Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Natalie’s Wrath

It seems that, as of late, I have been on the wrong side of Natalie’s personality, as her patience with me has been thin for a couple of weeks. Mostly, I try to ignore the outbursts, but it has been difficult.

Three recent cases in point.

One: A few days ago, Kara was gone and it was just the kids and I. Matthew had drifted off into a nap and Natalie had interest in watching a movie in our bed. I took that to mean that she was tired and wanted a nap. As we were headed in there, I started straightening up a bit—one of my ever growing pet peeves is the toy sprawl syndrome, where numerous toys magically fall from the sky and are discovered in equally numerous places around the house. Our bedroom has become one of the last vestiges of this toy depository, so I gathered up a bunch of things—a Dora cash register, several play dishes, a variety of noisy toys of Matthews and a few stuffed animals of Natalie’s. As I returned these things to their rightful places, Natalie started to protest, especially when I tossed the mound of stuff animals into her room. When that happened, she lost it and started to scream at me. She quickly snatched them all up and slung them back on the bed, telling me that I don’t know what I’m doing and that I should go somewhere else. One of her favorite phrases is, “If you don’t stop (enter whatever it is that I’m currently doing), then I’m going to take you and throw you in the trash.” And she’s serious too.

So, off to her room, where she spent some alone time to think about not being so mean to Daddy and instead nicely explain that certain stuffed animals belong in certain pre-described places. I’m reasonable, I assure you.

Two: The night before last, Natalie and I were sitting on the couch watching TV before Kara came downstairs from putting Matthew to sleep for the night. She always watches a show and has a snack before bedtime. We had finished watching “Little Bear” (which I despise) and she requested that I put in the episode of “The Little Mermaid” that she saw on TV earlier in the day with Mommy. “Did she tape it?” I asked, and Natalie said, “Yes Daddy,” in that way that means, “Of course she did, you silly, silly man.” So I checked the list of movies on the DVR and there were only two “Little Mermaids,” one called “Stormy” where Ariel brings home a while seahorse that King Triton forbids that she rides (also included in that episode is my most favorite of all melodramatic lines. Ariel to her father: “You want to tie me down just like Stormy,” and she swims off in a huff. Classic) and the second one is one of the first ones we taped, about Little Mermaid finding a bracelet and coming face to face with the flow monster—don’t ask.

So, I calmly explain to her that we can’t watch the one from that morning because Mommy didn’t tape it. I tried to make Kara to be the bad guy but she didn’t take the bait. Natalie insisted that we did and I could tell that she was going to get angry, so I showed her the list of taped movies on the TV… no “Little Mermaid” from that morning. I don’t know whether she didn’t like being told that she was wrong or if she was really tired that night or if she just likes to be disagreeable with me, but she lost it. She actually told me to “get in your truck and find another family to live with.” She said she doesn’t like me anymore, but had the gall to ask me to get her something to drink.

I sent her upstairs, expressing how disappointed I was in how she was acting. I don’t think she seemed too fazed.

Three: I don’t exactly remember the situation, but it was trivial. She told me to “go away and don’t ever come back,” and I made the mistake of saying that I was going to take Mommy with me if I were to leave. I’ve never seen her cry so much in such a short period of time, and after that it was sobbing and whimpering while she tried to put together a puzzle on the dining room table, lamenting how much she wanted Mommy to come home. After about 20 minutes of listening to that, I told her that if she didn’t stop, she was going to go to her room. Two minutes later, I summarily escorted her to her room.

Even after being pardoned a half-hour later, she wouldn’t come out until Kara came home.

Now, as a father, what am I supposed to do? Ignore her when she goes on an emotional rampage? That’s easy for you to say, but when I have to listen to her say mean things, it rather hurts my feelings. Sure, she’s three and probably doesn’t really understand that the things she says actually does hurt my feelings. But they do.

Kara’s solution is to spend more time with her, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense. If the lions at the zoo don’t like you, hanging around their cage more isn’t going win you any points. What Kara suggested was to jump in the cage and take Natalie out somewhere special.

Truth be told, Natalie’s never had a soft spot in her heart for me, not even from the beginning. If we all jumped out of an airplane and I had the only parachute, she’d still cling to Kara the whole way down. In fact, every time Kara would leave, she’d stand at the door and cry for her to come back, and when she wouldn’t, Natalie would turn and look at me as if I was cheap plastic consolation prize she got at the county fair. She doesn’t do that anymore, but it was hard for the first 18 months of her life. Ask her who her favorite parent is and she’ll answer “Mommy” even before you finish the question… even if I’m standing there with a box full of princess-mermaid-butterfly dresses and appropriate accessories, all in purple… and lathered in cinnamon roll icing. No dice. Hands down, Kara will win every time.

So, as the black sheep in my own family, what am I to do? Take her out and do something special, Kara says. Go to lunch with her, just the two of you. Not really sure what that is supposed to solve, I agreed and asked Natalie if she would like to go to lunch with me today.

She said no, she’s busy. She’s going over to Nathan’s house to play. I told her that wasn’t until later in the afternoon and we could go to lunch earlier. Nope.

I didn’t want to do this, but I felt like I had no other choice. It was the last place I wanted to spend my money, but… “How about we go to Old McDonald’s?” (a.k.a. McDonald’s) Her eyes widened and she said, “Yes Daddy, I’d love to go.”

So it was a date. That night, she asked me to read her a couple of stories before bedtime, something she never does.

This morning Natalie was in her room with Mommy helping her get ready, and I was in mine doing the same. It felt as though I were getting ready to go to one of those father-daughter dances they sometimes have in grade school. Natalie dressed up for the occasion, wearing a purple sparkly dress, her Cinderella slippers and a matching tiara.

I wore jeans and a t-shirt and even then felt underdressed, for McDonald’s.

Though the place was crowded with high school kids and it was loud, we found a small table by the window. I made sure to commandeer a flower in a vase from one of the other tables for us (Natalie was worried we wouldn’t get a table with a flower) and we enjoyed our lunch. Me, suffering through the guilt of giving my money to a faceless evil corporation whose drive is to addict as many small children to their food as possible, and Natalie chewed her Chicken McNuggets and watched all the people go by. She didn’t say much, but the room was loud.

I got her the customary ice cream and we came home.

The little experiment must have worked, because after I told her that “Wow, Wow Wubbzy” was my favorite cartoon on television—and it is, have you seen the crap that’s on TV nowadays?—she cuddled up to me and we watched it together.

So, perhaps Kara was right. Maybe I’m not spending as much time with Natalie as I should. Maybe I need to devote more time with her, as her lashing out may be her way of telling me this. She’s only three.

Gee, I can’t wait until she’s 14. Too much time… not enough. Don’t do anything at all. Just sit there and agree with whatever she says. Of course, you know me and that will never happen. Good times to come. Good times.

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