Sorry, Gotta Go!

We’re always the first to leave. I cut short outings and parties and gather my troops while we’re all still having a great time. See, I pre-empt misbehavior and meltdowns. I’ve dragged my kids kicking and screaming out of too many parks, parties, and pools, and I’d like nothing more than to never have to do it again.

My kids get hungry, tired, overwhelmed, and overstimulated. While your kids happily play together for the 5th consecutive hour, not noticing that it’s already 7:30 and dinner hasn’t been served, I can see the wild look developing in my kids’ eyes by hour 3. I know what’s coming and it’s not pretty. Regrettable things will be said. Repeatedly and loudly. I’d rather you not witness that. I’d rather you not see me have to physically restrain my unrestrainable boychild. I’d rather you not see me roll my eyes at the pitiable tears of my girlchild.

If possible, I’d like you to think that we’re a nice family. I’d like you believe that my daughter isn’t almost always crying over something or other, and that my son isn’t always a hair-trigger away from a meltdown so staggering in its suddenness and violence that it can only be compared to a tornado.

If I stay too long, you’d see my daughter stub her toe or bump her head. You see her cry her big tears and frown her perfect big frown. And then you see me barely care about it and assume that I’m a colossal jerk. And I might be. But what you don’t know is that my daughter stubs and bumps something so often that if I stopped to genuinely care about it every time, my entire family might starve to death and would certainly never have a clean shirt to wear. Her tears are a constant companion. At some point, eyes must be rolled. Call me when there’s blood.

If I stay too long, you’d see my son talk back to me and say things that are stunningly obnoxious and rude. You’d hear my teeth-clenched, low-voiced warnings – much like a snarling cat. (I’d save any yelling until we’re safely in the car.) You’d think that he’s out of control. You’d think that his parents are deficient in some, or many, ways to have a child act that way. And we might be. But unless you have a child who falls far on the spirited end of the temperament spectrum, you just don’t understand. I lead our lives with one wary eye on him at all times. I can tell when it’s coming and I’ve gotten pretty good at heading him off. I can corral and get us out of there before there’s a full volcanic eruption, just a few ashes burped up into the atmosphere. Let me leave you thinking that’s as bad as it gets.

When I do a good job, our party companions don’t even know that the tides have turned for my family, just that suddenly we’re departing. They might catch some attitude coming from the kids, but they’d never guess at what would happen if I don’t get us out of there immediately.

Ironically, it’s my kids’ inability to behave as well as your kids that make us great dinner guests. Go ahead and invite us over! I promise that we’ll never be the guests who overstay our welcome.

It’s Payback Time

I’m guessing I was about six at the time – old enough to remember it clearly, old enough to know better, young enough to do it anyway.

My parents took my sister, brother and I to a performance of The Nutcracker. Nice, right? It might have been until I spotted some unmemorable Nutcracker trinket in the theater gift shop that I HAD TO HAVE.

I asked for it. My mother said no.

I begged for it. My mother said no.

I asked if I could use my birthday money to buy it. (Genius! There’s no way she could say no to that!) My mother said no.

I lost my shit.

In my crying, screaming fit of righteous brattiness I shouted that my mother had stolen my money from me. 

Imagine this: In a moment of possibly insane parental optimism, you buy expensive tickets to the ballet for your family. Oh the music, the ballet, the magic! My sweet bright-eyed children will love it! Chances are your sanity has returned by the time you cross the theater’s threshold.

And then your child starts screaming, in a crowded theater, in the small community where you and your husband live and work, that you STOLE HER BIRTHDAY MONEY.

Kudos to my mother for not killing me. Kudos to my mother for somehow convincing my father to also not kill me, and to take me back home with them.

I recently recalled this particular scene from my childhood as I dialed Goodwill to see if they accept donations of gently-used children.

My kids’ shockingly obnoxious behavior is completely embarrassing. Behind closed doors, Luke calling me stupid is horrible. It makes me question his character and my shortcomings. But Luke calling me stupid in the supermarket? at the doctor’s office? in the playground? at a family gathering? in front of neighbors? Humiliation. Blood pressure spike. Prickly sweat. All sorts of thoughts that hold no resemblance whatsoever to I love my son so much and am so grateful to be his mother.

He does this to see what I’ll do. Which means that he is fully aware that I will be embarrassed. He just wants to see if I care more about throttling him or about appearing normal in front of other people. (This is where I should say that my reaction is totally consistent regardless of where we are. This is where I should say that as his mother my responsibility is to him alone, my own social standing and happiness be damned. So, let’s just pretend I said those things, m’kay?)

When I loudly accused my mother of stealing my money, over and over again, I knew very well that we were in public. I wanted to embarrass her. Of course she hadn’t stolen my money, but it was the meanest thing I could think of that might make some kindly stranger step in, tell my mother how horrible she is, and save me by buying me the trinket and possibly arresting my mom. To steal her adorable fancy-dressed daughter’s birthday money? For shame! She’d learn her lesson alright and she would never maltreat me again. Of course, at six, these thoughts weren’t quite so well laid out. It was probably more Captain Caveman-ish: Me mad! It her fault! Shame her! She bad!!!! Waaaaaaaa!

