Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Dear Kids...I'm so sorry I yelled

I'm not known for being a quiet, laid-back, well-behaved person. In general, this is a source of great conflict for me. On the one hand, people like me bring about necessary revolutions. On the other hand, people like me cause revolutions. I'm not a peaceful person in a perpetual state of grace.

This morning, nine other mothers and I sat and knotted rosaries at a friend's request. We took a twenty foot length of twine and twisting it around our finger, created 10 Hail Mary knots (also known as a decade) with one larger Our Father in between. You're to create five decades, which you then bring together into a center piece with one more Our Father knot and a crucifix.

As with any act I perform, I required exact, precise instructions about how to create this rosary perfectly. What is the exact distance between Hail Marys and the exact extra distance to the Our Father? How do you keep the three loop from sliding and becoming a lump instead of a neat knot? How do you end up with an even list between decades?

All I could think of was how distracting it would be to try to faithfully pray while fingering a lumpy and uneven rosary.

This caused my friends to laugh out loud.

They told me to have faith; it would be fine. They told me faith doesn't require precision.

But I'm not called Faith, and I do require precision. Order. A method to the madness. This is usually what gets me in to trouble with the kids. Trouble like we had this morning, like we've had many mornings lately.

As you might expect, busy work for hands leaves idle time for the mind. And while my hands found their busy rhythm and it became automatic, my mind reflected on the morning.

Once again, I yelled at my children. It's been a rocky road lately, with a moody two and a peevish five, both of whom are testing boundaries and advancing skills at a pace I can't keep up with.

It's the developmental equivalent of a runner. Both of my children are runners.

Patience is actually more of a meanderer. We'll be walking along, and her pace will gradually but surely slow and eventually she'll see something and without a word, stop or dart away abruptly. She follows her interests single-mindedly. I have to keep a sharp eye, and play the Marco-Polo game as we walk, "Patience?" "Yes?" "Just checking." 10 seconds elapse. "Okay let's keep together!" "Fine, FINE!" 10 seconds. "Are you keeping up?" "Yeeeessssss!" Sometimes I make it fun, singing the move it move it song. But usually by the time we are doing this, crossing the parking lot to school, nearly late, I'm flat out exasperated.

Persistence is a sudden darter. She refuses to hold hands, be carried, or indulge in any behavior that might possibly flag her as a baby. For example, walking into school, she pulls her own backpack. She carries her own show and tell. With her, I play the "carrot dangle" game. "Who will you see at school?" I ask her. "I see Javi at school," she'll answer. "Let's keep moving, so we can go see Javi at school!" We'll be doing fine, and suddenly, with no warning, she'll sprint.

The mom you see in the parking lot, clutching her toddler's wrist as the child twists and shrieks, that's me, and this is why: my children are runners, the little one especially.

Both of my children have done a runner in public, both in stores. For heartstopping minutes, we search frantically. Patience has the wits to feel a little frightened when she realizes she's lost sight of me. Persistence laughs and laughs, what a lark, she thinks.

They add their skills in this same fashion.

Patience builds up to it, eventually flourishing a new skill with dramatic bravado. It's all the more exciting because you've been anticipating it. She really knows how to build and hold suspense. "Look Mom," she said to me not too long ago, "I know how to write down my stories, now!" She dropped her journal in my lap---she loves her unlined journals---in which she had written, "Cat sat bed fan," next to a picture of each.

Persistence, on the other hand, shocks you one day with a new skill or bit of knowledge. "Look Mom," she cried to me one day a little while back, "A CIRCLE!" She pointed to a circle she had drawn on her coloring page with a crayon. This week, it's snakes. She's obsessed with drawing snakes in the grass. I don't reflect on any symbolism.

I sat, this morning, knotting twine---making something significant out of an ordinary length of coiled string---and I thought hard about my kids, who they were, who I was, and what was going on in our dynamic lately. Because it just isn't flowing smoothly, this river.

It's important to me---as someone who wants precise instructions---to understand exactly what all the elements, pieces and factors are, how they play together, which pieces can be reorganized to work together more efficently and peacefully for the best result. It's important to me to try to engineer my life neatly.

It's important to me---as someone who prefers organization and planning, structure, order, schedule---to have a system in place, a plan for each day.

With one child, I managed. I compromised and I managed.

