Photo: The trees are bare around the farmhouse. The evergreens cast long shadows across the lawn now, preventing Mama from having a warm place to stand while the boys insist on playing outside.
I went into this week purely in survival-mode. I was thinking to myself, The Husband is out of town, I’ve got a bunch of writing to do, I am behind and I need to catch up and… the boys…
So I did what I used to do back in the old days, the pre-baby days: I put my head down, I worked my ass off, I hit (just about) all of my goals (except one, which I’ll explain in a bit) and then some. I’m sitting here on Friday afternoon feeling proud of doing all of the things I told myself I had to do, and a bunch of other random things that just came up, and I did it while not feeling well, and I even did it with a little bit of style.
My Quiet Thoughts are on the fact that I probably wasn’t the best mother the week. Because I walked in with low expectations for the boys and their behavior, seeing them as obstacles to my goals instead of partners in my week, I was impatient, I was not compassionate, and I missed opportunities to build or expand their horizons.
This isn’t one of those sunshiny mom-blogs where I’m going to fluff up nonsense about how I think that “hurry up” might as well be a four-letter word, or that listening to every single nugget that comes out of the mouths of my babes should be treated with the same weight as that of Buddha. I think that’s all nonsense. I am not sure that’s good parenting. But I will say that there is a spectrum, and there is another extreme in the opposite direction, and while I certainly wasn’t in the darker realm of parenting, I absolutely wasn’t my best this week. And I’m ok with admitting that.
I’m not going to take all the blame. Major and Minor are both in challenging stages. I wake up in the morning and greet them with the same sugar and energy, and sometimes the battles start as soon as their little feet hit the hardwood. It can sometimes take 10 minutes of negotiation to get the eldest child onto the potty when he wakes up, and by then he’s stalled long enough to do his thing in his diaper. It’s exhausting. It’s hard to pivot from that to some sort of positive energy and a delightful activity. And in the moments when I do plan something fun, they both want different things or they fight over something trivial, or the break something or throw something… I wondered out loud on Tuesday, “why do I even bother? Why do I even try to do something nice?”
But I wonder how much of that was my own low expectations. When you go into the week thinking, “I just have to live until Wednesday. I just have to survive until The Husband comes back and takes them of my hands,” how much have to set yourself up for constant battles and frustration? If I had decided that we were going to have three big things to look forward to, that we were going to do together and special for the occasion, could we have all gotten along better?
My reflection on this over the last few hours took me back to my old job and one of the things that I really hated about it: My charter school had a million rules and regulations, enforced, often, with great passion but little compassion. In the name of “safety” and “scholarship,” the “no-excuses” environment was of the following mind-set: “We sweat the small things so that the big things don’t happen.” The result? Silent hallways, some hundred or so students in detention every day over frivolous demerits, a small contingent of students who practically never went to class because they were always in the principal’s office, and a small contingent of teachers who could only express themselves through absolute control. It was miserable. There were few sanctuaries on the hallway. I tried to make mine one of them… it couldn’t always be, though. I know that folks from my graduate school and my former employers would be happy to tell you that “no-excuses” sets a high standard for behavior and, thus, scholarship. But I learned pretty quickly that it comes from a place of low expectations. Don’t get me started… let me bring this back.
The boys and their behavior of late have been frustrating. Embarrassing melt-downs at the ends of two playdates, an incident of misbehavior at the grocery store, too many fights over following directions and following the rules here at home… It allowed me to create a narrative in my head: “I just need to power through this week. I can’t meet them where they are, so I’ll drag them back to the light. I’ll just double down on the discipline while their father is gone so we can just all get through it together.”
It was bullshit. It didn’t work. It meant a lot of yelling. It meant a lot of tears. It meant more conflict. It meant a lot of exhaustion. I’d forgotten the lesson.
It’s easy to shrug. What’s a week in the lives of two children? They gave as good as they got this week. But there is danger in that: I’ve had to learn the same lesson twice. There will be more challenging phases in the future. I can’t let this become cyclical: I need to hold a standard of decorum, yes, but the standard of patience and empathy from me must be higher and more strictly enforced. Small stuff happens. Big stuff happens. How the house feels, how the week feels, matters. It’s a week in their lives that could have been less stressful. The repercussions now are minimal, but the stakes only get higher as we go.
And so I enter the weekend, Husband returned, help restored. But I’m mindful that the challenges haven’t ended, the phases still in play, and so, next week is an opportunity to try again. Here’s hoping.
I’d complain about the Massachusetts cold, but I know that it is cold everywhere this week. What should I wish for you then, dear reader? On this Friday before Thanksgiving, I wish you the time to look in your closet, choose a coat that you don’t fit or don’t like and take it to a charitable organization. I wish you the chance to share the warmth of your smile, a sincere “hello” and a moment of your time. I wish you an intimate moment with your favorite person, a whisper in the ear, a soft touch on the lower back, a laugh at an inside joke, simple words in a note… a thought in a quiet moment shared with another. I wish you time with a book, under a blanket or two, bonus points if you can do so next to a cracking wood fire (a real one, not one of those gas whosits that’s just for show!). I wish you a bowl of good soup from a well-loved recipe, simmered for hours, prepared by loving hands. Bonus points if it’s your grandmother’s recipe. Extra bonus points if you help. I wish you the warmth of knowing that you are loved, known and unknown, near and far. And I wish you the joy of knowing that there is a warm place for you in the world.
Shout out to Britt of Blooms and Bubbles for the shout-out she gave to me in today’s Daily Press!! You are amazing!!
Until Monday, take care.