Today I am out of sorts. I think it’s important to admit when you’re not your best self, and I know, based on the last three hours of parenting, that I’m not my best “Mom.” I am cranky, stressed out, and currently exhibiting the same tolerance level as a honey badger. I don’t give a shit- I will end you. And while I know exactly what has gotten me to this point today, it doesn’t make that slope any more or less slippery when dealing with my three, rambunctious children. It clearly is not their fault, these things that are going on which rile me up and demand my refocus/rearrangement of life organization. It is not in any way, shape, or form appropriate for them to have to carry any of the weight of these adult issues.
But what is it about today that made them think running through the kitchen, attempting to blindly lasso each other while covering their entire faces with a blanket during Mom’s supper prep time, was a good plan? Come on!
I love my children. Truly. Though I admire the children who are mild and well-mannered, displaying impeccable self-control and an interest in refinement, I generally relish the fact that my kiddos often seize life in a big way. There will be time for them to sit quietly and play along with society’s expectations of adulthood, and I hope that when the time comes for them to make a contribution, they will be prepared with adequate critical thinking skills, compassion, and a well-rounded scope. Don’t get me wrong- I agree that it’s incredibly important to plant the seeds while they’re young, and I do expect them to mind when the occasion calls for it. I also get palpably embarrassed when they don’t and feel as though I have failed them in the shaping of appropriate social expectations. But there’s a hunger and an energy in my children to make use of life which makes mine very…colorful, and it seems like such a shame to stifle it.
On days like today, however, when I need things to be a perfect marriage of neutral tones and/or appealing textures, I struggle. I struggle to remind myself that the rigidity of my current situation is not only temporary, but also specifically designed so that their avant garde approach to life is preserved in an environment that is safe. I do what I do to facilitate these tiny whirlwinds while “safe” is something I have relative control over. And when I feel like I’m losing that control and thus allowing a higher risk factor for their precious way of life, I swing so hard the other way in trying to pin every little thing down. Including them.
And it feels super shitty.
So that’s what I did. I totally did that. I definitely jumped all over their cases about the noise and the mess. I declined extra snuggles and playing the “toss me into bed” game. I even went to far as to say, “Mommy is having a bad night right now, y’all, and your behavior is making it worse. This is not going to end well for any of us.” Good-natured as they are, I think they really tried, after that comment, to mind their manners. But they were high on life, and that only went over so well. And of all my children, the youngest- Madelyn- who is most like me in that you really don’t get very far telling her what to do, displayed the most difficulty in managing legitimate sympathy while desperately wanting to do all the things she should not do before bed. Which led to one last exasperated plea to her to “stop, for the love of Holy God, acting like a heathen taking lessons from a banshee,” and her having a complete four-year-old melt down right in the middle of the hallway, thus blocking her older two siblings from getting into bed like I had asked.
Bless their hearts, they’re trying to understand. And also trying to be kids. And also trying to love their mom, who is trying very hard to love them when she really just wants to punch straight through a brick wall. It’s not fair. To any of us. And I often can’t help but think that this kind of night would have gone over so much better in a household that had a father.
I am one person who, for five and a half days of every given week, is trying to do the domestic job of a partnership. Grateful as I am for all the members of my family who stand up and stand in to help me, as well as for a very soft-hearted and gentle-giant significant other who backs my parenting plays and holds my hand when I feel like they’re not going well, the fact still remains that God most definitely designed this parenting business to be two-man job in the home. And, currently, in my home, it’s just me and these kids most of the time. We do our best, this motley crew that we make. And there’s no shortage of love. But sometimes there’s a shortage of time and patience that makes it so very difficult for me to be human and Mom.
I can hear all of you now- you well-intentioned readers, you. Cut yourself some slack, woman. Everyone has bad days, and parenting is hard. You’re doing fine. And I believe you. Really, I do. Intellectually, I know that this is true. I will not always be the best Mom in the moment, and I will not always make the best decisions. Hindsight is twenty-twenty, and we do what we can and pray that the rest ends up as a good lesson in flexibility or adaptation. I don’t do my children any good in shielding them from difficulty, ugliness, or struggle all the time, and they need to learn from a young age that people- even adult people- are just people with the same right to emotions as anyone else on this earth.
I promise, I understand this is not the end of the world, and even if life is a little bumpy right now or for the foreseeable future, most of it is not going to seriously damage my children.
