A few years ago, at a meeting for the parents of toddlers, you would have seen a lady with a distinctly uptight twitch to her posture. My hair might have been brushed, but there is no telling if I would have managed an outfit that looked ‘together’. My foot would have been wriggling up and down and my hands grasped nervously in front of me. I would have been dragged there by another well meaning mother from my son’s kindy. We would have been there to listen to a wise old white-haired lady talk about parenting in the early years. I might have introduced myself like this, my voice rising with every sentence:
“I’m Rachel. My boy is three. He is going through a ‘stage’. (Oh-my-goodness-I-hope-it’s-a-stage!)
He is defiant, wilful, deliberately naughty. The direct eye contact as he does the very thing I have asked him not to do. The little Dennis the Menace smirk. The panic rises in me as I realise all over again that I don’t know what to do, he’s figured me out! At three! I can’t do this!!!!”
There might have been other mums there who understood. A barely audible hum of acknowledgement from people who’d been slaughtered that battle front recently, or the averted gaze from another who was too afraid to show her own rising panic. The wise old lady just nodded and moved on to the next introduction. She said lots of things that were all well and good. But she said one thing that I lingered on. “Your son is asking you to hold his hand and help him”. Pffft! I’ll help him, alright!
But later, I thought about some more about what she’d said.
Of course I didn’t take the time to hold his hand when he was in the middle of destroying the newly tidied toy shelf! I didn’t want to hold his hand when I was calling him from downstairs, for the tenth time, and we were already late for kindy. I didn’t think of holding his hand when he was struggling with his fork at dinner time, or smudging cake crumbs down between the sofa cushions. To be frank, I was so riled with him I thought if I reached for him when he was being naughty I might be tempted …nah. Hadn’t thought of holding hands.
Desperation will drive a mother to try many things. And that is why, mid-tantrum, I remembered the wise old lady. (I know, a girl my age shouldn’t be having tantrums, but I was upset!) My son had just made a snow storm in his room with talcum powder. Everything was completely covered and I could see the cleaning hours ahead, stretching into the infinity of forever.
I went over to him and held his hand.
He didn’t know what to do. I said “how can I help you?”. And his little white powdered face crumpled up. We walked, hand in hand to the bathroom and I helped him get in the bath. We talked about how talcum powder can get everywhere, really fast. We washed it out of his hair and eyelashes, from the wrinkles between his toes. Then we went out and left the snow storm to itself for a while.
I began to try hand holding whenever I felt like I was losing control of a situation.
He liked the attention. The more of it he got, the happier he was, the more connected we were and the more often a good morning turned into a good afternoon. A thought that had never crossed my mind before, swooped in. The more attention he had from me, the less naughty he was. I could hold his hand and he would understand! Hand holding was the conduit for communication! On a kindy day, instead of racing downstairs with all the bits and pieces and yelling for him to join us, I went to his room, gently took his hand and walked down the stairs.
That wise old lady might have known a thing or two about small people.