Contrary to the picture my words may paint, life is not always rosy. Nor is my outlook or attitude.
It’s just that perhaps I’m an odd duck and I write about life’s little victories and sweetnesses as a way to remind myself of them. It is my therapy, the way that I convince myself that “every little thing is gonna be alright”.
My hope is that they become love notes, tucked away for my children in a virtual treasure box, to be opened at the precise moment they need them. Or, my words are simply released, floating into the cosmos, bumping into shooting stars or getting sucked into black holes.
After all, we are “made of star stuff”.
Case in point. Today.
In a matter of less than five minutes, I cleaned up the following messes made by our resident stealthy ninja Indigo: two big cups of almond milk on the kitchen floor, carmel syrup sinking at the bottom in large clumps. Carmel syrup squirted in random circles on our kitchen rug. A large cup of cow’s milk, on the counter, with a bottle of maple syrup sitting suspiciously by it.
To capture her attention, I ask her to help me make Rice Krispie treats. She sits, half naked, on our granite countertops and gingerly unwraps the stick of butter. I mix in the ingredients and add chocolate chips at the last minute. I put Indigo back down and step out to grab something from the office. When I return moments later, the kitchen is quiet and, before I even make it there, I yell out “OK, where are you and what do you have?”.
I search for her in every room. Not a peep. Peering in every hiding place of hers – no Indigo. Finally, after a second sweep-through, our voracious dog gives her away. He stares at her behind a couch, waiting for the marshmallows she stuffs into her mouth.
(Last week – TWICE – I came around the corner of the kitchen to find a dozen new eggs cracked precisely on the kitchen floor. Creamy, golden egg yolks spread across the tile. Oddly enough, the floors felt incredibly soft and velvety beneath my feet after I mopped up the mess. Eggs. The new tile floor conditioner.
Yesterday, Jason caught her with two half-licked sticks of butter in her hands. And, oh yeah, I also found her pouring juice into a wine glass. “But, mama, it was for you!”. Well, then….I guess I can’t really argue that one.
The fridge lock we finally purchased lasted less than 24 hours, after being accidentally ripped off by Jason.
And yes, we are accepting donations for a fancy fridge with an electronic lock.
After picking Kaia up from school, I divert to Wal-Mart for a few groceries. The kids are bribed to follow “the rules”. “Please, no running, stay by mama, no hitting, no screaming. Then you can have rice krispie treats! And bubble gum!”. For a bit, they are content with the crunch of apples between their teeth. Then, the hitting begins. Hair is pulled. Chins are bumped on the cart. I put one in the cart, I pull one out. The tears fall. Wailing and kicking commences as I stoop in the baby aisle trying to pick out a play gym thing for Lyric since the only “toy” he has to pass his time has been a muslin blanket. Poor third child.
The girls are both screaming loudly and trying like mad to get at each other’s hair. Lyric joins them in the sob song. Great. Three crying, melting-down children. In Wal-mart.
“That’s ENOUGH!”, I say firmly and smack the package of the toy against Kaia’s hip. More cries. Piercing.d
Finally, I get them all calmed down, moving form one child to the other, soothing and stooping to their level and trying to explain the situation and how we are going to proceed. I exhale and work on keeping my voice low and calm.
“Kaia, I know you are tired and this is hard. Mama is sorry I scared you. We both have to work on being really kind to each other and to others, ok?”. I pick her up.
“Indigo, I saw that. I saw how you hurt your chin. I’m so sorry. It will heal. C’mon, baby”.
“Lyric boy, mama’s right here. We’re almost done. Patty-cake, patty-cake!”. I stroke his cheek and kiss away his tears.
I turn around to leave the aisle and notice a Wal-Mart employee standing a few feet behind me, almost hidden behind the next aisle. She is staring at me. I meet her gaze and half-smile, my eyebrows raised. She feigns a smile and quickly walks away, stopping to “help” a customer along her way.
It dawns on me that it wasn’t coincidental that she was there as the circus of my family put on their best show.
Are you freaking kidding me? Was I seriously just spied on by the Wal-Mart Family Police? “Send someone over to the baby aisle, suspected case of child abuse….”
For a moment I am outraged. And then, I am grateful. Grateful – and yet sad – for the times that such an intervention may really help prevent a child from getting hurt or hit or smacked or dreadfully mistreated.
