The cry comes in the middle of the night, in the deepest part of my rare third trimester pregnancy sleep (as it always does). Groggy and slightly irritated, I zombie walk into the kids’ room, not knowing which kid is upset. Owen is sound asleep; I cover him with his blanket on my way to Addie. I sit on the edge of her bed, move the pillow covering most of her head, and push a chunk of sweaty hair out of her face.
She rolls toward me, eyes barely open, and reveals her sorrows in wails. Awakened from a dream, she mourns the loss of a ladybug once grasped in her little palm.
“I’ll never find a ladybug again!”
The source of the dream: an afternoon spent digging in the backyard garden bed, recently abandoned until next spring, and hunting under rocks for bugs. My irritation fades and my heart clicks with the genuine sorrow in hers. I search for a way to tell her she is just reliving her day without diminishing the real weight of her emotions.
“Your beautiful imagination gives you such big dreams. It’s hard to have a bad dream when it feels so real.”
I help her get comfortable again; what a disaster she is in sleep. Most nights I find her hanging off the edge of the bed, with blankets and pillows in mounds. Her stuffed animals are tossed aside in favor of armfuls of Kleenex and the nighttime water bottle that lives on the shelf above her head. I reposition limbs, blankets, garbage, and loveys. Since she was a newborn, she has slept with arms and legs outstretched – body and heart open to the world. No wonder she feels so much hurt when her dream ladybug disappears.
After a moment, she opens her eyes and I hand her a stuffed ladybug: “Look, you found one already!” Skeptical, she holds it for less than a second before chucking it. My first attempt at righting the wrongs of dreamland has failed.
I try again, stroking her hair softly: “Close your eyes and think about ladybugs flying around you, red ladybugs crawling on the green grass, sweet ladybugs landing in your hands.”
She turns back to me, locks my eyes in hers, and exorcist style grunts. “I want to smash the ladybugs”. Then she rolls away from me again, and drops back into solid sleep.
Bewildered and slightly concerned about the real ladybugs in her future, I leave the room. I have dug deep on this one (for the middle of the night, especially) and come up without a fix or an understanding of what she wants.
It happens on occasion – usually when I’m feeling a little overconfident in my maternal capability – that an issue arises for which I have no immediate or ongoing solution. No matter how deep I dig into my Mary Poppins carpetbag full of parental tricks, I come up short. There are some problems that even moms can’t solve.
I can’t fix it if the kids each insist on singing different versions of The Wheels on the Bus simultaneously, but fuss about the other one singing.
Repairing broken granola bars is out of my wheelhouse. (“If you eat both pieces, they will go back together in your tummy!” is a common phrase in our house).
I can’t get Owen five hours away to visit Grammy, even when he spends a full twelve hours in a meltdown over wanting to, out of nowhere.
When too much glue leads to a rip in the construction paper jack o’ lantern face, I can suggest covering it with the mouth. I can offer empathy, or a do over. But I cannot bend the laws of physics and unrip the paper.
When Owen refuses to participate in an obstacle course at soccer, no matter how cool he thinks it is, and then cries that he missed out, I don’t have a fix. I can only offer a consoling snuggle as we watch from the bench.
When Addie still hasn’t put on her underwear after half an hour of warnings that the pizza will be delivered soon, and then cannot be the one to answer the door (because c’mon – we have some decency left), I can’t solve the problem she has created. I can’t deescalate her meltdown or keep it from spiraling into ruining the whole evening, no matter how many ways I suggest to move on.
As much as I want them to believe in the all-powerful nature of their Mama, I cannot literally make the sun rise or the rain stop falling to suit our desires.
The reality is some things are beyond the scope of my control. And isn’t there a lesson in that somewhere? It hurts me when they hurt, but accepting the flow of the universe is a must for survival and happiness. Things will come up when we are apart; unexpected transitions at school will throw Addie, and Owen may need something only I understand when he is at Mimi’s house. ALL of the issues created out of their own willingness to participate or cooperate are sometimes better left as teachable moments (right???).
As they grow older, and life changes, we all have to reconcile new challenges. Hopefully this Mama’s continued snuggles, love, and middle of the night presence will solve some of the problems – ladybug dreams and beyond.
One thought on “PSA: There are Some Problems Even Mama Can’t Solve”
Great article! I think all moms want to give children as much as possible. Unfortunately, mom really can’t solve all the children’s problems. But mom can do the most important thing, give protection and support.
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