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



I love me some YMCA

It seems that winter might actually give way to spring one of these days. We made it! There were times I wasn’t so sure we would. This winter has been a rough one around here. My kids watched a gazillion hours of TV; my house suffered messes so extraordinary that arson seemed like the only way out; we all ate mountains of carbohydrates; and they drank buckets of hot chocolate to my buckets of red wine. In all of this indoor festering, we had one saving grace: the pool at the YMCA.

Had it not been for the pool, my children’s little bodies would have fused to the couch. Instead, they had a healthy activity to keep them just on this side of ‘persistent vegetative state.’

I spent hours in the muggy heat, breathing in the steaming vapor and watching my kids bob around in the warm kid-broth. We were not the only people with this outlet. Some days, the pool was so crowded that it was difficult to locate which heads belonged to me as they swarmed in a noisy, watery mosh pit of other heads, pigtails, snot, and pee.

I had to tread a careful line all winter. My kids needed to know that the pool was a bastion of unblemished awesome, but at the same time they needed to know that under no circumstances would I be joining them in the bio-brew. Sure, I could have gone into the pool, like those good parents. I know that the high chlorine levels obliterate any organic matter smaller than a child within nanoseconds. The problem was just that I really, really, really, really didn’t want to go in. I’m not interested in marinating in recently obliterated bio-matter the temperature of Baby Bear’s porridge.

Also, there’s the matter of expectations.

My job is largely about managing expectations, and it’s a delicate balance. I want my kids to have fun, and I want to have fun with them, but most of the time I want them to have fun without my involvement. Join in once, and it will be that much harder to bow out the next time. I am not the mother on the play structures in the park. (Except in cases of necessary rescue.) I am not the mother joining in impromptu soccer games. (Are those mothers always wearing sports bras just in case the impulse to run around strikes? That impulse never strikes me. Never ever.) I am not the mother in bounce houses or on trampolines. (See note about sports bras.)

I am the mother fostering their independence while protecting my inclination to really, really, really, really not want to.

As the sun finally starts to melt the 400 feet of snow outside, I look forward to outdoor pools, to lakes, to rivers and the ocean. These I’ll go into with my kids. (When not freezing.) But until that time, thank you, YMCA, for your chlorinated feculent pools of awesome.

When Mom Takes a Bath

My new house has a fabulous huge tub complete with six water-shooting jets that so far only the kids have enjoyed.

Yesterday, 5:35 PM:

  • Dammit, I’m going to take a bath!
  • Oooh, I should put on a facemask before my bath!
  • I dig through my unpacked boxes and locate a facemask.
  • I apply the cool, thick, black mask. I am ready for some serious pampering.
  • But first I should find a home for every other object in those boxes.
  • In putting away the various bathroom items, I realize that the bathroom organization system I established when I first unpacked the other bathroom boxes isn’t going to work, so I redo the closet/drawers/cabinets in our bathroom, which necessitates redoing the closet/drawers/cabinets in the kids’ bathroom also.
  • While I’m in the kids’ bathroom I see that it’s gross. I clean it.
  • My kids notice that I’m not locked in my room like I said I was going to be.
  • They come upstairs to ask me for shit.
  • They see my face mask and freak out and think it’s hilarious and ask a million questions.
  • Where’s your father? Taking a nap.
  • I go downstairs with them to set them up with a TV show. No, not that show! Yes, this one. No I hate this one. But Moooommmmmyyyyyyy he got to pick last time! But it’s for stupid little babies. No it’s not! I like it. Then you’re a stupid little baby. Mooooommmmmyyyyyyy! He called me a stupid little baby! Etc etc etc etc etc.

6:25 PM:

  • I escape the whiny battle and my facemask is tight and cracking. Time to get in that bath!
  • I turn on the water.
  • I notice the sand and dirt left behind from my children’s earlier bath, after a morning of mud digging and frog catching. I have to clean the tub.
  • I clean the tub.
  • While I’m at it, I clean the sink and toilet.
  • Finally! I can take my bath!

6:40 PM:

  • I turn on the hot water and put in two scoops of the bath salts I unearthed while looking for my facemask, which, by the way, is beginning to burn.
  • What the heck, I deserve a third scoop.
  • I undress.
  • I realize that my book is on my iPad and iPads and baths don’t mix so I need to get an actual book, which means that I need to go downstairs to the bookshelf which is in the same room as the kids. Damn. Is it worth it?
  • I decide it is.
  • I put on my bathrobe, which I never use, and go downstairs.
  • I field a million questions about my seldom-used bathrobe and fetch a glass of water for one and a glass of milk for the other. And then ice for each.

6:45 PM:

  • Back upstairs I see that the bath is filling nicely. I step in.
  • Hmm, it’s not quite as hot as I had hoped. I feel the water still rushing from the tap. Ice cold.
  • I quickly turn off the water and am determined to enjoy my pretty-warm bath for as long as possible before it’s freezing.
  • I finally wash off the face mask and can only hope that the burning and itching will end eventually.
  • I put on the jets.
  • I try to get comfortable.
  • I realize why living room furniture is not designed after bathtubs.
  • I recommit to enjoying my damn self and getting relaxed as hell in my beautiful new bathtub.
  • I pull out my book, (I might have made the wrong choice): Siblings Without Rivalry.
  • I realize that I am parenting badly.
  • I realize that I am setting my children up for years of envy and bickering.
  • I realize that I am setting myself up for years of my children’s envy and bickering.
  • I realize that without any hot water, I can’t rinse off after my bath.
  • I resign myself to marinating in my own filth and calling it clean.
  • I get cold.
  • I get out.

7:05 PM:

  • Oh, good, you’re finally out. Hope you enjoyed your bath! You’re just in time to put the kids to bed.

And now I remember why I never take baths.