My mother did not kill me that day, or any other day for that matter. And she did bring me back home with her, albeit by dragging me unkindly through the parking lot while using her scary-quiet voice through gritted teeth. “You just wait until we get home!” Probably all that happened when we got home was me crying and quaking with fear, and my mother yelling something about something. That part I don’t remember.

Likewise, I have not killed my children and I keep taking them back home with me. I have a mean scary voice that when combined with gritted teeth has the desired effect of scaring the living shit out of them. My kids won’t remember every time they’re sent to their rooms or lose out on a toy or privilege  They won’t recall the words that I scream at them when I’m screaming at them. (Let’s pretend I don’t do that.) But I bet they’ll remember The Look. I’m certain they’ll remember that scary voice. And I look forward to the day when they remember some specific incident from their childhood when they each acted like a tiny raging asshole, because they are dealing with their own tiny raging assholes.

In the end, our vindication does not come the way we imagine it at six. It’s not police at our door telling our parents that they’ll go to jail if they don’t get on board and buy us at least one Cabbage Patch Doll, since every other girl in the universe has, like, a hundred of them. Vindication happens much later. It’s when our own children experience the awful humiliation of having unhappy children in public places, the bitter disappointment of a special treat or surprise turning into a nightmare outing.

My mother will read this and tell me that it’s not about vindication. That she would prefer it if I never had to endure this stuff. But that’s not all true and I know it. No one drags her daughter out of The Nutcracker after that scene without wishing for her to get what’s coming to her one day. So, Mom, rest assured; I’m getting what I deserve. In spades.




(Stress) For Sale by Owner

In 10 days all of my worldly possessions will be boxed, loaded into trucks, and carted away from my home. This is the only home Sally has ever had, and the only home Luke remembers. While I’m excited about the new house, and I know that it will eventually become home, now it’s somebody else’s house, on somebody else’s street, with somebody else’s neighbors.

But what of those neighbors?

I am not great at first impressions. Ask just about any of my friends and they’ll tell you that they didn’t like me, were afraid of me, thought I was a bitch when they first met me. I think of it as my hard candy shell. It protects my inner chocolate and I won’t melt in your hands. But since having kids, I can’t afford to make that first impression. I need friends. STAT.

I’ve faced the issue of Mommy Dating before with limited success. But this time it’s more important. At 6-years-old Luke needs friends to hang out with on the regular. I need to model how to make friends even if it makes me uncomfortable. In this vein, I will go to my neighbor’s houses to introduce myself and my kids. I will introduce myself to parents in the library, playground, and anywhere else we find them.

But what about when Luke acts, well, Luke-ish?

My allegiance is to him first and foremost, which means that my reactions in front of new friends and neighbors need to be the same as my reactions at home. Which means that I need to suffer embarrassment and judgement as I deal with behaviors that may seem shocking and egregious. I simply can’t come down on him for everything he does. The occasional (frequent) “I hate you!” “You’re stupid!” comments, the occasional (frequent) tantrums, hits, and kicks, get a different reaction from me than they would from a parent of a more typically-demeanored child.

(Just in writing this I can feel the judgement coming from some of the readers. I fully know what they’re thinking and what they may say in the comments. And I understand why they think and say it. If you have a typically defiant child, then your stern admonishment in the face of flagrant disrespect are necessary and effective. So of course I should sternly admonish Luke for saying and doing these horrible things. If I don’t, it’s my fault he continues to behave that way. Those are easy assumptions to make, and certainly the ones I would have made as well. But, what they don’t know is that they have typically defiant children and I don’t. What works for most children, does not work for Luke. My non-reaction (when I can manage it) is actually the right thing to do.)

So, how can I get to know new people in the face of my anxiety about meeting them coupled with my anxiety of waiting for Luke to do something that will cause them to look at me expectantly, then judge me?

Do I open with, “Hi, I’m Allison. This is Luke and this is Sally. While Luke is the kindest and most thoughtful person I know, he also acts rashly and says things he doesn’t mean. So, I may ignore him or physically drag him out of here under a barrage of punches. Please judge my parenting based on my interactions with Sally,”?

Of course not.

Luke picks up on my anxiety the way a chameleon picks up the colors of its environment. I need to convincingly pretend that I have all the confidence in the world that he will behave appropriately. (Which he totally can and does sometimes.) If he detects a chink in my confidence, and he will if there is one, then he will meet my low expectations and then some.

Luke also picks up on my stress. I’ve been so stressed during this moving process and his behavior has reflected it in spades. We’ve established some toxic habits these last few months that I’m not proud of. I need to somehow release all my stress and anxiety the moment I cross the threshold of my new house. Can I do that while surrounded by boxes and up to my ears in the work of moving in? I have no doubts about my inability to do this. I need to somehow make the chore of unpacking fun. I need to set the tone for the family – a happy, cooperative, copacetic, calm tone of familial well-being.

Essentially, I need to take me out of the equation.

stess for sale