He wins every time

“Mommy, can we please use your makeup?”

“No, kids.”

“But please? We asked really nicely. We want to play nicely together.”

“That’s sweet, and you did ask nicely. Thank you. But the answer is still no about my makeup. I’m sure you can find something else to play nicely together with.”

“But we really want to use it and we never get to and we’ll be really careful and we’ll be good for the rest of today and we’ll go to bed really early and not come back downstairs and we’ll be good tomorrow too.”

“I’m sure you’ll do all of that anyway because you’re such great kids. The answer is still no. I’m not going to change my mind.”

“But why, Mommy?”

“This isn’t open for discussion. I said no.”

Luke has a hard time with no. Many kids do, I realize, but every other kid on the planet (I’m pretty sure) will drop it eventually. Not Luke. He will take this to the nth degree. I don’t want to engage. I have a nice evening planned and I don’t want to have to take it away. I want to drop this so we can move on. So I’m staying calm, remaining firm, and not giving him any reasons why. That’s what I’m supposed to do, right? That’s what the books say.

“Please?”

“No. Please stop asking me.”

“But why?”

“This isn’t open for discussion.”

“But just tell me why. Why can’t we?”

“I’m not changing my mind and you’re going to make me angry. It’s time to drop it. Luke, really, stop.”

“But just tell me why?”

I don’t answer. It’s over if I don’t say anything, right?

“Mom? Mom? Mom? You can’t ignore me. What if I got a knife and cut my head off, would you ignore me then? Mom? Why? Why can’t we use your makeup? Why? I don’t get it. You’re so mean. Mom? We’ll be really good. We just want to play together. Isn’t that what you want? That we play nicely together? If you don’t let us use your makeup I’m going to punch Sally in the face and break her things and it will be your fault. Would that make you happy?”

“Luke, this is me warning you. I’m starting to lose my patience. You need to stop yourself. Now.”

“Just tell me why!”

“This is the last warning. I’m getting angry. Do you understand?”

My voice is still calm and even. I am going to diffuse this fucking thing if it’s the last fucking thing I fucking do. He storms away, knocking a book to the floor. I let it slide, not needing to lock horns with him now over picking up that book. I hope this is over. It’s not. He comes back with a note that says: “You are a jerk.”

“Go to your room.”

“No, I’m sorry. Why? I didn’t say anything. I didn’t mean it. It’s not about you. No, please no. Please, please, please no. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

“I’m angry now like I warned you. Now go to your room please!”

Speaking sternly, but still not yelling. I’m going to fucking win this fucking thing!

“No I’m really really really sorry. Here, I’ll write another note about being sorry.”

“Luke, go to your room!”

“Jerk.”

And there it is, folks. The last straw. He hasn’t budged towards his room. He is staring me down. Calling me a jerk to my face and defying me. I’ve been here before. There is only one way to get him to actually go to his room. The only thing that works. Why did I put it off for so long anyway? I scream at him:

“YOUR ROOM NOW, LUKE! GO! GO! GO! NOW!”

“I hate you! You are such a jerk!”

He stomps off to his room.

And this is how it goes here. I can’t win. No matter my intentions or mood to start, no matter how calm I remain through so much disrespectful behavior, he eventually pushes me over the edge. Every time. If I didn’t blow up then he would have escalated further – hitting his sister and destroying stuff. He will always get the reaction he wants eventually.

He wins again and I lose. Of course his win is a loss for all of us.

Letter to my son on his 8th birthday

I write a letter to Luke every year for his birthday. One day I will hand over a book of these letters to an ornery teenager to prove that my role goes beyond just ruining his life. 

Dear Luke,

Happy 8th birthday! I feel like I say this every year, but, I can’t believe you’re eight! I see so much of me in you lately, combined with a lot of your dad, and a bunch of unique Luke-ness. This mixture results in a truly remarkable boy. I can already see the man you have the potential to become. Part of my job is to help you shape your little-kid traits into the grown-up versions, helping you grow into your full potential.My baby is 8!

These traits are the makings of a wonderful man, even if the childhood versions prove challenging sometimes. Where some might see “stubborn” or “obstinate,” I see tenacity. How wonderful that you have the steadfast determination to see your ideas through! This will serve you so well in life, even if it causes conflict now and again. Think about how much experience you’re gaining in dealing with conflict! So.Much.Experience. One day, your dogged refusal to accept “no” as an answer will make you exceptional. You will astound people with your tireless commitment to your purpose. Indeed, you astound me already. Even when it’s maddening.

For now, this relentless stamina with which you press your case does cause some conflict between us. You are so much like me; one might think this would make parenting you simpler, but it doesn’t. It complicates things. You are forever helping me see my biggest flaws and weaknesses. Mostly this has to do with my own “tenacity,” and my patience and temper. This is something we both need to work on. Somehow, we need to figure out how to communicate without becoming combative. I promise to try better. I want to be able to demonstrate how to control these common traits of ours, rather than always be a victim of our big emotions and sometimes sharp tongues.

