A little crazy is good for them

My mother has more patience for annoying things than your average person. She somehow tunes out what would drive anyone else crazy. Her general equanimity remained unaltered despite her three children’s cacophonous voices, vexing messiness, and constant fighting.

Every once in a while, though, she’d snap.

“NOW YOU’VE DONE IT!” she’d scream at us when she reached that breaking point, implying that we had finally gone so far, been so terrible, that we crossed a line. Just in case we didn’t pick up on the implication, she might shout, “IF YOU MADE ME YELL, YOU MUST BE REALLY ROTTEN!”

With that, she’d storm out the door and to her garden on the far side of our property.

It seemed unpredictable, what might send her over the edge. We didn’t necessarily do anything more obnoxious than any other day. Maybe exasperation was cumulative? Turns out it was PMS, but none of us knew that at the time. This was the late ’70s and early ’80s and PMS was not a widely recognized thing, despite women everywhere suddenly hating everyone.

What I remember was the feeling of, “Oh, shit we’ve really done it this time. We ruined everything.” Without her (nearly) endless patience, we’d be in serious trouble, all the time. My job, I felt, was to sit vigil in the window and watch her in the garden, to make sure she didn’t leave the property. If she left, surely she’d never return, and we’d be doomed. I imagined her ripping weeds from the ground while angrily thinking about how terrible we were and how awful we made her life. It wouldn’t be long before she planned her escape.

From her perspective, I learned years later, she felt better immediately upon slamming the back door leaving us inside and her alone. She’d weed her garden and pick vegetables happily, not stewing over her horrible children or plotting her flight for freedom. By the time she returned to the house, she was so far past the anger that it was a non issue.

Meanwhile, when she returned to the house with a bowl of fresh beans, smelling of Earth, I’d make sure I was on my very best behavior, hoping to endear myself to her again so she wouldn’t abandon us. Ultimately, this made her garden retreat a double win for her. She felt better and her kids stopped being assholes, at least temporarily.

I did not inherit my mother’s temperament or tolerance. I’m easily irritated and can’t keep calm in the face of my children’s obnoxious exploits. Shouting the phrase “Now you’ve done it!” would be pointedly meaningless in my household. My kids hear me yelling so often that it’s a useless measure. That is, until all things align just right. Then, something in me snaps (more than usual) and the yelling takes on a note of hysteria. Then the kids sit up and notice. I recognize the fear in their eyes and I don’t care. I have to leave.

I don’t have a far away garden that soothes me. Instead, when I lose it, if my husband is home, I get in the car and drive off in a fury. I generally have nowhere to go, and am not fit to be in public anyway. I look exactly how I feel – like a lunatic. I don’t want to sit in a coffee shop reading a book or in a restaurant sipping a glass of wine. I want to yell and scream and rampage like a two-year-old. Instead, I usually pull over into some random parking lot and cry for a while, then just kill time until either the kids are in bed for the night or I can be trusted to actually like them again.

While I don’t come home smelling of Earth and feeling renewed, I do come home. And my children are appropriately afraid and sorry and hoping to endear themselves to me again. I might feel guilty for storming out. I probably feel like a bad mother. But then I remember my mom and her garden. And even though those occasions were full of yelling, anger, and upset, my memories of them always make me smile. It’s those crazy moments in a family that no one else knows about – the secret hidden stuff that makes it only ours. Somehow, it’s the crazy that makes family family.

My children’s lives are safe and happy, as mine was. If having a crazy mother is the worst thing that happens in their childhood, so be it. Their crazy mother might sometimes be a tempest, but I love my kids and they know that. Occasionally seeing that their mother is only human and needs a break is just fine.

One day I’ll tell them that while they were often horrible, it was PMS that drove me to the brink. One day they’ll think back on these occasions fondly. Memories of our crazy household will be the stuff we laugh together about; it will be what they think back on when they’re at the breaking point with their own families.

I can’t be a perfect mother. I’m flawed and my kids are annoying. And we’re all good enough.

Mom is crazy

 

 

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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Snow Delays with Aunt Flo

As if the 2 hour delay wasn’t bad enough, the school bus ran late. We sat in the car at the end of the street, sheltered from the cold and snow. Naturally, the kids take the opportunity to push buttons, turn dials, and rummage through all the car’s compartments.

