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Tangled up in blue: Mommy guilt + daughter worry

By TODAY show editor Sara Pines, a.k.a. Sandwich Mom

I was on vacation last week -- and was never so stressed out and exhausted. OK, that may be an overstatement. But I won’t say I was tanned, rested and ready to get back to work.

Part of it was my own doing. I scheduled a lot of Mom-on-the-town time for my week: a great dinner at an adults-only restaurant with a friend, a wedding out of town, a black-tie dinner. Then came Thanksgiving and the annual day-after-Thanksgiving family get-together.

But through the whole week, I was trying to see my way through the tangle of paperwork to get my 4-year-old daughter assessed for the occupational therapy her teacher and I think she needs.

This whole process came with the requisite, and by now not unexpected, guilt. I was beating myself up with questions: In my attempt NOT to succumb to the New York parental peer pressure, did I wait too long to do something about the fact that my otherwise bright and beautiful girl doesn’t like to color or pick up a crayon at all and can only comfortably write the first three letters of her name? Should I have recognized a red flag when any effort to encourage something more escalates into a fight? Will she get the help she needs?

On top of that, there are more questions and concerns about my Dad’s stay at the nursing home that included calls to the accountant, the lawyer and the nursing home. More distressing entanglements. Meanwhile, he sits, overtaken by dementia, mute and without personality.

So, my vacation was taken up with phone calls dealing with pre-schoolers and dementia-addled parents, both areas where I’m still feeling my way forward. They left me dizzied and dismayed by the details -- and near tears.

So, Saturday, our first day with no plans or obligations, I decided it would be fun to take Isabelle to the new movie “Tangled,” a Disney re-telling of the Rapunzel story with the modern twist of a strong and semi-independent princess. I thought it would be good to get us out of the house.

But instead of an idyllic field trip, our visit to Times Square was fraught with conflict. I succumbed to a McDonald’s lunch (did you know they’ll make a grilled cheese Happy Meal, if you ask? Bun with melted cheese, no meat involved!) But the eagerly anticipated Hello Kitty watch didn’t quite work. And while we browsed through the Hello Kitty store, I started a chorus of No’s: “No sweetie, we can’t get the $50 backpack.” (I’ll have to give her credit, she was pretty good about not asking for absolutely everything.)

The No’s really gained momentum at the movie theater. No candy (after a week filled with treats), no popcorn, no games. Then, endless previews. Then a movie that terrified her in parts.

So, why did I force it? I got sucked into the hype and the thought of an afternoon vegging in the dark. But instead she was wriggling the whole time and asking to go home. I persuaded her to stick with it, which she did after a few tears at the really scary scene, and she ended up smiling at the end. The walk back through the lobby of the movie theater was another chant of No’s to snacks, games, etc., followed by a bus ride full of “sit on your tushy” “turn around” “don’t touch that lady in front of you.” By then, I was a tangle of nerves.

Finally, we were home, our little family, just me and her, drifting ever so slowly toward bedtime.

I was tired, and up to my eyeballs in mommy guilt, compounded by daughter worries. I found myself counting down to bedtime when I could curl up with the DVR, order Chinese for myself and maybe have a drink. Or a slug of Isabelle’s de-tangler. Or lock myself in a tower and wait for a prince to rescue me. As a feminist, am I allowed to say that out loud?

TODAY Moms contributor Sara Pines is an editor at TODAY and has been working with the show in various capacities for 17 years. She is a single mom of a beautiful 4-year-old daughter and a native New Yorker.