Starchild and the mashed potatoes

Today was Henry’s first day with a new teacher in charge of his classroom. His former teacher Marissa moved to California. He knew his new teacher very well, but it was still a change. I don’t know if that affected him at all or if it’s because he’s got a little cold, but he came home a little low on energy.

Cory made soup while Henry watched Daniel Tiger, his favorite show. Henry wanted a snack. He came and grabbed cookies out of the snack drawer, which we grabbed back. He cried on the floor. So Cory had Henry help make the dumplings for the soup.

Henry's favorite show.
Henry’s favorite show.

During dinner, he dumped his water in his soup bowl. I took his drink away. He said he was thirsty. I gave it back. He wanted it in a sippy cup. We made a deal that if he ate four pieces of tempeh, we’d get him a sippy cup. He shoved so much tempeh in his mouth that he gagged. This is a thing he does often. “Because it’s funny.” We said if he puked it up, no sippy cup. He ate it.

After dinner we made a blanket fort. We didn’t really want to, but after mild protesting we gave in. We made it with just two blankets. He had a fit because we didn’t use all the blankets. So we gave in and got all the blankets down from the upstairs closet and made a fort with all of the blankets.

Bath time. Bed time. Read him three Berenstain Bear books. Time for sleep. I was tired so I laid down with him for a while.

“I’m hungry.”

“You should have eaten more dinner.”

“I’m very hungry.”

“Well, you remember that tomorrow at dinner time and eat more so you don’t go to bed hungry.”

“I’m very hungry.”

“Too bad.”

“I’m very hungry!”

Mashed potatoes in bed. Because we are suckers.
Mashed potatoes in bed. Because we are suckers.

And so on for several minutes until Cory goes and gets some leftover mashed potatoes. Here’s the story with the leftover mashed potatoes: Last night I was craving mashed taters like crazy. I’m 30 weeks pregnant now and worried I haven’t been eating well. So while I could have had a bowl of cereal and called it a night, I didn’t. I had my 4 p.m. bowl of cereal, Cory peeled potatoes and put them in a pot of water on the stovetop to cook later, and we took Henry out to chase his Uncle Andrew’s hot air balloon.

As we’re buckling him into the seat, he says to his grandmother DeeDee, “I’m going ballooning.” She says, “You’re going to chase?” He says, “I’m going up in the balloon with Uncle Doo.” We have to explain that it’ll be a while before that happens, because he has to be big enough to see over the basket. But he can touch the balloon, and watch it go up, and help pack it up when they land. He says, “Okay.” He has tic-tacs in his pocket for Uncle Doo.

Balloons in Washington County
Balloons in Washington County

We couldn’t get to where they were taking off, because a bridge was closed and by the time we took the detour they’d have already inflated. So we waited around and watched some other balloons go up. We chased Uncle Doo all over and finally they land in a field that’s only accessible by a dirt road full of ruts that we can’t get through. We can’t even watch them pack up from afar, because trees are in the way. We are about to go home and Henry cries like we’re murdering somebody he loves. So we sit Henry on the top of the car and he eats pasta salad and quinoa for dinner while we wait. Half an hour. On the side of the road. Finally, Uncle Doo comes and Henry delivers his tic-tacs and we go home. It’s like 7:30. Henry’s usual bath time is 7. We skip it, turn on the potatoes and put him to bed. Brush teeth, read stories, sing songs. They’re ready just as it’s time for us to leave the room. We make the mistake of telling him we’re making mashed potatoes and he wants some. Mashed potato picnic in Henry’s room. Brush teeth again. Bedtime. There’s one scoop left and he asks us to save it.

So then here we are tonight, and Henry’s eating that leftover scoop in bed. I want it so bad. He’s trying to eat it laying down. I tell him he has to sit up if he’s going to eat mashed potatoes in bed.

“But I’m very tired.”

I tell him I’m going to eat them if he doesn’t sit up.

“You leave. You’re mean.”

