In Praise of Difficult Children {Princess Terror Is Almost Two}


A year ago, I wrote an article about my first grand-daughter. I titled it “Princess Terror.”

It was controversial. I can’t understand why.

I began it like this:

“They say there are people who just love babies. They are so sad when those babies grow up.
So…can I give you one?

I am referring to Princess Terror. My fifth grandchild and only granddaughter.”

It was a tongue in cheek article about my terror while babysitting a 5-month old child who could not be comforted. A child who refused to take a bottle, and cried and screamed for at least an hour. I wrote…

“Isn’t there is a scene in The Exorcist when the child turns her head around in a complete circle and projectile vomits?”

I confessed that I was honest with her mother about how the babysitting had gone.

“She’s the worst,” I yelled. “She’s the worst of a bad bunch. Worse than her brothers…She’s…she’s… Princess Terror.”

And I ended the article on a bit of a low note.

“I know what they say. I know they’re only a baby for a short time. I know how good their head smells. I know I should treasure every second.
But. Really? Really?

Anybody want to borrow Princess Terror for a couple of months? She can be really charming…honest…”

Some readers were worried about my general character, and my granddaughter’s well-being while in my care. Some, I think, basically wanted me tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail. Those readers may have included my husband.

My daughter, fortunately, either had faith in me or, just really, really continued to need a babysitter.

So, here is an update on my relationship with my granddaughter, Princess Terror.

Umm. It’s still…complicated.

You see, in her eyes, I have this fatal character flaw. Far too frequently, when I show up at her house, her mother leaves. My granddaughter is not stupid. She can put together a simple cause and effect. So, whenever I darken her door, her eyes narrow, she glares at me and clutches tightly to her mother.

Sometimes I can reassure her.

“It’s OK, little girl. I’m just visiting. Your mother’s not going to leave.”

But other times, I am exactly the bad news that my she fears. And I don’t sugar-coat it.

“I’m sorry. Mommy has to leave to go to work.”

She shrieks and cries. Sometimes she tries to shut the door on me, and mimes pushing me away with her hands. “Go-away,” she says. “Go-away.”

During this, I try to reassure her mother.

“She stops crying as soon as you leave. Really. She’s actually very pragmatic. She loves the one she’s with. Really. The minute you’re out the door, she stops mid-shriek, and does her best to charm me.”

Now my Princess Terror is a bit of an enigma to me. She really isn’t talking much, but she listens carefully and understands everything. She even seems to be amenable to reason. Those wheels are turning all the time. Honestly, it’s a little creepy.

For example, several months ago, there was the car-seat incident. Her mother was having trouble strapping her in.

“if you don’t let me strap you in, I’m going to leave you with Grandma.” my daughter threatened.

I overheard her from the other room and tried to laugh it off, a bit nervously.

To my daughter’s credit, she quickly apologized.

“I’m sorry Mom,” she said sheepishly.

“But,” she then added, (quite unnecessarily,) “It was remarkably effective. She stopped squirming and immediately let me strap her in.”

Yeah, I am not my granddaughter’s favorite person.

But, it’s complicated. My granddaughter really is pragmatic.

And so am I.

She no longer refuses to take a bottle. In fact, she tends to be generally favorably disposed toward anyone who’s feeding her. And toward anyone who is watching her dance, or watching her smile. (She does have a smile that would melt an army.) So, I feed her. I give her water. I give her attention. I try to carefully observe her, figure out exactly what she wants, and quickly give it to her. I am working hard to make this relationship work.

And she is too. I think she’s becoming a bit more tolerant toward me. Sometimes, when I come over, she smiles at me. Even if I am not offering her food. Even before her mother leaves and she realizes that it’s in her best interest to make nice with the only adult in the room.

Of course, she’s still my Princess Terror.

Probably because she reminds me so much of her mother. Her mother was the world’s most determined child. She always wanted her own way, and she never gave up. I don’t think there was a single day, before she was 18, that she did not argue with me. She wanted desperately to be good, she wanted desperately to be loyal, she wanted desperately to be all grown up, and most of all she wanted desperately to do exactly what she wanted to do. After all, it was her life, not mine.

I just wanted her to reach 18, so that I would never, ever have to tell her what to do again. I hoped that then we could become good friends.

My daughter’s daughter, Princess Terror, is 22 months, going on 22 years. She is, inexplicably, toilet training herself. She understands everything that is said and thinks about it. She takes food right out of her grandfather’s mouth, and then melts him with her smile. She shrieks, immediately, loudly, and persistently whenever she doesn’t get her way. Her two older brothers are a bit terrified of her. She radiates confidence. She’s a mighty girl.

“Boy, are you going to have problems when she is a teenager…” I mutter to her mother, shaking my head.

I’m a bit terrified of her too. She’s just so much like her mother.

“But it’s OK,” I reassure my daughter… “You just have to get through the next 18 years…and then everything will be fine..”

“It’s the most difficult children that are the best adults,” I tell her.

I tell her that because it’s true. We need our mighty girls. And our mighty boys. We need those strong, determined, difficult, persistent children. Because they grow up to be the people who have the strength and will to make the world a better place.

Princess Terror, we’ll all be counting on you.

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Carol-Ane Woodard was born in Rehoboth, which is in Massachusetts, but really should be a part of Rhode Island. She grew up taking the Trailways bus into Providence and shopping at the Warwick Mall. She currently lives in Foxboro, Massachusetts with her husband of of 38 years, Paul Woodard, but she misses coffee cabinets, red clam chowder, and hot wieners, and she still considers Providence to be her home city. Carol-Ane graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1973 with a degree in sociology. She minored in business at U Mass Dartmouth and took a job for the FDIC as a bank examiner. She worked there for 30 years and retired 10 years ago. Other than her 3 children and 5 grandchildren, her hobbies include reading, reading, and more reading, interrupted only by hikes in the woods, Freecell, and knitting. Although her Linkedin profile lists her as a stay-at-home grandmother, Carol-Ane actually has a rather nervous disposition and is frightened by small children. Nevertheless, she persists.


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