The other day I was waiting for my daughter’s bus to take her home from camp when I heard my boys, 14 and 8 in the middle of yet another argument.
“Tom, help me open up the back door.”
“You just had it open a second ago. You can do it yourself.”
“Tom, I can’t do it. I need your help. Open the door for me.”
“I’m not your slave. Do it yourself.”
“Mom, will you tell Tom to open the door for me?”
“Mom, will you tell Peter I’m not his slave?”
After hearing about all I could take of this exchange I, ever so sweetly mind you, yelled out, Peter, Tom is not your slave. Tom, open the door for your brother.
“But mom I’m not his slave.”
“No, you are not. You are my mine.”
“Ha, ha, mom very funny.”
Tom opened up the door for Peter. Lizzy’s bus came and I was feeling quite impressed with myself.
Later on as I was thinking about this incident, it occurred to me how far the mighty had fallen.
Wasn’t I the mother who was never going to raise her voice at her children? Wasn’t I going to listen to my kids’ feelings, validate them, and let them solve their own problems?
I had such lofty goals.
I remember lecturing my parents on how to talk to Tom, starting when he was around six months old.
“Don’t say good boy or good job. Let him know what it is he did and praise him for that.
“Don’t tell him not to cry. Ask him why he is sad.”
“Don’t tell him not to whine. Ask him to use his words.”
“Don’t tell him to be quiet. Ask him to use his indoor voice.”
I was adamant.
I took some child psychology courses in college, read a ton of parenting books, and had years of therapy behind me. I knew that being able to voice what you were feeling was important to mental health. I wanted to create a home that was warm and one that my children felt safe to express their feelings in.
And in some ways I have.
I was frequently praised by friends, doctors and teachers for the way I spoke to my children as they developed. People were impressed at how well my children had a handle on what they were feeling and their ability to communicate that to others.
I was very proud of myself back then. Of course I should have remembered that pride goeth before the fall.
What happened to my lofty ideals?
My kids got older and started having stronger opinions.
We have places to go, crazy schedules to adhere to, buses to catch, homework that needs to get done, and teenagers who don’t want to wake up.
I am often stressed out. And as much as I hate to admit it, I can’t always hide this side of myself from my kids.
As we were eating dinner tonight, I told my kids that I was writing this piece and asked them what were some of the common phrases that I use.
“Well, mom, you use a lot of sounds. Argh, Ahh, Ugh, Grr, and you sigh, a lot. Maybe you should do a video? I don’t know if you can really do it justice by writing about it,” said Tom.
I looked at him.
“That. That look is perfect. That is what you do a lot.”
“Thanks Tom.” I start laughing.
“You do say, ‘I’m not a genie, a fairy or a slave.’ And ‘Knock it off.’”
“You’re right, I do that a lot.”
Now Peter jumps into the conversation.
“Mom, you say, ‘Today not Tomorrow,’ and, ‘No more penis and butt sniffer talk.’”
Now we are all laughing.
“Mom you also say, ‘This is ridiculous,’ and ‘I already answered that.’”
“Thanks Peter. Do I say anything else?”
“You say, ‘I love you.’”
“Oh, Peter.’ I give him a kiss.
“Tom, you see this is why he is my favorite,” I say jokingly.
“That hurt mom. I’m deeply wounded,” replied Tom.
Still more laughter.
Not wanting to leave 11 year old Lizzy out, I turn to her.
Lizzy’s special needs make communicating very difficult, and I’m never really sure if she is following the conversation.
“Lizzy, is there something I say to you when I’m mad or frustrated?”
She looked at me for a minute. I wasn’t sure if she understood.
“You say, ‘Elizabeth, Elizabeth, Elizabeth, Elizabeth.’”
“Lizzy, you are right. I do that.”
I looked at my husband who is laughing and just taking all of this in.
Once again I am reminded that my plans of being the perfect mom have not worked out the way I planned.
But as we were laughing and enjoying each other’s company, I realized that it might be OK that my children see me as a full human being. Perhaps I am teaching them as much from the times that I make mistakes and apologize to them as I do from the times I am completely on my game. In the long run, my kids don’t need a perfect mother, they need me.
Now, excuse me while I stop some more penis talk.