When we’re not butting heads over life’s minutiae, I’m generally overwhelmed with how extraordinary you are. It’s so hard to find the words to describe a person just right. When you read this, I want you to understand how much I love all the things that you are.

  • You are social, engaging, and funny – always wanting to chat, tell stories, hear stories, and just be with your people.
  • You are thoughtful, intuitive, and empathetic beyond your years. You always have been, and this makes you so very special. Your great big heart is open to everyone, which leaves it vulnerable. I wish I could protect you from the inevitable knocks and bruises it will take. I wish I could impart the perspective of my years to let you know that it’s worth it. Your emotional life might be harder than some, but it will also be richer.
  • You are playful and enthusiastic, and wake up happier than anyone I’ve ever known. You burst into your days. You derive so much joy from the simplest things. I hope this stays with you despite the temptation to find life terribly mundane as a teenager, even as your peers perfect bored aloofness. Bored and aloof don’t suit you at all.

I admire your enthusiasm for ALL THE THINGS; I envy your energy (even though it often drives me crazy); and I bask in your humor and affection. I can say with certainty that my life would be a pale proximity if you weren’t there each day to thrash through it.

Kid loves to snowshoe

While my job is to teach you as you grow, your job, it seems, is also to teach me. I try to show you the shades of gray in the world that you see as black and white. You show me that I have much to learn about patience. I teach you the right way to handle frustration; you give me many opportunities to demonstrate it and help me see when I’m not doing it right. Every day you show me how to love and care for our family with your thoughtful, tender kindness and your boundless affection.

I can’t wait to see what you accomplish this year as an eight year old. You are going to be great at eight!

I love you, little man!

Love,

Mom

You can see more birthday letters to my kids here.

 

The list that changed my mind

It’s easy to get bogged down in the daily slog of parenting. Every once in a while, though, something happens that shifts your focus enough to see the small person in front of you in a new light. Even if the moment is fleeting, this break from the slog can feel like a breath of spring air after a long winter.

Sometimes it’s the big, momentous things that shift our focus, someone else’s tragedy; other times it’s just something small and simple that surprises us, showing our kids in a new way. For me, yesterday, it was one of these small things that caused a seismic shift.

Lately, my house has been one of discontent. It’s an unending battle for me to be more patient; a steady struggle for me to not to succumb to the argument; a persistent presence of mind not to immediately blow up over latest sibling conflict. The center of all this friction has been Luke, whose heels seem firmly dug into the mud all the time. Life with him has felt like wading upstream – unrelenting, requiring constant effort and attention, not impossible but not easy. I pinball between frustration, anger, exhaustion, guilt, promises to myself to just be better, and wanting to simply up and quit.

I’ve been waiting for a break. Luke seems to go through periods of disquiet, where he has a hard time with just about everything, resulting in meltdowns, arguments, battles, yelling, obnoxious behavior, and all things unsavory. For both of us. And then slowly he shifts into an easier disposition and time goes by unnoticed until the next episode. I’ve been waiting for this phase to end and so far it appears to be as determined as February to break me – brutal with no end in sight.

So, I can hardly express how happy it made me to find this list. Luke made this schedule the day before his friend came over after school. Excited in a way only he can be, he wanted to ensure they maximized the fun, so he made an itinerary, and it’s so cute I could die.Child's schedule

It’s hard to explain how much finding this list lifted my spirits. It was an immediate relief. The tension stretching me to my outer limits released a little, restoring some much-needed perspective. Luke isn’t an evil genius designed specifically to push all my buttons and drive me to the brink. He’s a kid. A little kid. A sweet, silly, little kid who knows that he might need some rest after so much playing so that he can play some more. He’s a little kid who likes to play with stuffed animals, so he put that on the list to make sure he and his friend have the BEST TIME EVER! He’s a little kid who might be obsessed with Pokemon, and who knows that playing in his room is so much fun he’d better schedule it in for a long time.

How can a child so endearing be so difficult on purpose? He can’t be. None of it is on purpose. He would like nothing more than to be easy to get along with. He sees how different it is for his sister, and I’m sure it makes him feel bad about himself, compounding the internal turmoil that I can’t see and can’t understand, but is the root of all of it. None of it is on purpose though, so I can be compassionate not angry. I needed this list yesterday to remind me of that.

You may not have a child who consistently challenges you, but if you do, then you understand what I mean and my relief at finding my compassion again. I can love this child, and provide the kindness he needs to help restore his inner equilibrium. I can feel good about him, so I can help him feel good about himself in a world that constantly points to how he’s doing this or that wrong. This delightful list illustrates who he really is, how he wants to be all the time, even though he’s not always able.

Naturally I’m going to keep this list forever. I’ll look back at it one day and appreciate its cuteness, but I probably won’t remember how it felt like salvation, like the first warm day of spring. And that’s OK. If I do this right, that’s how all these years will be in my memory. More sweet than fight, more love than strife. Ultimately, that’s the truth even though the slog can blind us to it.

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