How my daughter got her groove back

Mummy Musings is a fortnightly column where Elisabeth Lee navigates the ups and downs of bringing up her daughter.

It’s been over a fortnight since we landed back home with a cold thud. Little A still misses her family in Singapore but is slowly coming to terms with the fact that we have bits of our lives and hearts scattered around the world. We’ve had lots of video chats and phone calls, and she’s even taken to sending a random slew of emojis whenever the urge strikes her. (“Mummy! I sent them all hearts because I love them so much!”)

I miss my family too, but am taking comfort in our alterna-family here – the close friends and neighbours who regularly appear at our dinner table or on our doorstep, bearing treats and bottles of wine. A is also enjoying being back in the company of her playmates – she shrieks with joy every time she spots a favourite friend. Bear hugs and fervent playdates follow in quick succession, and life becomes a whirlwind of social engagements as we catch up with our little community.

But it’s all a bit much, and it shows. A has been acting up by uncharacteristically refusing to go to daycare, refusing to get dressed independently, and refusing to oblige us in the ways in which she normally does.

I understand, I really do. It’s hard to go from the freedom and excitement of being on holiday to the predictable boringness of everyday life. And it’s even harder when you’re a kid who never really knows what’s coming. From A’s perspective, December was a month of mummy and daddy saying yes to trips to the playground, to ice cream, to more mango, whereas January was a month of no to staying up late, to dessert if she didn’t eat her veggies, to playdates because we had to go to work and daycare.

And it’s even harder when we are now a family who lives parallel but disconnected lives. She goes to daycare, I work, my partner works – but at odd hours, so we often dine at different times. Little A is probably missing the communal meals, the lazy family days and the expansive freedom that comes from not having to meet a deadline or get to an appointment.

So, one night, in the quiet aftermath of another epic meltdown, my partner T and I hatch a plan. Maybe this whole new routine will go a lot easier if A knows what’s coming. After all, it’s only human to want to know what you’re in for, to know what to expect.

I sit down with A the next day and together we draw up her weekly schedule. She takes out her markers and stickers and we make a fun craft out of it. Daycare days are coloured in purple, fun activities in yellow, daddy and mummy time is a brilliant red (“for love”). We look at it together, and ask her what she wants to fit in, and when she wants to do it.

Do you want to go skiing? “YEAAAAHHH! On family day!” And so Sunday becomes a family ski day.

How about a playdate? “YEAAAAHHH. YES PLEASE!” “Well, mummy has yoga on Mondays. How about you have a playdate with a buddy then?” “Alright! Anything else?”

And we fill out our chart. We add a few extra stickers for luck, and then stick it to our fridge where she can see it and more importantly, where she can reach the bright magnet we’ve put on to mark which day it is.

The next morning, she moves the magnet after breakfast. We talk a little bit about what the day holds for us – little A can read simple words like “daycare”, “gym”, and “ski”, so she already has an inkling about what’s coming. We talk about what tomorrow holds. The morning passes without a hitch – no drop-off drama at daycare, no tantrums about getting dressed, and much less protesting about why we can’t spend every waking minute at the playground.

I wonder why we hadn’t done it earlier. It’s clear such a little change – such an infinitesimal shift in control – has mattered to A so much more than it mattered to us. We haven’t actually let her make much of the big decisions, but we have involved her in the process, and in doing so, we’ve shown her that she’s a valuable and important part of our team – and that has made all the difference in the world.

 

Elisabeth Lee is proof that it is never too late to consider a second, third or even fourth career, having come to both motherhood and writing late in life. She occasionally freelances and can be reached at bethgoeswriting.com.

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