On Love and Ice Cream


A few weekends ago Gramma introduced Sophie to ice cream in a cone.


She loved it (and the visit with Gramma).

This week has been a tough one for Sophie and me. Sophie will be 2 on Tuesday. I’ve never liked the phrase “terrible twos.” I don’t want an entire year of my child’s life labeled as “terrible.” But I’m beginning to understand why the label exists. It’s tough to know when to fight battles and when to let things go. I’ve never done this before. I don’t know where I stand on things. Some things, yes. I want my children to be kind to others. I believe consistent discipline, even at a very young age, is good and necessary. However, I don’t want to constantly say “no” for fear the word will lose its power. I think screaming back at a child is childish (even though there are times I really want to). I don’t believe in spanking. I want my children to be more often happy and content than frustrated and mad.

Some things are easy. When I found Sophie standing on her tip-toes on the toilet seat in order to get into the bathroom cabinet I had no hesitation in firmly saying “no” and pulling her down. When she purposefully pulls the power cord out of my laptop, smiles at me and then sticks it in her mouth, well, she knows that’s an automatic time-out. But what about the whining? When I say, “Sophie, don’t whine,” does she even know what “whine” means? Or the constant “Mommy, hold you!” (which means hold me)? Am I denying her love and affection by not comforting her every time she asks or, by telling her to wait, am I teaching her independence and better preparing her for when the babies arrive? And my favorite, usually uttered when she’s being disciplined for something else: “No, Mama. No talking.”

She’s independent. She’s bossy. She talks back, which is infuriating, but she talks back in complete sentences, using words I don’t even know how she knows, which is amazing. Her love for me overwhelms me, daily. She’s egocentric. She’s fickle. She’s way more complicated than any story I’ve ever written or any magazine I’ve ever edited. Figuring her out, helping her grow, mothering her is the most tedious, fun, difficult and rewarding job I’ve ever had. And yet I don’t have a degree in it.

I let our bad days get to me. When she misbehaves I feel as though I have failed. And then I slide down that slippery selfish slope and start thinking truly absurd things, like my own daughter doesn’t love me.

Wednesday was a particularly bad day. The fact that she’s no longer napping in bed (a topic for another post) didn’t help. So, around 4pm, I loaded her up into the Subaru and we drove to Graeter’s. She requested a scoop of chocolate. I had two scoops of peanut butter chip. She was thrilled with this treat.

We took a long time eating our ice cream on outside picnic tables overlooking the city. It was there we made up. I can still picture her perfectly, sitting on her knees, spooning chocolate bite after chocolate bite into her little mouth, smiling more contentedly and happily than I had seen all week.

As our bowls were nearing empty I started coughing. Sophie looked at me, with deep concern and asked, “You OK, Mom?” I stared at her. This was not textbook toddler egocentricism. This was her love. For me. So clearly evident. “Yes,” I said. “I’m OK.”

And I was.

We finished our ice cream and she willingly held my hand all the way back to the car.

She fell asleep on the three-minute drive home in part because she had a full belly and in part because she had had no nap. So I pulled into our driveway, cracked the windows and turned off the car. Andy came home, an hour later, to find Sophie sleeping in her car seat and me, sitting in the driver’s seat, reading Buddhism for Mothers: A Calm Approach to Caring for Yourself and Your Children, a book my mom recently gave to me and one I sometimes believe was written for me.

Sometimes I feel like we’re both just fumbling along—Sophie learning how to live this life, how to grow, and me learning how to help her live her best life possible, and grow. Sometimes I wish I had a style book for our particular lives, our particular situations, alphabetically arranged, indisputable answers clearly stated. And then, sometimes, I realize a time-out, for both of us, and two bowls of ice cream, are all we really need.

“Your love is better than ice cream
better than anything else that I’ve tried
and your love is better than ice cream
everyone here knows how to fight

and it’s a long way down
it’s a long way down
it’s a long way down to the place
where we started from

Your love is better than chocolate
better than anything else that I’ve tried
oh love is better than chocolate
everyone here knows how to cry

it’s a long way down
it’s a long way down
it’s a long way down to the place
where we started from …” —Sarah McLachlan