The Mule

Hey look, it’s a picture of my head at 7:45 this morning!  But let me start at the beginning of the story, not at the unpleasant conclusion.

3:08 AM:  Number Two is hungry and crying.  I stumble from bed, locate his bottle, and sit down to feed him in the living room.  One burp, a little whimper, and he’s back to sleep.  So far so good.

5:10 AM:  Number Two is awake.  I nudge my wife that it’s her turn.  I’m not sure if I fall back asleep.

6:01 AM:  Child Harbat comes thumping down the hall and my only thought is, “No.”  She comes in our room, asks to snuggle, and gets into bed next to me and begins to squirm.  Her method of snuggling is to whisper songs, rhythmically kick her feet, pull on my hands, and ask me questions in a loud voice.

6:24 AM:  I relent and get out of bed.  CH is now hiding under the covers, threatening to wake my wife.  I bring in slippers and a robe and inform her highness that breakfast will be ready shortly.

6:34 AM:  Breakfast is made and I am alone at the table.  Across from me sits a plate with two slices of buttered toast, a bowl with plain yogurt with the honey STIRRED IN (per repeated requests) and a cup of fresh, not old, water.

6:40 AM:  A bare-footed figure wrapped in a blanket comes thumping towards the table.  A head of disheveled hair (how does it do that in one night?) appears, takes a look at the toast and barks out, “Why isn’t there anything on this?!”

6:41 AM:  Toast has been smeared with jelly and redistributed to the table.  Child Harbat sits about two hundred feet from the table, gnawing on her bread and scattering crumbs.  When I ask her to eat over her plate I’m met with a glare.

6:55 AM:  Breakfast is over and I inform CH that she can pick out her own clothes and get dressed, since every outfit I pick out is rejected anyway.

7:24 AM:  I finish my shower and go to check on CH.  I find the living room strewn with couch cushions and two bare feet sticking out from under a pile of blankets.  “Just as I thought,” I say with a delicate balance of fatigue, disappointment, and disapproval.

7:25 AM:  The couch is rebuilt and we go to her room to pick out an outfit.  She demands the purple dress with stars.  “It’s dirty, you wore it a few days ago.”

7:25:01 AM:  The mule has dug in her heels.  The purple dress with stars is the only option.  It is the single point of light in a universe of darkness.  It is the alpha and the omega.  Without the purple dress there will be no movement.

[undetermined]:  My mind has gone into a red fog of madness.  Diplomacy has failed.  Alternate options (we have several other purple dresses available, sweetie) have been rejected.  Kind words have been drowned out by theatrical wailing.  Stern commands have been ignored.  Somehow teeth get a touch of toothpaste slopped on them, hair is left alone, and alternative clothes have been selected.

7:50 AM:  The lunches are made, I have on my jacket, the car is packed and I’m ready to go.  But wait?  Aren’t you forgetting someone?  Who is that screeching bobcat standing in her underwear in the hallway and crying?  I offer to help get her dressed and can only decipher two words from the snotty tear-choked sobs:  purple…dress.  I hand her a pile of clothes consisting of a purple dress, purple pants, purple striped socks, and purple and pink shoes.  She carries them outside in her bare feet, unbelieving that I will actually make her get dressed in the car on the way to school.

7:51 AM:  We have retreated to the house to get dressed.  Many fake injuries have occurred, including some operatic flops on the ground that would make a pro soccer player jealous.  Clothes are put on under extreme duress.

7:55 AM:  Once strapped into the car, CH is wailing for her stuffed panda.  I am not a heartless monster and am as upset as she.  I get her stuffed panda and bring it to the car.

8:05 AM:  She is skipping down the pathway at her school before going to class.  I give her a hug and kiss and stumble to the car.

My day is devastated, a manic repeating cycle of self-incrimination, doubt, and frustration.  There were things I could have done better.  I should have hugged more and commanded less.  I should have put jelly on the toast instead of seeing what happened if I just put butter.  But should I have let her wear the dirty dress?  When the mule dug in her heels, should I have pulled so hard?  What is the border line between teaching lessons and avoiding unnecessary conflict?

At least I don’t feel as bad as I could, because under my work clothes, I am wearing the purple dress with stars.

Writer, architect, father, husband.

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2 comments on “The Mule
  1. Oh My! What a morning! At least you got to wear the purple dress. You might try just letting her arrive in school in her underwear. Trust me…those teachers aren’t surprised by any of that stuff. They’d probably go along with you on it.

  2. Beth says:

    CH sounds like the mule in my life. Tonight’s episode involved a temper tantrum at 9:42 PM long after the original goodnight. Fearing an awakened baby, I did a 2nd tuck in and felt like a wimp to giving in. I want to teach independence, but also wish for an obedient child who listens.

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