In Which I Rock

Sometimes my kids are just wonderful. They are kind and understanding to each other, and they run away to some corner of the house to, say, play school, and they come up occasionally to politely ask for help with a snack. When I have the requested snack in stock, they reward me with joyful shouts of “You’re the best!” and “I love you, Mommy!” (Interesting statistic, here: 5 out of 6 of all “I love yous” that I received are directly related to proving nourishment. True.) On days like these, I appreciate the girls, but I often turn my attention to other tasks, and the success or failure of my day hinges on how much I accomplish.

On other days my children are dreadful and I try my best, but I lose it. The scenarios are similar each time. With M, she’ll exhibit a relatively minor attitude problem (usually belittling J or acting snotty to me), and I’ll call her on it, telling her to come sit down with me so that I can remind her about correct behavior. But instead of sucking it up and coming over and saying, “You’re right, I’m sorry,” she rolls her eyes, talks back, refuses to come over or to sit down, and continues being obnoxious until my mild annoyance escalates into red-hot anger and I send her to her room so that I won’t beat her. With J, she’ll cling, act helpless, or ask me for things using all hand gestures instead of words until the tone of my voice changes, just slightly, into the tone of a mother losing patience. Then she begins to sob and I try to reason with her that I’m really not mad, I’m just trying to help her, and she sobs more, and by that time I feel both angry and guilt-ridden for betraying that my patience with her is not, in fact, infinite.

And then, there are days like today.

Days when M sobs over long division and yells in frustration while J works on a project that includes leaves, glue, fabric, scissors, more glue, poster board, and googly eyes. Days when the two of them drop every article of clothing that they own in every single room in the common areas of our home. Days when they seem intent on making themselves, each other, and me as miserable as possible. And I go back and forth, correcting and calming M, coaching J on her spelling while deflecting M’s critiques of J’s spelling, and helping to control J’s gooey artistic mess. All while enforcing the pick-up-your-crap rules, stepping in only when absolutely necessary to ensure sibling civility, and cooking a delicious dinner. And as the storms subside, I think to myself that I’m maintaining the demeanor of some kind of Amazing Zen Master.

And by the time Cute W gets home, he overhears, from upstairs, our wretched, snotty children and my responses, and he comes downstairs and tells me that I’m unbelievably patient and he even uses the word “Zen.” And I am in an awesome mood. Because, sure, I love cuddling with my kids or celebrating milestones. But the times when I feel like a Super Mama are when my kids have been hideously awful for a sustained period of time, and I have remained calm and pleasant through it all. When we’ve weathered the storm and come through it unscathed.

It might be the best feeling in the entire world.


  1. Claire

    I really appreciate your perspective on this. I tend to live for the times when things go smoothly, without hassle. When my son falls apart, my gut response is to assume it’s due to a failure on my part, and then I get down on myself and don’t handle the situation very well. I will try to remember this post, and to see these types of crises as opportunities for me to rise to the occasion and subsequently (hopefully) feel better about myself.

  2. Oh, man, Ken. Like, who doesn’t sob over math sometimes? I was astounded that she got through the multiplication tables last year unscathed because I remember serious tears all through 3rd grade. She sailed through, but it’s caught up to her this year, big-time.

    MIchelle, yes, we are due for coffee. Maybe next week sometime?

  3. How old is he?
    I think that it might be partly a function of age? I spent a lot of time researching how to parent better in my first four years or so of being a parent. Cute W used to joke that I was studying hard to get another MA, this one for Mother Administration. Now that the girls seem like they’re generally turning out all right (knock on wood) and they’re out in the world more, so there are all sorts of other influences affecting their behavior, too, I think I’ve gone from “how can I rearrange everything I do to make my children into better, kinder, more intelligent beings?” to “how can I get through the next hour and feel like I’m being the best mama I can manage given the circumstances?”

    Uh-oh, maybe this means that I’ve just completely lowered my standards?

    That’s the trick to feeling better about yourself, Claire! Just completely lower your standards! 😉

  4. Claire

    He’s almost 4. You’re right, I need to take it one step at a time, rather than getting overwhelmed by the longterm!

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