her quivering lips. In response to a frantic, furious mother raising her voice, tiny Sol raised her tiny fist and, in her own version of sign language, rubbed that fist gently on my knee with a defeated apology. "Sogg-yy."
Never before had such a small apology taken such a toll on me. My knees buckled and I knelt down in front of her. Taking a slow step toward me, Sol put her arms gently around my neck and apologized again: "Sogg-y." Wrecked, I wrapped my arms around her, hoping this embrace would allow every ounce of remorse and love in my being to flow from me to her in some extraordinary connection, reassuring her that everything was okay.
But she dropped her arms and looked away. I asked her to look at me. She looked at me. I told her I loved her and I was very sorry. She said nothing and looked down again. Stunned, I asked her for a kiss. She walked away from me, toward the door. I picked her up, carried her out to the car, and buckled her into her carseat. The ride to school was silent from her end. She would neither look at me nor talk to me, this child who has been [otherwise] jabbering endlessly. Upon arriving to her daycare center, she remained silent. I kissed her and pulled her close to me as we entered her classroom. She took her coat off and ran to the opposite side of the room. I called after her to say good-bye and I loved her (which is always followed by a hearty wave and a "luzh-yeww" in response), but she stayed focused on her blocks, refusing to look at me. She may as well have been twisting a dagger into my heart as I left for work, without so much as a glance from my beloved Sol as I backed out the door.
The drive to work was equally silent. I threw emotional punches at myself for losing my cool and hurting Sol. I repeated , "I love you, Sol," nearly a million times on the 10-minute drive, as though it would somehow patch the wounds my words had left on little Sol, as though it would soothe away any sadness. As I blinked away tears, I recalled that I had a work engagement this evening, and my sister would be picking Sol up from daycare. I couldn't bear to think of the sadness in Sol's face when she saw that Angry Mommy wasn't even taking her home from daycare tonight... would she think I had abandoned her?
I arrived to work and sat at my desk, looking up at the photos of my beautiful, smiling daughter. I thought again of her reaction on the doorstep at home. Remorse took over me; my eyes filled with tears again as I thought frantically about what I could do. I called her daycare and told them I would be picking Sol up for lunch today.
Upon walking into her classroom a few hours later, I was greeted by a glowing, chubby-cheeked little lady with the brightest eyes I'd ever seen -- as if she were somehow surprised that I came back for her. She beamed as she ran into my arms. I scooped her up and stood there with her, my arms folded around her as if I could protect her from anything else that might ever cause her pain. I murmured one more "I love you" through her golden locks as I carried her out the door to our lunch date.
As we sat together at a red-and-white checkered table, all I could do was gaze at my daughter and whisper a thousand apologies to the air between us, hoping that one of them would reach her and she would understand how much I love her, how it was killing me that I hurt her. Perhaps weekday mornings will always be hectic. Maybe I will always be wrestling her into her clothes and/or jacket. Surely there will be other mornings where we're running a half hour late. But I will never again do anything to her to cause the sadness I saw this morning. I will do whatever I can to protect this girl, this tiny piece of myself, even if that means sitting down for 10 minutes in the morning to read the same book 5 times over.
They say you can't choose your family, but that's not true. I made a choice, and I chose Sol. I chose frantic mornings, noxious diapers, messy dining room floors, cluttered living rooms, tight budgets, and limited freedom. I chose warm hugs, kissable toes, holding hands through parking lots, belly laughs, boundless loyalty, and perfect love. I will never allow myself to forget that I chose her.
^^ She's shaking the salt and pepper shakers like they're maracas. FYI.