Forgive and forget? I wish I could.

So your kid has a meltdown. The kind of meltdown that has everyone screaming. The kind of meltdown where he says all the meanest things he can think of, where he hits and shoves, where you find yourself with a throat raw from yelling. The kind of meltdown that makes you want to throw in the towel. Walk out the door and never ever look back.

And then he has his time alone in his room to calm down and you have your time alone to calm down.

But you don’t calm down.

Luke can bounce back from this kind of thing in a way I just can’t. He comes back wanting to hug, just forget it and move on. But I can’t forget it and move on because my blood is still boiling. I lost it and have not found it again.

Maybe you can’t relate. Maybe you can count to ten and calm down like all those know-it-all experts suggest. But not me. I can count to ten again and again and still feel nothing but rising rage as my child tells me to shut up. It takes me a long time to cool back down from that kind of flagrant, outrageous misbehavior. A much longer time than the offending child.

I ought to demonstrate forgiveness and moving-on-ness. I know this. I probably shouldn’t be so pissed off in the first place. I probably should stay calm and cool and focus on the behavior and not the child doing the behavior. That’s what “they” say, right? But the thing is that I’m a person first. I’m the person I’ve always been. The person who doesn’t want or know how to cope with an irrational, obnoxious person telling me to shut up. But because I had kids I’m supposed to be this new person who doesn’t fuck up or get really mad, whose feelings don’t get hurt, who never wants to throw in the towel and walk out the door and never ever look back.

And then the grief hits- the certain knowledge that my kid needs a mother who is like that new person I didn’t become. He needs some other, better mother who would demonstrate the right things. Some mother who can handle a daily onslaught of shut ups. Some mother who might not incite them in the first place. This mother is failing him. This mother is not doing it right.

Am I the only one floundering this way? Did you all become that new person when your kids arrived? Am I as awful and deficient as I feel? Or are you reading this and relating? If you get mad, can you forgive and forget as quickly as your kids want you to?

Mirror, Mirror

woman-and-mirror, reflectionWe all know that children are sponges. Their developing brains and impressionable psyches pick up everything. And like sponges, it’s not just the good clean stuff. They absorb the ick too. Parents aren’t infallible people demonstrating only the best conduct. No. We’re sometimes grumpy, overtired, petulant, sulky, angry, stressed, or otherwise inappropriate. Kids absorb all of this and add it to their developing repertoire of behaviors. Our children become tiny mirrors showing us our worst selves. We see them set aside our best moments, our good parenting advice and wisdom, and instead assume our lowest personality traits.

In my house it’s the yelling. I tell my kids all about using their words, treating others fairly, counting to ten, walking away. But then I lose my temper and I yell. Guess what they do when they get mad? They reflect. I see my own angry face made out in their little features, and it hurts. They shout out their frustrations, they take out their stress on one another, they act like me at my worst and I hate it more than anything.

Then comes the spiral of self loathing. I shouldn’t shout like that. I’m ruining the children. I am the worst mother. Other mothers don’t do that. Why can’t I control my temper? What is wrong with me? I will be better. I must be better. I need to be better so I can help them be better.

But I’m not better.

We talk it out, hug, apologize. But eventually, for one reason or another, I find myself losing my temper again. I might shout right into one of their little faces. Maybe they did something terrible. Maybe they didn’t. Maybe it had nothing really to do with them. Surely other moms don’t do this. Surely I am ruining my children.

And then they yell at me. They yell at each other. In my moments of calm clarity I tell them all the right things. I tell them that we are not to treat one another that way. I tell them that we are a family, and we have to take care of each other. I tell them that feeling angry, frustrated, sad, stressed, worried, hungry, or tired is no excuse for being mean. I do all this parenting expecting them to learn from it, but then I blow it all by acting exactly like a little kid myself.

I know that it has to start with me. I know that until I change, they won’t. I can see it clearly. How can a mirror reflect what isn’t there? Mirrors are honest whether we like what we see or not. Until I stop putting The Ugly in front of them, they will continue to reflect it. But it feels too hard. It’s hard enough to get all of the basics done on a daily basis, who has time, space, energy for major self overhauls? So my pattern continues.