The momentary smacking of Kaia’s hip with a soft plastic package flashes through my mind . My heart of hearts knows it didn’t hurt her. But it scared her enough and caused her pause. Holy shit, all I can think of is how my bad mothering moment could be caught on camera. Or on The People of Wal-mart website.
We make it to the check out line and wait. A mom in front of me has two young boys and we give each other this “Yeah, I feel ya” kind of nod and weary grin. You know the one I’m taking about. It’s the one that also quickly sizes up the other mom, compares whose kids’ shirts are dirtier and who has junkier food in their basket and whose pantyline isn’t showing and who needs to lose 10 more pounds.
The girls become more restless and Indigo starts pulling candy from the shelves and Lyric is crying. So, I send the girls to the filthy looking arcade space that is housed clearly within my vision. The same arcade that Indigo had stripped naked in about 8 months ago. They gladly run to it, the germs and grime calling out their names.
The line isn’t moving and I notice the attendant is hand-entering each item. You’ve got to be kidding me. The mom gives me another “Ulghhhh, I feel ya” look. This time, the look reminds you that you are all in this together and who the hell cares about those 10 pounds and I’ll bet we could really chat it up on my couch drinking some wine and watching our kids get their shirts even dirtier and panties? What panties?
I peek into the next line and a customer turns to me saying “It’s taking forever!!!”. It appears that something is up with their scanners and every attendant is hand-keying every single item.
God fucking forbid.
I move to the self-check out line and Lyric is still crying. I pull him out of his carseat and hold him with one arm, as I begin scanning my items. Inevitably, the scanner beeps and yells at me and flashes for an attendant.
A pudgy, middle-aged guy strolls over. He is mostly balding with a comb over and thick glasses.
“Lemme help ya out there, it looks as if you have your hands full”. His voice is kind and gentle and reassuring.
He proceeds to be my right-hand man over the course of the next ten minutes or so. He takes it upon himself to “teach” me the ropes of self-scanning, giving me inside tips and reminding me to “….just act casual about the scanning, almost lazy, like you don’t even mean to do it. Bring the item in at an angle, and give a good twist of your wrist at the end. That will get it every time”.
Dude is gonna make a pro-self-scanner out of me.
I am alternating between scanning, pressing buttons on the machine, holding Lyric, eyes my girls and calling out “Indigo, get down! Kaia, no, don’t pull her!”
Back to Dude. He takes his job seriously. But he’s helping me and he’s kind and he’s not rushing me one bit. And he nods over to my rambuncious girls at the arcade and proclaims “Looks like they’re having fun!” instead of saying “Check out your hooligans that are climbing dangerously on top of the Buzz Lightyear ride!”.
I eek out a laugh and say “Yeah, I don’t know what I was thinking bringing all three of my kids here” and he smiles and replies “You’re just being a mom. And trying to keep everyone happy”.
He’s right . And I love him.
He managed to salvage my People of Wal-Mart worthy experience. I left feeling grateful, albeit exhausted.
There were Rice Krispie treats enjoyed be all when we returned home. And an onslaught of hugs.
So, did I tell you that my sweet 5 year old Kaia hasn’t quite mastered the art of pooping on the potty 100% of the time? There is so much to this saga, mostly about how she KNOWS how to do it, but chooses not to. Yes, I have reared a child that actually seems to prefer the feeling of poop in her pants as opposed to in the toilet. Or something like that.
Jason and I fretted over this months before school began. We envisioned accidents and her being sent home and loads of shitty underwear to clean (or throw away, as I’ve been known to do). “She’ll learn”, everyone would say. “Just wait, peer pressure will teach her in no time”.
I am happy to say that there have been NO accidents during her two weeks of school!
She comes home and poops in her pants almost every single day.
Dude, at least it’s not at school.
I redirect Kaia during another fight, where she has just tried to punch Indigo.
“Kaia, you cannot keep using your hands when you are angry! Use your words or ask Mama for help!”.
“But Indigo hit me! So I was going to hit her back!”
“Honey, we don’t hit people…”
“Uh huh! Like you hit me ALL the time!”.
“WHAT?!!”. I kneel down and pull her close to me. “What do you mean? I never hit you!”
