When Big Feelings in Little People Make You Feel Big Feelings, Too

Some days start with the smoothest of morning rituals: I wake up without being sandwiched between two kids; I get dressed at my own leisurely pace listening to NPR; one child walks into our bedroom, fully dressed, teeth brushed; other child walks in smiling, laughing, asking for assistance in dressing. On this day, everyone eats a full, healthy breakfast and everyone gets to pick a kids’ show to watch before departing for school.

More frequently, however: I wake to one side of my body having lost all feeling because one child has burrowed into my back in the night while I’ve slept cradling the other to prevent her from falling off the bed; find a way to get out of this position without waking anyone so I can address the pressing need to pee, which feels like I’m trying to disarm a bomb; no child wants to wake, much less dress; no one wants to eat breakfast; and everyone fights about what can or cannot be watched on the television.

Yesterday was this day.

There was a glimmer of hope for the morning, when Tall Smalls walked in fully dressed and happy. But Tiny Smalls was having none of this shiny, happy morning.

“Buenos dias, chiquita!” I chirped while waking her. “Time to wake up and start the day!”

“Noooo.” She hid under the covers.

“OK. I’m going to start breakfast. You can come downstairs when you’re ready.”


Mmmkay. At this point, asking her to get dressed was just asking for more screaming. Taking a deep breath, I smiled, continued with my plan to escape, and proceeded to successfully make it downstairs and coax everyone else into eating breakfast. With the amount of drama and emotional outbursts that happen before 7:45 most mornings, I’m wondering if this is what five minutes in the Kardashian household is like. We’re not even close to pubescent meltdowns and crises! I am not prepared to start waking up at 4:30 A.M. every weekday to down an entire pot of coffee and get some YouTube yoga done to reach the graceful Zen state to Parent with Patience for the next decade and a half.

The general rule of thumb on weekdays is “follow the checklist.” You know the one—you’ve probably seen it on Pinterest. It’s a list of morning or bedtime tasks with a picture depicting the action you expect/hope your child will follow. The one I have in a sheet protector worked phenomenally with Tall Smalls. It shows her process: wake up, go potty, wash hands, brush teeth, get dressed, eat breakfast, put on shoes, go to school. At three-and-a-half, this child needed more structure after having been dethroned as Only Child to Big Sister, and after a few months (almost a year), she took to it like breathing. The backside has the bedtime routine. She lovingly gave this to Tiny Smalls at the beginning of the school year, imparting sisterly wisdom by stating that this is how big girls start the day and keep Mama from going crazy, though she herself occasionally will complete her own routine out of order.

Tiny Smalls gave zero effs about the tasks on this list. She just wanted to look at the pictures.

The grownups decided that we would guide them both to complete these tasks or—gasp!—no television in the morning. Yeah, well, whatever. You try to regulate in the Wild West on little sleep and no coffee after being awake for 10 minutes. Compromises have included: just bring your clothes downstairs and dress after eating; go potty upstairs, brush your teeth downstairs, then get dressed. You get the idea.

This was not a day for compromising.

My husband left for work, having also tried unsuccessfully to get Tiny Smalls dressed. We exchanged a look as we said goodbye:

It’s going to be OK. You’ve got this.

I’m going to need a bigger boat.

He left, and I began to patiently ask her to help me get her clothes on, which led to her screaming louder.

“I’d like to help you put this on so you can be ready for school when Sid the Science Kid is over.”


This went on for another five minutes while I dressed her limp, angry little body. Tall Smalls gathered her things and waited by the door while I collected Tiny Smalls’ backpack and shoes. There was no way I was going to attempt to put her shoes on.

“Baby, I’m going to pick you up now so we can go…”


Deep. Breath. Deep. Breath.

You  know that high-pitched screeching that a jet makes, when it’s so loud you have to stick your fingers in your ears because you worry your ear drums might rupture? That’s the sound that this small child was making as the garage door opened and I struggled to buckle her in.

On the drive to Tall’s school, Tiny started to slow it down, and her wails were reduced to big, gulping breaths and sighs. While we play various songs and podcasts that each of them likes, on this day I had to avoid listening to the Trolls soundtrack or any other song that’s hit 500+ plays on my phone to gather up the shreds of my patience and sanity and paste it together so I could properly Adult. “Mama needs to listen to her music for a bit, babies. OK?” Silence.

When we arrived at Tiny’s school, her mood, unlike my nerves, was much improved. She’d been happily bopping along to the Foo Fighters as we parked, smiling and laughing at me for not putting her shoes on. When I opened her door to put them on and get her out, she looked at me and said, “Mama, I’m sorry I was crying so much. I was sad.”

“I know, baby. Thank you. It’s OK to feel those feelings.”

“Imma kiss you.”


All those times I fight the urge to yell and scream, when I feel like I have zero empathy left, when I give words to my feelings in front of them, when I acknowledge the anger and sadness being felt, THIS is the payoff. Being able to get all the yuck out and know that they are safe and loved, that there are hugs and kisses when they are ready, I push through so they’ll get it. And they do.

For me, parenting has meant wading into the swampy waters of my own feelings and introversion and yanking myself out so that these small creatures can learn how to communicate before they retreat into the Cave of Adolescence and want none of me. Isn’t that what parenting is? Putting your own stuff aside so you can set good examples, even when you make mistake? We’re all learning together, through the tears and the laughter. And on this day, we learned through the kisses.


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