So I do leave. Cory ends up putting the mashed potatoes on Henry’s nightstand at Henry’s request because he’s too tired to eat them but doesn’t want us to take them away. Cory stays in his room for one minute, which is their little routine, and then leaves to get in the shower.

I hear Henry on the monitor crying for Daddy. I go in. He orders me to sit in the rocking chair for one minute. I time out one minute and go to leave. He tells me I can’t.

I’m torn. I’ve been bossed around by this kid for three years, and it’s getting worse and worse. The more I give in, the more he’ll do it. It’s not good for him.

I think about my friends Erin and Colin and their son Odin who died. About how fast life goes, and that he won’t always want us around. About all the things that could go wrong in our lives. How lucky we are to have these moments.

I lay down in bed with him and ask him what’s the matter. He says he can’t fall asleep. He guesses he isn’t going to sleep tonight. I ask if he’s having a hard time. “Yeah, I’m having hard time.” I suggest lavender oil, which he turns down. I suggest deep breathing, which he refuses to do. I suggest wiggling his toes and feeling the sleep come up through his toes to the rest of his body, which he also refuses to do. I suggest “imagining” (guided visualization). Nope. Cory gets out of the shower and comes in.

“Daddy, I’m having hard time.”

Our cartop picnic
Our cartop picnic

We tell him we’re going to leave. He asks us to stay. We stay.We tell him just one minute, then we’re leaving. That we’ll turn off the disco ball lights if we have to come back in afterward. Me in bed, Cory in the rocking chair. I pet his hair like I did when he was little. I try running my fingertips over his face, a trick I saw on YouTube to put a baby to sleep. Henry sleepily smiles and holds my hand, doing it over and over. I make the decision not to leave after one minute, because I see that he is getting closer to sleep and I think it’ll wake him up more if I go.

I close my eyes and slow my breathing, a trick I used to do with him when he was a baby and I wanted him to go to sleep. I’d basically have to go to sleep myself, and his body would follow my lead. Quiet my mind, relax my muscles. I feel Henry’s little hands touching my hair, my face. He’s doing fingertips back to me.

He slips his arm around my neck, pulling me closer so I’m resting my head on his chest. He pats my arm a few times like he’s the adult trying to get me to sleep. And then in the very next moment, I feel him do the sleep twitches that mean he’s asleep. I make a motion to Cory that he’s out. And I lift my head a few minutes later to look at him and just start sobbing.

He’s so perfect. I love him so much. What’s the worst thing that could happen, a child falling asleep feeling loved? Those few pats before he lost consciousness. I can’t even.

Henry's new favorite book.
Henry’s new favorite book.

Cory came and laid in bed with us and I just looked at sleeping Henry and cried. He’s just so perfect. In that moment, I felt like teaching him things, while important, is so secondary to just loving him and making sure he knows he is loved. I know, intellectually, that every time I give in I’m reinforcing manipulative behavior. That he’s testing his boundaries, and that there need to be boundaries. That his sense of entitlement, taking everything for granted, will worsen if I don’t firm up. That he’s not going to starve to death by going to bed hungry one night.

I want to be the type of parent whose children respect them, whose children are not spoiled brats, whose children don’t just ask for more and more and more and are never happy with what they have. I want my children to feel gratitude, to count their blessings. Ironically, it’s the Berenstain Bears book about counting your blessings that we’ve had to read to Henry ten times in the last three days.

But really, knowing that Henry just needed us there with him, snuggled up tight, giving him all the love he could want and more — that he was having a “hard time” and my cuddle is what got him to sleep — the loving touches he gave me — that’s the whole point of being a mom, I think.

My heart exploded into a million tiny fluttering butterflies. Like I was seeing him for the first time and loving him for the first time. It’s been a long while that I’ve just been getting through the days, picking my battles, making sure he’s taken care of but trying to get work done and take care of everything else at the same time.

And tonight I was just clubbed over the head with a big smack of love beams. It was beautiful.

This smile is everything.
This smile is everything.
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