The Whine

My mom says it’s just a phase.

My jaw muscles say it feels like this phase has gone on forever.

My back teeth are being worn into nubs from the constant attempts to not. lose. my shit.

I’m pretty sure I’m the world’s worst mother.

I’m also pretty sure that the most annoying, frustrating, brain bleed inducing sound in the entire world is the high pitched whine of a pouty three year old.

The sound follows a bell curve, low at first and then swelling to octaves heard only by dogs and mothers. It ends in a whimper and a primal urge to shake something. Not that I have ever shaken either one of my children. But I’m doing a lot of eyes closed, counting to ten, deep. fucking. breathing.

And jaw clenching.

And teeth grinding.

My mother says it’s a phase. But I don’t remember this phase with Devin. I remember defiance, yes. I remember wondering when my sweet, loving little boy turned into a mouthy, disobedient monster. I remember thinking please God, let this be a phase.

But I do not remember this whine.

I can’t imagine I could have forgotten about this whine.

And I have no idea what to do with it. I’m torn between the experts who tell me to foster a safe environment where she’s free to express herself, and my parental need to not. raise. a crybaby. I’m repulsed at the idea of telling my child, my flesh, to stop whining. Or stop crying. Or stop feeling whatever you’re feeling. The last thing I want to do is bring another repressed, emotionally stunted person into this world.

Or maybe the last thing I want is to unleash another whining, crying, entitled drama queen onto society.

Not that Emma is any of those things. Because she’s three, obviously. And a temper tantrum from an adult is not the same as an emotional meltdown for a toddler. I get that.

But I also worry, as her mother, where that line begins and ends. Is this when I’m supposed to be making the decisions that determine what kind of an adult she’ll be? Is this when I decide for her if she’ll be a strong communicator or a person who stuffs their feelings inside? Or is this when she learns that life isn’t always fair and you don’t always get what you want and that’s OK?

I have a heightened awareness of the opportunity to fuck this kid up. I can keep my calm and issue time outs – which could send the message that no one wants to see you cry. Or I can ignore it and send the message that no one hears you. Or I can drop to my knees and hold her and affirm her and teach her that if you throw a big enough fit, you will get your way.

Everywhere I turn is a chance for another misstep. And all the while I’m listening to the sound and clenching my teeth and closing my eyes and trying to see what the right next thing is.

And I have no fucking clue what to do with the whine.

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