“Oh yes”, she says confidently “Like how you pulled me hard out of the cart at the store and hit me with the toy there”.
Oh my god. Really?
Their reality is their truth. Whether momentarily or not, the feelings and experiences that pulse through the lifeline of children are BIG and TRUE and UNFLINCHINGLY REAL. And I must – we must – honor those as we’d want our own Truth honored. Hauling a kid out of a cart in a moment of frustration is akin to hurting (and it was a firm pull, so it very well could have hurt). A quick and seemingly harmless smack against their body isn’t a warning, it’s an affront to their feeling of safety and love. An invasion of their body. Hurtful. Harmful.
And so, we talk. Like we’ve talked before. About how we are all human and we get angry. And angry is okay. But that we have to be careful what we do with anger. And sometimes without thinking, our bodies take over for our words and we act mean out of anger. When really, we just need to stop, and breathe and ask for help or walk away or cry and scream. It’s ok to scream.
I hold her and tell her I am so sorry I hurt her. And to help me work on being gentle. I need her help. And for her to also work on being gentle with her sister.
And then, a moment of levity: “Kaia, and really, I know you felt that way but you really shouldn’t say things like ‘You hit me all the time’, because someone’s gonna call the cops on mama!”.
“Well”, she says logically and a bit callously, “I’d still have Daddy with me though”.
My life. This.
How do I keep myself from (mostly) going off my rocker every time I rendezvous with incidents like these? Because I read The Sun. And one tiny, unrelated monthly section has changed my perspective on parenting forever. Reader’s Write.
Where the magazine “asks readers to address subjects on which they’re the only authorities. Topics are intentionally broad in order to give room for expression. Writing style isn’t as important as thoughtfulness and sincerity.”. Monthly topics are communicated months in advance and the entries are no more than a short paragraph or a few sentences long.
But they move me every single time. Because a majority of entries are about experiences and moments from a person’s childhood; how those moments impacted them forever. Many write about their parents, and how they viewed them as 5 year olds, 15 year olds, and then as 50 year olds. So many are heartbreaking; about abuse, abandonment, resentment, guilt, worry. Some are redeeming. Some.
And it has hit me, hard and in the heart, that I am making memories. Every word and action and kiss and glare and pull from a cart is being branded into my children’s memories. Sunken deep, buried, but not unlike a well that bubbles up and pours forth and brings everything to the surface. Every mineral and piece of dirt and minuscule life form and molecule of thirst-quenching water. It’s all there, abundant in their growing brains and pumping hearts.
And I’ll be damned if I’m the subject of one of their entries one day, about the mother that yelled at every mess they made, and hurried them along all their lives, and was married to her computer, and expected things way beyond their capabilities.
So, while anger can creep up on me, mostly I try to speak more calmly when I want to yell. I try to help them clean messes instead of forcing them, with fights and guilt-trips to clean it up alone. I make an effort to step away from my screen and read books, cut out paper pumpkins, or bake muffins. I remember to respect that they can’t be rushed along through life, trying to box them into an adult schedule. I try to stop my hands from grabbing them in anger when they run off with a stick of butter, or a bag of bread, or a handful of half-peeled boiled eggs. I try to get to their level, because it makes me pause and take a moment.
Because, I’ve realized, what’s the point of going psycho about a mess when the damage has already been done AND…30 years from now, I won’t remember the mess (ok, maybe that one). But they might remember my misplaced anger, my smack of the toy, the doled out punishments or withholding of the one and only thing they want and need: LOVE.
And, when I don’t succeed, I always ALWAYS say I’m sorry.
But let us not withhold LOVE.
I also have taken a friend’s advice and am honest with them about my needs and desires. I say “I don’t really want to read that book for the fourth time tonight. Can you pick another?” or “Mama needs a little space, I’m going to read or write or fold some laundry now” or “I am very very angry and disappointed and sad”.
Because, I AM human. Like them.
And that’s all I really want them to know. Is that they are allowed to be a human, a child, a kid. A being with wild and roaring and creative and loving and angry emotions.
Because life really pisses you off sometimes.
But, in the end, it all comes back to LOVE.
Thank you, Mr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, for your answer to question #1 here. YES. Thank you.
(PS Physics is HOT!)