You hit the jackpot.
You’re able to get away for a night or two, get someone to watch the kid and grab a nice dinner, get a nice buzz, and relax. You’re granted a brief reprieve from the terrible twos or terrible threes or whatever the case may be, and you have a well-deserved night or two of child-free fun. It’s been a long time coming, and it won’t be coming along again anytime soon.
And yet, despite your need for time away from him, you can’t help but miss your kid. Despite your better instincts, you actually can’t wait to get home and see him.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t feel the same way.
If you were to babysit my son, you’d probably think he was the greatest toddler of all time. You’d get him on his best behavior, in his best mood, and you’d wonder why I constantly bitch about him on my blog. And then Mommy and Daddy would walk through the door and, to quote one of his favorite movies, “good feeling gone.”
For parents, absence from our kids makes the heart grow fonder. For kids, familiarity seems to breed contempt.
All weekend long, all you’ve been hearing from your sister or your brother or your parents is what a little angel your kid has been. He’s eating like a champ, sleeping through the night, staying calm when told ‘no’ and generally acting like Christ reborn. He’s such a good little boy!
Then you walk through the door and it all goes to hell in a hurry.
Suddenly it’s a 15 minute struggle just to get his shoes on. He’s acting like a lunatic, running away from you, screaming ‘no!’ and generally making your family reunion worse than a high school reunion. It’s kind of amazing to see the Jekyll and Hyde routine in action. Forget about drinking a potion and waiting around for a transformation; my son’s behavior changes instantaneously. And then, so does mine.
After walking in, excited to see his sweet little face and wanting nothing more than to give him a big hug, it doesn’t take long before you’re frustrated, pissed off and yelling at the kid to do as he’s told and get his goddamn shoes on! Meanwhile, your sister or your brother or your parents – having seen nothing but the best from the little guy all weekend long – are quickly convinced you’re overreacting, which makes you feel even worse.
It’s great for his reputation – everyone in my family thinks he’s the perfect child – but it’s terrible for ours. People either think we have an amazingly low threshold for tolerating (such infrequent!) toddler antics and are therefore shitty parents, or they think we’re completely insane. It’s like being the guy who actually was abducted by aliens and trying to convince everyone else that it happened. “Okay, buddy. Have another.”
He’s so convincing, and everyone else is so taken by his charming personality and perfect manners and general joie de vivre, that at first it makes you question yourself. Maybe I am too hard on him after all! Then the switch is flipped and he’s flopping around on the ground screaming at the top of his lungs because he accidentally got some yogurt on his pinky.
Look, I’m no psychologist. I don’t know the official behavioral/developmental reasons my kid acts like Shirley Temple when we’re gone and like Problem Child when we get back, but I’m pretty sure it’s either because he feels like he’s on vacation when we’re not around or because he’s the devil.
His personality seems so fluid, so fungible, that it’s enough to make you wonder: Is he faking his good behavior, or his bad? Which version is the real him? Is my child a sociopath? Probably not. Many parents have dealt with the frustration of a child that behaves better for other people than he does for them, so either we’re all raising a generation of psychopaths (definitely possible) or it’s just a phase most kids go through (probably more likely).
Either way, a Hannibal Lecter mask might be a good idea. Just in case the kid bites.