But it feels like it will when the actual moments I get to look at my children are stolen by stress or responsibility. I’m the mom who, while rocking her babies to sleep at night, wept softly for love of them. I can think about my children and start crying. And with all the change that has happened in their little lives, it’s not the loss of my own personal comfort that hurts the most. It’s watching them try to right their little boats when the seas get choppy and their sails are missing. It wasn’t supposed to be this way- they’re supposed to be in my little harbor where they can venture out and back in within my dictated reason. And so since we can’t do things that way, I’m trying so hard to be the lighthouse, instead. We might all be getting beat to hell a little bit, but if we can just regroup in the same place, we could make it through these storms.
Just keep looking for me, little sailboats. I’ll figure out the rest.
How do you balance accepting your humanity and trying to be an ueber parent? The answer is quit trying to be the perfect parent and just freakin’ accept your mess. But I war this way, between my head and my heart, here in my room, across the hall from where my children are now sleeping. I want to be my humanity- my bleeding heart, my passionate temper, my reasoning, my kindness, my fight, my whimsy. I want to just shrug and say, Yep. I’m just being a hot mess today. As the Lydia do. Sometimes. But it’s whatever- I’ll have it together in the morning. Probably. But when I look at those smooth, pudgy faces, I just can’t accept anything less than the best from myself without some self-flogging. They deserve my effort, and I can’t help feeling like they deserve more than this was today.
My Maddie-baby vigilante reminds me so much of all the things in my character that make me a quick-learner…after pushing the red buttons. There was the time I tried to tell her that an onion was not a yellow apple, and she took a bite anyway, was appalled, and then threw it at my shins. Or the time I told her not to touch the stove because it was still hot from the skillet, and she burned her left hand enough to blister, resulting in several days of her stealing all my glasses of ice water so she could soothe her owies. But after the onion incident, she developed a fascination for the different fruits and vegetables in the produce section of the grocery. When her blisters healed up, she made it a personal mission to educate every soul near a hot surface on the dangers and consequences of contact. In the moment, she gets overwhelmed by the contrast between what she wants to do and the results of her circumstances, just like this evening in the hallway floor.
And I’m the same way. Dealing with the aftermath of marital destruction as a person and as a newly minted single mother. No one could have told me what to do or explained this life to me in a way that would have changed the way I navigated any of the things that happened. But if I could have successfully told myself what to do, this is what I would have told myself (and am passively telling you)-
- Wait. Slow down. Things that are going to bear good fruit will come to harvest at the right time. Focus more on learning the signs of fruition, and, conversely, the signs of infection. To say that a situation or a person is not right for you at the time is simply verbalizing an observation and assessment. It’s not necessary to make each instance bear fruit. Some things are barren. Some environments may attempt to destroy the fruit.
- You are who you are for a reason, so pay attention to it. That is not to say that personal growth, betterment, and evolution aren’t imperative. It’s just damn lazy to say, Well, that’s just the way I am, so you all just have to deal with that. Life better get on board. Acknowledging traits and unique patterns are a wonderful way to start with self discovery. But remaining stuck or forcing change to try to be a puzzle piece you aren’t meant to be sends us right back around to the first bulleted point. Learn your gifts. Pray for your calling. Then do the necessary work. You will find yourself up to your eyeballs in good produce as you start understanding why and how you fit into the world.
- Advocate for yourself. It is not selfish to say, I need these things. It becomes selfish when those needs start including wants, and all those things start trumping the well-being of the people around you. But to say that you feel mistreated, that you need more support, that you are beginning to feel diminished is well within your healthy rights, especially within intimate relationships. So long as the communication is open to clarification and cooperation both ways, advocating is also somewhat like identifying as well. Which rolls back to the second bullet, which rolls to the first…
- Love actively, and set the expectation for receipt. Love is a decision. It’s an action. And it’s not any single action, but rather little, quiet actions. Love is considering how something not only makes you feel, but how it will make someone else feel and preparing for that- not as like preparing for a fight or argument, but as preparing to bridge the gap. Love is choosing every single time what is in the best interest of the loving relationship in which you find yourself. And if that relationship is not loving, then it is choosing to love yourself and to respect that person by conscientiously releasing the bonds that are also keeping that person from finding a loving situation. These are active mindsets, and if that’s an investment of energy you are prepared to make, it’s also an investment of energy you need to be prepared to ask for. And in the event that the answer is no, I have nothing with which I can invest here, remember the third bullet.
I’m on the struggle bus tonight, and it makes my heart hurt. I want to make things better for my children (and myself), and nights like tonight are disheartening as I battle what I feel like should be and what actually is and my own attempts to handle all that jazz. But at least I’m learning. There’s my thin consolation as I turn to get ready for sleep and another day. I have the people in my life- and through them, the means- with which to make a few good steps forward every day. I just have to keep moving.