“But I can’t,” he whined petulantly, holding up a Band-Aid wrapped index finger as proof of crippling disability.
The mortal paper cut didn’t stop you from squeezing hand sanitizer all over the floor like Pine-Sol five minutes ago, I thought to myself but, like so many other humorously Shakespearean asides my children wouldn’t get, I don’t say.
“Tell you what, I’ll put a Skittle at the end of each row and each time you finish, you get to eat one!” I said with the forced brightness every parent of small children can summon at will.
“But I don’t want to.”
I appreciated his honesty but I was pretty sure his kindergarten teacher wouldn’t accept forthrightness as a substitute for handwriting practice.
“I know, sweetie, but you can be done super fast and I will be right here to help you if you need it, okay?”
Mary Poppins wishes she could sound as chipper as I do right now.
“No, I won’t,” he mewled and the red rims around his impossibly blue eyes signaled an imminent wash of tears if this continued.
Frustration mingling with acid reflux began to rise in my esophagus and I could feel my heart rate speed up. Deep within the teeny tiny corner of my brain that is the rational, self-control, don’t even open the bag of potato chips wrinkle of grey matter, I knew exactly what I should do. I should change the tone, tickle him, sing a silly song, make a Captain Underpants reference, do anything to prevent him from digging his oppositional wee heels in even deeper. Failing that, I should shut it down and try again later. It was early enough, we had time to revisit homework after dinner and I would be less overwhelmed with another set of adult eyes in the house to keep the baby from taking a swim in the toilet. This was not a battle worth picking at this particular time, I should make like Elsa and let it the frick go.
I did not.
I slammed the pencil down in front of him and clenched my teeth too tightly for a yell to escape. The strained hiss that emerged wasn’t much better but at least I could tell my guilty mom conscience that I didn’t raise my voice.
“Just do your homework now. I’m tired of the fussing. Enough.”
The rational part of my brain slapped its palm to its forehead. I had done the one thing I had resolved not to do. In my desire to control the situation, I had lost control of myself and backed my strong-willed, sensitive child into a corner. He had only two choices now: he could fight my fire with his own volcanic fury that would inevitably conclude with him scrawling his own version of curses and epiphets on the bathroom mirror in toothpaste or he could dissolve into a slimy bawling mess on the floor. He chose the latter. As he sobbed big drips onto his blank assignment page, I floated out of my body and looked down objectively at the hot mess playing out at my kitchen table.
There were dozens of explanations for my poor choices in this scenario. I was perpetually exhausted from weeks/months/years of woefully inadequate sleep due to colds, teething, nightmares and a 15 month old who has the attachment needs of a kangaroo joey with separation anxiety.
I was annoyed with myself for the toxic waste level disaster area that my husband would come home to despite the fact that my two oldest sons are in school all day and I am home with only the three year old and the baby. The baby, who had chosen that precise moment of distraction to decode the child lock on my spice cabinet and empty an bottle of savory on the floor, making my entire kitchen smell like an old timey apothecary.
The older toddler had spent the first hour of his nap singing an original composition “Ode to Batman” and I had waited in terror for his operatic solo to wake the younger toddler who does not take kindly to disturbances in her beauty sleep. It had been a long day of keeping tiny humans alive and relatively happy and I just needed one thing in it to not be an uphill battle. All these real but unacceptable excuses flew out the window when I realized what my behavior was doing to my son.
I was not encouraging him, I was pushing him through the task simply to check another thing off my list. Each cop out, each surrender to my own rigid agenda was like pounding a wooden peg into a hole that was just a hair too small. Every harsh syllable that flew unchecked out of my mouth drove him further into his negative space, shearing and slicing away little pieces of his spirit.
I wondered, which piece of him was I willing to sacrifice at the altar of my impatience? Would it be the part of him that clapped and cheered when his sister took her first steps? Would it be the bit that wiggled and danced like a happy puppy dog because I brought home his favorite snack from the grocery store? Would I shave away the easy charm that allowed him to make friends at every playground and park we visited? Could I bear to lose the sliver that squeezes my neck at bedtime and gives me not one but two kisses on the nose before saying, “I give you two kisses because you are such an extra nice mommy and I love you.”
Pulling him onto my lap, I wrapped him in my arms and apologized for losing my temper. I don’t yell at my kids often because it’s just not my personality but the few times that I have, I could feel a crack form in the foundation of their trust in me.
I know that if I allowed myself to succumb to the excuses, the fault lines would eventually split into a chasm with them on the other side, too far for my arms to reach and fold them into a comforting embrace. I will not allow that to happen. I am human and imperfect and I will make plenty of mistakes but I will not justify those mistakes just because being a parent of four children under the age of seven is hard.
I will not let myself off the hook and forget about it because remembering my mistakes is how I can avoid repeating them. I can do better because they deserve better. Because every messy, loud, defiant piece of them is more precious to me than anything on this earth. Because, darn it, at the end of the day, I want to earn that second kiss on the nose.
Mommy formerly known as Laurie to three sons ages seven and under who never stop running and the answer to the ever-delightful “are you going to keep trying for a girl” daughter. Dancer major turned physical therapist assistant turned stay-at-home mom. Catch Phrase: “Why is the coffee always gone?” Special Skills: Cobbling something resembling meals from the culinary flotsam and jetsam lurking in her refrigerator, setting her husband’s teeth on edge with her exceptionally loud chewing, and creating mom-related parodies to almost any song despite being completely tone-deaf. Can be found all too frequently on Facebook and all too infrequently on Instagram which she still doesn’t thoroughly understand. You can read her humorously (at least she think she’s funny) rambling musings on love, loss, motherhood and the occasional rhyme on her blog Reba Can You Hear Me.