With two children, well...let's just say, over two years later and I'm still trying to see the fractal here. The extra wildcard sends the system into frequent, regular failure.

After each failure, I need processing time to reflect and ponder...conduct a project post-mortem.

Children aren't exactly great facilitators of time for reflection or implementing orderly systems. To say the very least.

Every morning, I start very optimistically with a plan. I tell the children the plan. Every morning, the children fall off the plan within the first ten minutes. I reiterate the plan, and the need to follow it, including what I think must be motivation. The children listen, then either buck it actively and verbally or passively and subtly.

Every morning, we have fifteen minutes before it is time to leave and I degenerate into threats.

I start sounding like Miss Hannigan, "You'll stay up until THIS FLOOR SHINES like the TOP OF THE CHYRSYLER BUILDING!"

The children stare at me, little orphan annie eyes welling or glaring reprovingly, like I just kicked that precious little dog Sandy.

I feel about that low, too.

But it works. Persistence finally agrees to an outfit and quits fighting dressing. Patience finally brushes her teeth and gets dressed.

We hustle to the car, the kids wanting to loiter and look at inchworms and moths, and me clapping my hands with brief staccato punctuations to my words of move it move it.

"There is NO TIME to stop and smell the roses," I snap, "You already used all of that up. Stop and smell them LATER. In the car. NOW. Buckles ON! NOW!"

After we get into the car, I back out, and head to the main road. I pray I can drive through with only one light red, instead of all of them doing the chain-reaction. When we arrive at school, it's more hustle and move it move it. Get out. No get out. No do not worry about that, stay focused: task is to get out of the car, now. Yes, close the door. No, no do not pick up rocks. We are late. They will lock the doors in one minute. We can look at the acorns later. I know they are fun to crunch under your shoes. Later. Move it move it.

I see other parents walking at a normal pace instead of in fits and starts. They walk quietly, talking with their children, who walk sedately beside them.

These are probably the same children who sit nicely on their carpet squares during story time at the library. Not my kids. Patience's carpet square turns into a magic carpet that must fly her stuffed cat around the room. She makes up her own stories, which she shares aloud, even in public. She has no interest in books. Persistence's carpet square is a launching pad for her bottle rocket self shooting about the room, pinging off every person and surface.

I see the children safely into their respective classrooms with hugs and kisses and tremendous relief. When I get back to the car, I usually sit for five minutes to just breathe. I let the guilt and regret wash over me.

Dear Kids, I am so sorry I yelled. I am so sorry I can't figure out how to work this better so you do have time to smell the roses on the way to the car. I hope you have fun at school. I hope you laugh, skip, play with friends, discover something new. I hope you remember the mom who smiled into your eyes and kissed your cheek, still round and soft, still willing to be kissed in the classroom door in front of friends. I hope you remember that mom, the one who hugged you and told you how precious you are, and to have a good day, with love. I hope that's the mom who you hold in your mind and heart. Not the one who snaps and claps and sings move it move it. I am sorry. I do love you. You are precious. Love, Mom

This is why I am so rude about our unscheduled days and times. Do not ask me to commit. I won't. I appreciate any moment I do not have to hustle. I appreciate any moment I do not have to select which hill to die on. I appreciate any time I can let the kids wear PJs all day and spend thirty minutes letting inchworms crawl on their hands. This is the real reason they only do one activity outside of school.

When I got to the end of one half of one rosary, I noticed our time was nearly up. I didn't have any answers, but for a moment, I had faith. I had faith that the children would remember that mom---the kissing mom---more, and that all would work out fine. I had faith that this struggle was a worthy one. I had faith that the good moments did balance out the bad ones. I had faith that I was an okay mom and the kids would be okay.

Then I picked them up from the nursery. As we walked out, I said in a whisper, "Remember, people are praying in the chapel, so SHHHHH and walking feet please." Persistence remembered for about three seconds, and then ran shrieking to the door.

I sighed. I let the annoyance and laughter duke it out internally, and then, with a head shake and slight smile, I followed her.

Patience trailed behind me, fingers touching every surface, feet testing how the carpet slowed a dragging foot versus how the tile sped it up, "...and then I prayed to God for a kitten, just like I asked the wishing star last night for a kitten," she said, keeping up her usual, loudly exuberant running commentary, "Did you see the nest I built for my stuffed bird, Mom? Don't you think I would make a nice mom for a little kitten? Or two? It could live in my room and I'd make a nice bed with lots of blankets and pillows and then..."

