Way back when my little brother was a teenager, he hit another car in a parking lot with my parent’s car. Then he panicked and left the scene, no note. But someone had observed the whole thing, took down his license plate number, and left the information for the other car’s owner. The owner called our house and got my Dad–I don’t remember if my brother had already confessed or not. Either way, Dad listened, apologized, said that my brother would be punished, and pulled out his insurance information. The guy on the phone was irate, and he was baffled that Dad wasn’t completely blowing a gasket on the phone.
“You don’t even seem angry about this at all!” angry car owner spluttered.
Dad sighed. “You know, sir, this is my sixth child. By the time you’ve raised six children who are old enough to drive, you get a little perspective. Kids mess up and you help them fix it, and getting worked up doesn’t really help.”
Or, he said something like that.
I’ve been thinking about that lately because we’ve had a bad day and a half at our house. And I’ve realized that, as a mother of only two children, I’m never going to achieve a state in parenthood in which I can be all Zen about my child leaving the scene of an accident. I’d need to have, like, at least 2 or 3 kids to get there.
To make matters worse, my kids are awesome. Oh, sure: I’d like it if they didn’t shed dirty socks hither and yon, and I wish that one of them would actually stick with a musical instrument and practice it without complaint. But generally, they’re great. They behave in school, they occasionally clean rooms without being nagged, they try to be helpful and good. Generally we just hum along. It’s a peaceful house, and everyone’s mostly pretty kind to each other. And we’re happy: the kids are funny and clever, and Cute W and I ain’t bad either.
So when there’s any sort of disruption, due to our lack of perspective, it feels like all hell has broken loose. There was a teensy glitch recently. So incidental that the punishment was a soft-spoken 4-minute lecture with friends present and a 4-day suspension from the iPod. Come on, you guys! It’s not like it’s a phone or something! (See, that’s a joke, ha, because we are Too Awful and Mean to let our children have phones.)
The massive rage and hate that has resulted from one poor choice and our response is like a black haze of doom that’s fallen over the household. The unrelenting rain and all-day twilight aren’t helping matters. I try to keep in mind what Anthony Wolf said in his terrific book I’d Listen to My Parents If They’d Just Shut Up: it’s not personal. It’s not about me or Cute W, except that we are parents and we are not doing what she wants. Which is easy to say, except that it feels quite personal, and, if asked, I’m sure that this daughter would insist that it’s very personal, that I am uniquely awful among all other parents in the world, that her friends will now find me terrifying and avoid walking down our block. The hatred is rising from her flesh like alcohol-sweats from your worst hangover ever, and it’s polluting the entire household. It’s exhausting and demoralizing and depressing. It’s like the house has turned into Azkaban, and I feel sorry for the sister who has to live in this house of horrors until it all blows over.
My parents were just much better at maintaining equanimity than I am. They actually didn’t take things personally, or, at least, they were better at faking it. I, on the other hand, am in a massively foul mood. In fact, yesterday I decided to go swimsuit shopping: I figured that, hey, if it went poorly, it couldn’t ruin my already-awful day. Although it went surprisingly well and I bought a bikini, even. We’ll see if I actually wear it out of the house. Oh! And speaking of not taking things personally, if you’ve never read about the time I took J in the dressing room with me swimsuit shopping, you should read that post.
Anyway, my currently-quite-hateful daughter has always been a tough customer. There’s a story from back when she was about 3 years old. I’d done something to displease her, and she’d yelled, “I hate you!” as part of a really quite extended tantrum, and even after she’d calmed down, she was giving me the stinkeye. Much later in the day, she approached me and was finally pleasant. Ah, I thought, maybe she’s gotten over it. She politely asked me for help in the bathroom–it was that magical time in her life when the potty itself was attainable, but proper toilet papering occasionally eluded her. Relieved that the storm had finally passed, I smiled as I wiped her butt. Then, just as I was finishing up, she looked over her shoulder and hissed, “I hate you.”
Oh, man, the girls love that story. It just makes them laugh and laugh, every time.
Come to think of it, it’s made me feel a little better, too.