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
Tags: children, family, my life raising kids, losing temper, children not listening