As soon as we walked outside, I took off my drill sergeant hat, and let them run free in the big open field beside the church. They picked bouquets of buttercups and created rock gardens, trapped inchworms and stuck sticks by ant piles as warnings. Now, as promised, is Later. Time to smell the roses.

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

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Kate said...

I am Dr. Jekyll and Mommy Hyde sometimes. The sheer frustration level can send me into shrill conniptions at the speed of lightning. I hate myself then, for being such a mean, nasty person.

Buuut...dammit, why the heck can't a 5-year-old actually SIT in the booster seat when asked, and pull her damned seat belt out, and buckle herself in??? Oy!

Anyway, mostly just nodding my head & rolling my eyes in agreement here.

Mary-LUE said...

Except for my not having a need for organization (I am an ENFP, after all), I relate to this post very much, Julie. So much. I was just wondering the other day if the kids will remember anything good about me or just the raving lunatic who surfaces about once a day.

P.S. I had an unexpected trip out of town and the internet connection in my hotel room didn't work. GASP! I now know for certain that I am completely addicted to the blogosphere. All this schedule update to say that I haven't had a chance to read your interview yet. I will do that later today.

kaliroz said...

This, Julie, made me cry. I'm sitting here, in my office, crying. Also listening to Paul Simon's "Father and Daughter".

It has this line about following your intuition. And about "watching your star shine".

I think parenting, so much of the time, is intuition. What about a 2, 3 or 5 year old says organization at all? :) I, who am a perfectionist, let loose with my child. I think, largely, because I was a wild thing growing up. When I wasn't in school or at practice or doing chores I was running through the hills with my hair flying freely and with no regard to schedule.

We all have rough times. We all skid. We're, at my house, just coming out of a skid. One that involved much yelling on my end and much crocodile tears on my daughter's end. Here's what I figured out about myself: I expect my daughter to act with reason. A 3-year-old act with reason! When I realized this I snorted for a good thirty minutes. Half of my life I've acted outside reason ... how can I expect her ... who is three ... to be reasonable?

I step outside myself, when I can, with my daughter. Sundays tend to be no pants days in my house. No hairbrushing. Eating snacks on the couch (a no-no) or drinking lots of chocolate milk and dancing like crazy.

Every mother has the yelling moments. I don't think kids remember that. For the most part. What I remember from growing up was watching kung fu movies, storytime with mom, eating too many cookies. The only times I really remember being yelled at were when I was doing something stupid. Like attempting to jump off a shed to see if I could fly. (Don't ask.)

Here's the thing: You want answers, but there are none. We, as humans, are constantly learning, evolving. Striving to be better today than we were yesterday. Nothing is stagnate. It's all fluid. What fun would life be, really, if everything fit together neatly in some pretty jigsaw. There will always, and forever, be missing pieces. It's how we deal with the missing pieces that I think defines us as humans, as mothers.

You have two bright, bright children. Two children who are going to give you one long run for your money. I'm sure there will be more yelling. But they are going to remember you as you are. Eternally. Not as you are momentarily. They're going to rememember the mother who let them run wild when they could. Who let them wear PJs all day.

Parenting, a lot of the time, sucks. I have days I just want to escape. Days when, as I said, I expect reason. Those are the worst days, by far. But each day is a new day. A new beginning, middle and end.

Day to day, baby. That's how I try to do things.

Mrs. Chicky said...

My worst days are the ones where we have to be somewhere at a certain time. Those are the mornings that my child just seems to know we need to rush and then does everything in her power to stop me from getting her out of the house on time. I've been ashamed of my words and behavior in these situations on more than one occasion.

atypical said...

Oh do I understand all of the various emotions in this post! I suppose another aspect of the whole scenario that makes it hard to juggle is the fact that, as a mommy, although you have two arms, they are attached to the same body. Having the little ones dallying about in opposite directions is always worse when then body isn't wide enough to catch both of them at once. :)

I have discovered through the years that my inner beast is the most likely to surface when I feel like I have not allowed enough time to accomidate all of the possible distractions along the way. I always feel like I am denying my nature when I kick into "move it!" mode, yet somehow never factor in enough time for it. I have no doubt that some of this is due to the fact that all children feel compelled to rebel in small ways. ;)

side note: Mary - glad to see that you are alive and well!


