The demand comes from the impatient toddler tugging on my jeans. She’s dressed in only a Belle PJ shirt and a Pull-Up. A fabric headband sits askew on her tiny head. She is holding a toy xylophone like a lute. She’s oblivious to the fact that her baby sister Tali is wailing in the crib beside us, there is a mess of toys and stuffed animals strewn about the floor at her feet with a pile of diaper pail garbage bags I haven’t had a chance to run out to the dumpster yet. She’s adorably self-centered, in the way that only a 2-year-old can be.
I lean down to pick up the squalling eight month old, and open my mouth to tell Liara that I can’t dance right now. I have a million things to do and clean and cook and organize. The same thing I’ve told her every other day this happens (which, let’s be honest, is every day). But on this day, something stops me.
Maybe it’s the headband in her messy brown hair, or the defiantly hopeful look in her bright hazel eyes. Something about the way this little girl is looking at me takes me right back to a time when I was little, just like her. Back to a time when I was asking someone to dance with me, to play with me, and I was always told no, because there were other things to do. For just a second, I feel those feelings again: the crushing disappointment, the sadness, feeling like you’re not as important as everything else. While I know now that none of that was meant to hurt me as a child, Liara doesn’t. All Liara knows is how she feels in this moment. And it hits me. I’m ashamed to admit for the first time I realize this is about more than dancing. It’s about a little girl wanting her mommy to spend time with her.
Before then, Liara had been my whole world; everything did revolve around her, she was the most important.
I found out I was pregnant for the second time when Liara was 16 months old. Before then, Liara had been my whole world; everything did revolve around her, she was the most important. But after that little plastic stick gave me a YES, everything changed. I just had never really stopped to consider how much it was going to change for her.
Sure, I knew that her life would be different. I knew that she would need to be taught that babies are fragile. That I would need to be careful not to make her feel left out of things, and to not neglect her just because there was another mini-human to take care of. I set up a playroom in our basement for her. I made sure we had her favourite snacks stocked up. I constantly talked to her about her baby sister who would soon be here. In other words, I made every effort to help her understand that just because there was a new baby, it didn’t mean I loved her any less. Everything parenting books tell you to do.
When Tali came, Liara was eager to help, and I let her as much as I could. She loved her baby sister as soon as Tali was born. “Tali is my best friend!” was one of the first heart-meltingly cute things she said when we were all home from the hospital. I considered this a victory. I thought this meant everything was going to be perfect.
But somewhere along the way I forgot how to dance.
Taking care of a toddler and a newborn is hard. Add to that all of the other stresses that were plaguing our lives—finances stretched thin, variable work hours for my fiancé and no reliable job waiting for me after maternity leave. We were eventually able to establish a routine, of sorts, but some things got lost in the shuffle.
All the sudden it hits me: Nowhere in our routine did we really leave time for playing. I thought we had, but sitting a toddler in front of some crayons and colouring books, and leaving her to play isn’t the same as actively playing with her.
I realize this is really what she is asking for every time she asks me to dance. It’s not just that she wants to show off her new moves to “Let It Go” or “Take on Me” or whatever song she’s decided is her favourite that day. She wants a companion. A playmate. A dance partner.
She wants a companion. A playmate. A dance partner.
So on this day, I let myself forget about the million things I have to do. The garbage, the sink full of dishes, the three baskets of laundry. All of that can wait. I pop Tali’s pacifier in her mouth, sit her on my hip, and pull out my phone. When the first few notes of Tangled‘s “When Will My Life Begin?” blast out of the tiny speakers, Liara’s whole face lights up and she’s immediately bopping back and forth while pretending to play the xylophone in her arms. The happiest of happy giggles escapes her lips as Tali and I bop along with her. I find myself grinning too.
Toddler aren’t toddlers for very long. It’s so important that as we parent them through their journey of life, we also listen to what they are trying to teach us.
It’s so important that we remember to dance.
*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Parent Life Network or their partners.