• Pandemiployment

The Preshift

It took me 1.5 hours to get a two year old ready for daycare this morning.


Ready means that he's wearing clothes, he's gone potty, and he's brushed his teeth. They have breakfast available there so that's not a hill to die on.


Objectively, these are easy tasks. Two year olds already get pretty heavy assists in these departments anyway.


If you ever tried to get a toddler to do just about anything, then you understand what takes child development experts a long time to explain. Going from point A, baby in diapers who cannot move, to point B, kid capable of wiping own butt, is a horror show.


Toddlers are tiny humans with explosive growth, physically and emotionally.


You think YOU have a hard time when you get angry? Imagine not knowing about anger, conceptually. You feel it, but you have NO IDEA what is happening. Someone had to teach you the word. They had to teach you how the word connected to the feeling. They had to teach you how to retain the tiniest bit of control to look at yourself and say, damn, I'm ANGRY.


That doesn't even get you to the point of trying to do something with that anger.


You ever try to get a lid off a jar and it's stuck? Picture most things in your life as a jar of recalcitrant pickles. You need to get pants on. You are old enough to understand the concept of pants. You can pick a pair out of a drawer. You cannot get them on. Ditto socks. And your underwear. And your shirt. All things you will need to learn how to do. Unlike when you are a little potato baby hanging out on the changing table while someone coaxes your limbs into a onesie, Toddler You fully recognizes that another person will have to do all these things for you. And no, Toddler You is not fucking happy about this state of affairs. Toddler You would like to open the jar. Toddler You wants to do it BY MYSELF.


Everything is a jar of pickles to Toddler You.


Consequently, Toddler You gets pissed off all the time. Toddler You attempts to assert some semblance of control over your day, which is a never-ending row of pickle jars you are trying to get open. Toddler You spends the livelong day following rules you don't understand. Why does Mommy have to work? Have you ever heard of Capitalism, kid? Why do you need to take a nap? So you're not miserable. It's biology.


You see my point.


Toddler craziness is my baseline. Then we dumped on a missing father who just left for work one day and never came back. You try explaining to a two year old that he's not living out those horror stories of parents who go to the corner store for a random item and completely abandon their families.


He has a limited concept of time. We talked about the deployment. We read books about it. We got a DVD of Elmo and his dad and watched it repeatedly. The kid uses "yesterday" for anything in the past, and knows the days of the week but arbitrarily assigns them in a form of wish visualization, like, "Saturday we go to the Lake House." We don't have a lake house.


If your parent walks out the door and stops doing everything he's supposed to do (pick you up from daycare, take you to the park, make you peanut butter sandwiches) with zero warning, and won't come back...do I need to complete this sentence? Son is too young to understand, but too old to not be stressed. The baby doesn't remember Daddy all that well. She's not worried. The toddler asks for Daddy. The toddler says, "Daddy will come home today. Daddy will pick me up from school. Daddy will buy me the excavator."


Guess who gets to break his heart over, and over.

He's fine at school. Of course. Nothing changed there. The routines are the same. The people are the same. It's the rest of his world that has been rocked.


I remember listening to someone speak about setting boundaries for toddlers, and they used the visual of a fence. Makes sense. A fence is a boundary. Fences are often used for safety, to keep the animal from running into the road, people from falling into construction sites, etc. The parent is the one setting the boundaries. The parent is responsible for teaching the child that we don't hit. That we can't have ten cupcakes in a row. That we have to brush our teeth. The parent is the fence. And toddlers, in their rapidly growing bodies and brains, kick the damn fence ALL DAY LONG.


The toddler is completely overwhelmed. He's lashing out as a function of his age and the stress he feels. I'm supposed to maintain the line. Be the strong, secure one. I am the safest thing he has. So he hits me the hardest.


Not literally, we moved past the "we don't hit we don't kick we don't bite" phase already thankfully.


You know, Adult You, how it's your closest friends you can dump the most emotional baggage on? That your partner is the one you tell about your shitty day? That the ones who love you the most are the ones who will accept you at your worst? Toddlers know this too. They know it because if you're doing your job right, you've been taking care of them since day one and making sure they didn't have to worry who was going to change their diaper or rock them to sleep.


The biggest part of my job is making sure he know he is safe and loved. I once stopped a crying jag by listing all the ways I loved him. Seriously.


I love you when you are sad.


I love you when you are crying.


I love you when you are angry.


I love you when you are happy, silly, in the morning, brushing your teeth, playing trucks...


Even adults need to feel secure. Maybe no one is literally telling you that they love you even when you are ugly-crying, but if they don't use words then they damn well better use actions to show you that love, or you will not feel safe and secure.


Thus endeth the securely attached sermon.

Oh, and there's a baby. Daughter cannot move on her own. She has to be hauled along throughout this process. She requires a bottle, a diaper change, clothes. Fortunately she was in a good mood, because most of her morning consisted of being plopped on the ground nearest the angry toddler with some toys while I tried to convince him to wear pants.


An hour and a half to just make it out the damn door. I had their daycare bags ready the night before. I had Daughter's bottles labeled and stored in a big Ziploc bag in the fridge so I can grab them with one hand for maximum speed. I had the Moana soundtrack on. I gave him plenty of lead time. I make energy balls he loves to eat with peanut butter and pumpkin and oats and chia seeds and chocolate chips. I gave him time to play with his toys. I cannot life hack anything else in the morning.


The point I am trying to make, is that prior to starting my work day, I have taken all the emotional energy I had for the day and spent it like a drunk dude at a strip club spending the rent money with a flaming disregard for consequences. I have cajoled, begged, offered the false choice (do you want the yellow tooth brush or the blue one?), been cheery as fuck, tried to flatter him with the "you're a big helper to Mommy!" routine.


He cried repeatedly before I got him through the daycare doors. I cried driving away, because he told me, "Don't yell at me, it makes me sad" as I was trying to get him to walk around the car so I could take his baby sister out of her car seat. For the record, I wasn't yelling. I was saying, "Come on, let's walk around, I need to take Daughter out" with a false cheeriness and urgency. But I did yell at him yesterday so I guess I'll be bathing in guilt from now to eternity for that one.


I woke up at 4am today. I still haven't brushed my teeth. This is the third day in a row I've worn these clothes. I'm hoping I can stay off camera for my first meeting so no


It's not that I want to tell childless coworkers that their lives are not stressful. They are! Stress is subjective. I used to think being alone with one child was difficult. Now I know it was laughably easy. The parents of 3+ kids are rolling their eyes at me right now. They're all, "Ya wanna know stress lady? Have more kids than you have hands!"


What I would like to explain, without sounding like the whiniest, ungrateful-est person ever to have reproduced, is that before your alarm went off, I already worked a shift. My paid work occupies the timeslot typically deemed first shift. Second shift is leaving paid work and switching gears to keeping kids alive and fed and happy and trying to get everyone to go to bed on time so they get the amount of rest which is developmentally appropriate and keeps them from being monsters the next day. Third shift is if the sleep plan falls apart and Daughter gets a cold and is pissed as hell she has a stuffy nose and will not go back to sleep despite an extra bottle and pacing and soothing and whatnot for several hours.


So what is the time between waking up and starting paid work? The Preshift? The time that no one recognizes as being difficult as hell and starting your day on the wrong foot, no, not even the wrong foot, you don't even have feet as you drag your exhausted self and your mushy sleep-deprived mind into some semblance of professionalism.


I just realized I've been seeping a tea bag for the last 40 minutes. I'm going to cut this short to go reheat tar water in the microwave. My inbox awaits. Wish me luck.





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