Thailand Gal said...

I suspect children come to us with a special grace and easy forgiveness so they can grow up with their often very human parents. :)



boogiemum said...

This was an excellent post. It really touched me, as it describes my struggles and thoughts perfectly. I am always rushing here and there yanking my little ones along who would rather enjoy the birds they see. It really tears me up when I realize I get in those modes. Thank you for sharing this today, it really was what I needed to read!

Mama Sarita said...

wow....what a beautiful blog. You have put into words the conflict I live with on, at least a weekly basis. What if they don't remember tender mommy but remember freaking out mommy? I think about that too much probably.

I am really enjoying your blog!

jen said...

oh friend. first, i have no idea how anyone manages more than one kid. hat's off.

second..you are such a wonderful mom. it comes through in all of your writing, your intent, your love, your sense of humor.

i keep reminding myself that the perfect woman didn't come and take over when i had M. I just became me, with a kid. And every day i do the best i can. Some days are really good. Some days are not.

It's the sum, friend.

Alice said...

You have captured the quandary of all mothers perfectly!

Mad Hatter said...

If there were no schedules, no roads, and no fences I would be the perfect mother. The world was made for adults. Small children must get shoe-horned in somehow.

The Atavist said...

Boy! Did this bring back a memory or two! It does pay off in the end, though, doesn't it?

Gwen said...

Well, honestly, hopefully your children remember all of who you are as a mother, even the less than perfect parts, so that when or if they are mothers themselves, they will remember that perfection isn't the goal: being good enough is.

And you are you know, good enough. Yes you are.

Bones said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bones said...

Now see! If you had picked your mate based entirely on looks, rather than on intelligence, your kids would not be so freaking smart and creative, and they'd jsut go with the program you laid out for them. Like Lemmings, only with baby-gap clothes.

Be happy for every single twist and turn they throw in front of you, because its a sure sign of their creativity, intelligence, and demand to know more about their worlds.

Kyla said...

I think we all feel this way at times. I know I do. And multply it by 200 if I haven't had time for my morning coffee. Everything goes wrong on a no-coffee morning.

Julie Pippert said...

Kate, yes, thanks. And, I think I've noted or or two similar characteristics between Dotter and Patience. So I fully believe you.


M-L, LOL, no organization. Oy. I watch decluttering shows for fun. No worries about the rest. Hang on, let me erase the line through your name in the book...

Just kidding. :)

Thanks for understanding. I live in hope that it all evens out. Or they decide I'm crazy. Who knows. LOL


Roz, you are terrific. Thanks for all those wonderful points and insights, reassurance and understanding.


Mrs. Chicky, AMEN.


Atypical, OMG yes that's it: two arms, but attached to same body! And I promise my kids are NEVER both within arms reach.


Chani, from your lips to my kids' ears.


Boogiemum, thanks, and I'm so glad.


Mama sarita, thanks! I try to reassure myself that since I worry so much, it must mean I am actually a good mom. Right? LOL


Jen, I think so, I hope so. And thanks, thanks for the kind words.


Alice, thanks!


Mad, that's it exactly. Pithily put.


The Atavist, I think so? I hope so! I'll let you know if 15, 20, 25, 30 years. LOL

Oh you mean from my POV? Of course!


Gwen, yes, probably good enough if you average it all out, LOL. But in some moments? Just give me a cat o nine and a hair shirt. And yes, hopefully they recall it evenly, for their own benefit.


Bones, OMG LOL. Like lemmings in baby gap.

Except...I admit it. My husband is a hottie. Really. It's pretty widely agreed he's very handsome. How easy for me to be so blithe while married to a good looking one LOL. So my children are scary smart and scary beautiful.

But even scarier, they are wicked creative.

I fear for the future. What am I saying? I fear for the present!

I'm always very happy for them. Every thing that challenges me if awesome for them as independent people.

Luckily I already knew it is entirely possible to be very happy for someone else while very sorry for yourself. LOL


Kyla, for me it is if my condition is flaring up and I'm in a lot of pain or overtired. I have no coffee fix. But I can totally get it. My husband needs his java all morning. Do not mess with the coffee ritual.


Thanks all!