“True or false: If you’re not frustrated with your kids, you’re not spending enough time with them…”

“But I love spending EVERY second with my daughter,” I said aghast. An older, wiser mom looked at me, laughed and poured herself more wine. You haven’t entered the phase of dysfunctional love yet. Just wait.”

Dysfunctional love, as described by my friend, was the inability to reconcile wanting to be with your child every second while also relishing time away. It’s like an epic romance novel, full of anxiety, passion and comedic frustration.

I thought I KNEW dysfunctional love. I mean. I had dated half of San Francisco’s forever Bachelors.  But this love for my three year old daughter was different. It was conflicted.

I love the insides of the minutes I have with her. I love how her puppy breath smells. I love how she laughs when we make her stuffed giraffe dance. I love how she uses very adult words such as “I’m getting all situated” as she wraps herself up like a burrito in her sheets. 

Yet when she goes away to her dad’s house, my shoulders fall back in a release. I can let go from the relentless pressure of keeping a human alive. The constant drive to ensure she is fed, engaged, happy, and of course, disciplined. I can, now, indulge in myself. I can meet a friend for a martini and a cheese plate. Or I can stay home, blast Fleetwood Mac and dance with my vacuum cleaner while tidying up.

 Before bedtime, I binge on Schitt’s Creek and Strauss chocolate ice cream, sitting and eating on the same exact blue velvet sofa that I never allow anyone else to sit and eat on. Then I start to feel guilty I’m not with my daughter. I hope she’s ok, I whisper falling asleep. 

 On the occasions Vivi is away for two nights, I cry. 

 The house is just too quiet. The stuffed animals are motionless and no one is screaming at me to wipe their bum bum. Doesn’t someone out there need a bum bum wiped?! I start to feel useless.

 I walk into her room and rearrange her sock drawer. I fold her little white anklets with Olaf the snowman on him, and feel melancholia. To feel closer to her, I play the Frozen Soundtrack on Alexa. 

 “Um. This doesn’t sound healthy. Maybe you should get a dog,” says a friend. “Or even a plant?”

 Day three she returns. Vivi rushes in, excited to tell me about her camping trip. I inhale her. 

 “I missed you so much,” I whisper in her ear.

 “I missed you so much too,” is her practiced response.

The next morning we make pancakes in the shapes of bunnies, pretending we are contestants in a magical animal baking show. I pack her a lunch and we sing loudly off key to Wheels on the Bus as I drive her to preschool.

Then the Circus Starts

 After work, I pick her up from pre-school excited for a nice dinner together. She has different plans. She complains about the roast chicken.

 “Mommy, I don’t like chicken.”

 “Yes you do,” I say. Who doesn’t like chicken?

 “No I do NOT!” She refuses to eat her chicken and broccoli.

 Then she looks at me intently and pours her glass of milk on the floor to see my reaction.

“You just lost your movie privileges,” I say.

“Mommy, my privileges moved away to Idaho.”

 I make her help me clean up the milk. 

 “I don’t like you, Mommy,” she says and pouts.

 “Yeah? Well I don’t like you right now either.” I say and wring out the kitchen towel in the sink. Milk drips out swirling into the chrome basin down the garbage disposal. Like my dreams, I think.

 We sit back at the table and she stares at her plate of food again. I take her fork, put a healthy sized bite on it, make it talk like Jiminy Cricket, and lift it to her mouth. She reluctantly opens. Then she spits in back out.

After a time out and three more attempts, we have managed enough calories to get her through another day.

After dinner she hides under her bed to avoid putting on her pajamas. I drag her out and force organic cotton butterfly print over her body as she screams she isn’t tired. She races around the house with maniacal laughter.

I watch her, wondering when I can get “me time” again…drink a martini and clean the carpets.

I call my friend. “I think I understand dysfunctional love now.”

“It’s still love. Dysfunctional or not. Remember that,” she says.

 I feel very blessed to have two wonderful, healthy children who keep me completely grounded, sane and throw up on my shoes just before I go to an awards show just so I know to keep it real. 

– Reese Witherspoon


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