“What’s this?” Luke asks holding up a tampon he retrieved from the glove box.

“Oh, that’s just something for mommy.”

I give him my standard response. Like all kids, Luke has been keenly curious about tampons forever. Mysterious dispensers in public restrooms and the sometimes colorfully wrapped objects in my purse have driven him crazy for years. He suspects it’s candy, and therefore unfair. I deflect and dismiss like a pro. But this time we were stuck in the car together with nothing to distract us.

“But what do you use it for?”

Sigh. I look for the bus. Nothing. I briefly explain the biology of a menstrual cycle. Both kids look appropriately appalled. Then the questions start.

“So I’m going to have a baby when I’m 12?” Sally asks.

“No! No. No. No. Um, no. Definitely not. No.” I stammer for awhile. “That’s just about when your body starts going through changes. Maybe you’ll be 11 or 14. It’s different for everyone. But you won’t have a baby then. Nope. No. No.”

“Am I going to need to wear one of those things you wear?” she asks while holding her hands in front of her chest mimicking imaginary, gigantic, future breasts.

“A bra? Yes.”

“But why? What’s it for?” Luke asks.

Sally jumps in, “It’s to hold them up so they don’t pull you down and knock you over. But then you’d fall on them and they’d bounce you back up.”

“Really?” Luke asks me.

“Well, not exactly. They don’t knock you over or anything. And they couldn’t bounce you back up.” I lose a moment wistfully remembering my pre-kids breasts. Or could they? “But it does sort of hold them up and keep them in place.”

“That’s super weird.”

“Yeah, it is isn’t it?” I look for the bus.

“Why do you keep this in the car though?” Back to the tampon.

“In case I need it. I keep all sorts of things in the car like band-aids, tissues, jumper cables.”

“So you could be driving and all of a sudden…”

He mimes a flood erupting from his loins. I look for the bus. I explain more about menstruation. I look for the bus. They both become pensive.

“You have a thousand eggs? So a woman could have a thousand babies? ”

“Yes. No. I mean women have a lot of eggs but a woman could not have a thousand babies. Woman can have many babies though. More babies than most women end up having.”

“You should have another baby! I want a cute little baby!”

“Babies are cute. But you wouldn’t like it when I’m super tired and grumpy and yell at you two for being too noisy and don’t have time to pay attention to you because all my attention is on the baby.”

“But you already are grumpy and yell at us.” Touché.

“It would be worse.” I look for the bus.

“Can you just decide to have a baby one month instead of a period?”

“Well, not exactly. Remember when we talked about this? That it takes both a mommy and a daddy to make a baby?”

“Yeah, but you and daddy already did that.”

WHERE IS THE FREAKING BUS?

“Well, um, we’d have to do it again.”

“Oh.”

“The bus sure is running late!”

“You’re going to bleed out of your penis!” Sally expertly tells Luke.

“No I’m not! It’s just for girls. You’re going to lay an egg every month! Ha ha!”

“She will not LAY an egg! Well, yeah, I guess she sort of will.”

Two sets of eyes grow huge with fear and disbelief.

“They’re tiny though. Don’t worry about it. And, Luke, your body will do weird things too. Where is the bus?”

“Like what?”

I think of all the weird things it will do. I say, “Your voice will change.”

“Yeah, well that’s not nearly as bad as bleeding out of your vagina and laying eggs.”

Yeah, tell me about it. You also will get more handsome as you age and you’ll be paid more. I’m peppered with a few more questions as we wait out the last of the 25 minutes for the late bus. As the bus finally pulls up I realize that I’m sending my kids off to school full of strange new information and ideas with which they can embarrass teachers and horrify friends. Essentially they’re fully loaded, ticking mis-information bombs. I quickly remind them that they can come to me with any questions but should not talk about this at school with friends and teachers. They assure me they won’t and they’re off for a very abbreviated school day.

Parenthood involves so many strange and uncomfortable conversations, and there’s nothing like being trapped in a confined space to inspire kids’ curiosity. Certainly, I’d prefer them get their facts from us rather than their friends. But is it too much to ask that next time it’s Tim not me?

Snow Delays with Aunt Flo