It isn’t constant screaming in my house by any means. The time in between is filled with normal family things- we chat about our days; we cook and eat meals together; they play; they wreck the house; “we” clean the house; they watch TV. But eventually the constant noise creeps under my skin. The bickering, so much bickering! The couch cushions strewn everywhere. The dropped milk. The careless swinging of some toy which inevitably smacks someone in the face. And I lose it. I yell. I scream for them to be quiet, to clean up, to stop fighting… And I feel like all those in-between moments are erased, undone. All that’s left is mommy yelling. And so they yell. They continue to hold up that mirror showing me my worst. And it sucks.

If friendship is war, I will crush you to win, Friend.

I am deeply grateful that the Internet and social media didn’t exist when I was growing up. There is no way that middle school (or high school or college) me could have handled the competitive pressures or the time management discipline, and refrain from making a lasting fool of myself. I am a fairly confident adult and I still have a hard time with those three things.

Let’s take Facebook’s (or Pinterest, gah!) false portrayal of perfection for example. How many ‘friends’ do you have who post a constant stream of photos of their clean smiling children? How many of those children do you think spend a great deal of time being grubby little assholes? Probably 98%. (I’m excusing newborns here. They’re dirty, but not assholes. Well, maybe I’m just far enough removed that I’m forgetting. I probably thought my newborns were assholes, because I’m that kind of mom.) These friends post pictures at pumpkin patches, apple orchards, beaches, on boats, on top of mountains, etc. I post these too. Taken at face value, it would seem that our lives are consistently full of happy and wholesome family outings. We are enriching our children’s lives and they are enriching our lives right back.

Cha! Right!

In between those smiling moments are thousands of other moments which go undocumented on Facebook. I know that other families have those thousands of other moments too, but still… look at that two-year-old who just hiked up that mountain! My kids would have made that hike miserable. Look at those kids with that sand castle. Wait, it’s Monday. How are they at the beach? Their life is so much better than mine. The only sand we’ve got going on is the stuff that is inexplicably always in the corners of my son’s pockets.

Oh, did you make organic kale and fish oil non-dairy but also non-soy smoothies that your kids just can’t get enough of? Me too. Except I actually mean that I gave them a glass of milk and some goldfish. And they complained because I gave them the wrong cup and she got 2 more fish and that’s not fair and I’m the worst mom and they wanted juice anyway. Consider yourself lucky that I’m not making fish oil smoothies!

We all want to share our best moments. We all want that person we knew 22 years ago and haven’t seen since to think that we are living the life. We aren’t bored. We haven’t watched 13 hours of TV today. Our kids are as charming as they are cute so I’m never, ever jealous of your child-free globe-trotting life. The world can wait! Right now I’m doing the most important and fulfilling job a person can. Oh, and that one picture of me that I’ve posted within the last three years? That old thing? Gosh, I think the kids must have snapped that one while I was composting our garden. Yes I do that in silk and heels. Duh.

I’m as guilty as the next guy here. Well, sort of. While I fully admit to having those thousands of ordinary-to-shitty moments in between the idyllic pumpkin patch smiles and apple cobbler recipes, I still post those pictures. For some reason, it’s important for people to know that once in a while I do make it to the pumpkin patch. Sure, this weekend we got to the farm’s gate and turned the car around because the kids were acting like shitheads and my husband and I might be too tempted to lose them in the corn maze forever. (Hey, we’re nothing if not responsible parents. It’s NOT a good idea to enter a corn maze with kids when running away and changing your identity is even on the table of your subconscious.) In between our thousands of other moments, sometimes we do make it to the farm, zoo, fair, or ocean. We might even make it to the top of the mountain and once we wipe the snot off their faces, you can’t even tell that they’ve been crying for 2 hours, so we snap our pictures and post them to Facebook.

See that, Kid I Barely Remember from High School? I’ll see your mountain top kids and raise you the 10K I ran* and my family frolicking in the fallen orange leaves. I win Facebook! Oh, shit, that girl from that job lost 40 lbs and she owes it all to the support of the love of her life and her four beautiful children. Damn my inability to say “love of my life” without throwing up in my mouth a little and my unsupportive kids and my complete panic at the mere thought of having four of them! I suck. I lose Facebook. You win this time, Random Person, but I have the urge to make food shaped like something creative and adorable**, so watch out!

*I did not run a 10K

**I do not have the urge to make food shaped like something creative and adorable