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Thursday, July 16, 2015

The deeply stressful life of a toddler

Theory has it that babies and toddlers have meltdowns over the smallest things because to them, whatever stupidity they're crying about really is one of the worst things that has ever happened to them. It's sort of hard to imagine after experiencing 30 years of pain, suffering, loss, and disappointment ... but for Audrey, when I broke her cracker in half and told her she could have the rest of the cracker later, that was on a par with the time someone rear-ended my car at 30mph on Valentine's Day. And she doesn't have 30 years' worth of coping skills to help her sort her emotions. She just surrenders to them and relies on those around her to help keep her head above water.

The result? A person who seems constantly in a state of extreme stress and worry. Over crazy things. Like, crazier than your anxiety-ridden grandmother who lies awake in bed worried that your kids won't be able to afford college in 20 years (you don't have kids yet).

Here are a few things that got Audrey so worked up I had to slip a Xanax into her applesauce:

The opening sequence of the movie "The Tale of Desperaux"

The Tale of Desperaux is an animated children's movie about some rats and mice that get into some sort of trouble. I don't know; I haven't seen the whole movie. But it came on TV one evening on the channel we always watch before Audrey goes to bed, so she sat on my lap and we watched the first 15-20 minutes together.

The opening sequence of this movie basically sets up the difficulties that the plot will have to resolve throughout the rest of the movie. From what I saw, the whole drama starts with a rat who tries to smell some soup and ends up falling off a light and landing in said soup, which sets off a chain reaction of human freakouts and the rat is chased through the kitchen by a gang of people trying to kill him.

I honestly don't know how I would react if a talking rat with pierced ears wearing human clothing and a cap fell into my soup. Mostly with befuddlement, I imagine.

Audrey could not handle this. Any of it. Starting about two minutes into the movie, she just kept repeating "oh no." By the time the rat fell into the soup, her agitation level was at least an 8/10. "Oh no!" And then, as the rat was chased through the kitchen by angry men with knives, she hit a solid 10 and was more like "OHHHH NO OH NO OH NOOOOOO!!!"

It was like watching a Skateboarding Fail Compilation video on YouTube with Marge Simpson. Fifteen straight minutes of "oh no!" 

OH NO!!!!!

She was just so worried about this rat! He fell, he landed in soup, the soup splashed and made a mess on the table, people chased him, he climbed up a chain, he had to jump from the chain to a windowsill ... Audrey is not in any way equipped to handle this kind of stress. This movie sequence was every bit as stressful for her as watching the live feed of the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound was for Obama and his team. 


No matter how many times I told her that it was okay, that it wasn't real, that the rat wasn't hurt, and that the soup mess would be cleaned up with ease, she just wouldn't accept it. She couldn't relax. Even after the movie was turned off and it was time for her to go up to bed, she still kept going on about the "mouse mess". I can only assume she had nightmares about it all night.

Spilled milk

They say not to cry over spilled milk, but what about working oneself into an anxious frenzy over spilled milk? As long as there are no tears, it's allowed, right???

Image result for spilled milk

Audrey spills milk all the time. Constantly. She often spills it on purpose, actually, turning her sippy cup upside down and shaking it out onto the couch/floor/whatever other surface is nearby.

But as soon as that surface has droplets of milk on it, the guilt and panic set it. "Uh oh. Milk mess."

She will not rest until the milk mess has been cleaned up. She will try to clean it up herself by spreading it around with her bare hands, but she then realizes that this has only made it worse, and so her anxiety and stress increase. "Mommy! BIG milk mess!"

I tell her to leave it alone as I run to grab a rag or a wet paper towel to clean it up, but she cannot stand idly by while a milk mess exists in the world. She shouts at me, tells me to hurry. "MILK MESS MILK MESS MILK MESS!!!"

And once the mess is cleaned up?

... it still takes her forever to get over it. Pointing at the spot where the spilled milk once was, repeating "milk mess" and poking at it with suspicious fingers. She doesn't believe me that the mess is cleaned up. Just because you can't see it with your eyes anymore ... it must still be there on a molecular level, right? So how can anyone truly relax when they are surrounded by invisible, ever-present milk messes??


When someone other than her spills or drops something

If you thought spilled milk was bad, you might want to skip this next section because it could trigger your PTSD. At least, if Audrey could read, I'd certainly encourage her to give this section a miss.

As far as Audrey is concerned, one of the worst things that can happen in the world is that someone can spill or drop something, making a mess (as was her main concern with Desperaux -- that soup had splashed onto the table).

She'll spend a whole day worrying about it. 

And we're not talking about a Level 10 Disaster Zone mess here, like a whole bowl of soup being dropped or a can of soda being knocked down between couch cushions. That kind of shit stresses me out too. But no, we're just talking about small things: a few bran flakes missing the bowl and landing on the floor, or a single blueberry rolling to a stop in front of the refrigerator door.

Audrey loses it. "Uh oh! Oh no! Mommy MESS!" I pick up the blueberry and toss it into the sink. "Mommy MESS!" Five minutes later, when Jesse enters the kitchen. "Daddy -- Mommy made a MESS!"

It could be hours later, we could be out at the store, we could be playing bubbles outside on the patio, but eventually she will have flashbacks to the incident in the kitchen. "Oh no. Mommy ... water mess." (this, of course, being in reference to the time I got six droplets of water on the floor while unloading the dishwasher)

Do they have therapists for barely-verbal toddlers? Because I think Audrey would benefit from a few sessions on letting things go. Nobody should wake up screaming in the night worried about the time I dropped my phone from my hand to my lap while sitting on the couch

"Oh no! Mommy drop phone!"

(But if I bring up the time she threw my phone down the stairs? Not a single moment of concern there. Disasters are only disasters when they're caused by other people, in which case they are nigh on unforgivable.)

Can't get away with a goddamned thing around this house, I swear.

A cat that was outside

Pictured: Some random cat from Google images.

Three weeks ago, I opened the blinds and window downstairs when Audrey and I first got up in the morning, and we discovered a cat outside on our patio. The cat meowed repeatedly, and Audrey meowed right back while shouting "KITTY CAT!" over and over.

Three weeks ago.

Three. Weeks. Ago.

Since then, every single morning she has glued herself to that window when I open it, shouting "kitty cat? KITTY CAT??" out into nothing. There is no more kitty cat. The kitty cat has gone.

Audrey is so concerned about him, though. Does he have a home? Is he eating properly? Is he okay? What if he's injured? Why has he not come back? Did we offend him that day? Does he not like us? Is there something we should have done but didn't? Something we did that we shouldn't have done? Did I say something wrong when I was meowing at the kitty cat???

Audrey. Good lord. Pull it together.

These days, I'm actually worried that I'll open the blinds and find that the cat is back out there. My God, what a disaster that would be. She'd be thrust right back into the thick of her anxiety, desperate to know what made the kitty cat come back and what she can do in the future to get him to come round more regularly.

The only solution is to go No Contact with the kitty cat, Audrey. Getting some distance from your feelings is the only way to get them back under control.

I know you love the kitty cat.

But you need to do some yoga or something, because gurrrrrl your stress level is through the roof.

Maybe we could unwind by watching a bit of Desperaux together.

And then I could knock over a soda?

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