Friday, January 11, 2008

We were in the kitchen when it happened

We were in the kitchen, Persistence and I. We'd just gotten home from the store and I was unpacking groceries, cold things first. Yogurt, milk, cheese, cream cheese, butter...all dairy, all real, all organic. All packed in my eco-friendly reusable net bag. Persistence was sitting at the table, happily eating yogurt, one of the new ones.

We were both happy. I was happy to see the healthy food and know we made good choices for under budget, yes, self-satisfied and congratulatory, not to mention pleased and relieved that Persistence had been so well-behaved (in fact a delight) at the store, garnering rare comments of approval and adoration...instead of the usual narrow-eyed glances of annoyance. Persistence was happy because she loves to eat, especially fresh food just home from the store, all the things she saw us load into the cart, that perhaps she herself chose, but has only been able to look at and long for, until now, at home, when I served her a bowl of fresh whole milk vanilla yogurt, with the cream on top.

I was setting the pantry items on the counter to be loaded into the glass storage jars. Of course here we can't leave food in boxes. Crackers, cereal, fig newtons (raspberry flavored) (whole grain) all go into sealed jars. Millet and flax banana bread. I regretfully laid that in the refrigerator, too. I prefer fresh bread, room temperature, but unless we can finish it in under three days, it must be preserved in the cold.

Outside it was 75 and sunny, with a nice breeze from the north. This means cool and dry rather than hot and humid. Breezes from the south come straight in from the water, which is still hotter than the air around us. The dueling weather patterns from the north and south have created some crazy weather. That morning we'd ridden our bikes to school as usual, and after dropping off Patience, my two neighbors and I had stood gabbing at the end of the bike path. The younger children, 3, like Persistence, had raced in silly circles shrieking just for the fun of it. Suddenly, the sky and air changed and we were caught unaware and unprepared by a downpour. We had scattered, laughing and calling out, and all got home drenched, just in time for it to clear up. Persistence, in the bike stroller, kept warm and dry.

Now, I was humming along with Persistence, who was singing another one of her nonsense songs to the tune of Jingle Bells. This afternoon was going to be another kid party, I knew. The weather was too good for it not to be.

Each afternoon when Persistence and I go to school to pick up Patience, the neighborhood girls are busily organizing which house they will all go to. Four of them live in a square by our cul-de-sac, and they frequently come to our house because we have the biggest yard and a play structure.

As I rinsed out storage jars to dry, I considered what snack to serve and how to "close the kitchen" from the incessant food demands of a half a dozen children. The store trip we'd just returned from was unplanned but necessary because my supplies have been cleaned out by the children. Running and unstructured play burns a lot of calories, you know, and every half hour one to four of them hurtle themselves towards me with a plaintive cry of, "I'm hungry!" My own children usually lead the charge.

I sound annoyed, but the truth is, underneath it all I know this is idyllic. I relish the knowledge that every afternoon both children have a gang of friends to run and play with. Patience will probably remember something of this her entire life; I know I remember the couple of halcyon years in a similar neighborhood before my parents divorced and we moved, and kept moving. This is the time when she will make some of her best memories that do not include me. I realize now the reason I am so sanguine about this is because they will be my memories, too, and I will know I created the space for her to make the memories. All of this brings me joy.

As I dried the cracker jar, and considered that a baggie of four crackers, slice of cheese and raspberry fig newton would be a reasonable snack and as Persistence stirred and sang to her yogurt, the phone rang.

I ran through the kitchen and living room to the office to answer it, because the kitchen phone crackles and we haven't cared enough to replace it. It was a vendor, returning my call about an erroneous charge on my credit card. I answered it, eager to clear up the problem and get a refund of the hefty-to-me charge. I knew Persistence was happily occupied eating and it had been such a good day.

It didn't take long for the customer care agent to pull up my account and see why the error occurred. She promised to clear things up right away. I hung up pleased, another matter taken care of successfully and in only a couple of minutes. As I walked back to the kitchen I heard Persistence, still singing.

When I entered, I saw what had happened while I was on the phone: Persistence had taken every single yogurt carton out of the refrigerator, opened it, and dumped it on her table. She was happily mixing the flavors together into one great messy pile.

I stopped dead in my tracks. Not again. I am catastrophe and mess fatigued. There is at least one major disaster every day. I felt a wave of anger and irritation crush over and through me. That's nearly $6 of yogurt, my mind cried, and I just bought it! I can't afford to replace it, I added to myself, and now she'll cry for a week every day about wanting yogurt. And what a mess! Oh no and it's time to leave right now to get Patience from school!

"Oh Persistence!" I cried, frustration, anger, and a tinge of despair lacing my tone, "What have you done! Oh no! What have you done?" The words poured out before I could stop myself, before I could consider how else to go about this. I crouched down beside her, eye-to-eye, "Why? Why would you do this? Hasn't Mom said not to get things out of the refrigerator, to please ask? I was only gone for a few minute! Why? Why did you do this?"

She stared at me, startled from her happy play, surprised to learn she had made another bad choice. It's hard for me to comprehend her surprise, since we discuss this every day, and yet, there it is: surprise.

Her bottom lip quivered, and she remained silent. I didn't really expect an answer; my questions were rhetorical, pulled out of me by anguish and stress.

I pursed and clenched my own lips, at a loss.

I pulled her to me, as she bravely tried to not cry. I hugged her and said, "I love you. I don't know what to do with you but I love you." Then I took her to time out and did my best to salvage the peach-raspberry-vanilla yogurt, and clean up quickly so we could leave. I muttered to myself nonsensically as I did so, and I didn't even calculate how long Persistence was in time out. She could stay there until it was time to go. And for once, perhaps realizing the edge we both teetered on, she stayed put without a fight.

Kitchen clean and yogurt put away, I took her hand and lead her outside to the bike. We were both silent, and took little pleasure in the perfect day just then. Our fragile trust and peace was shattered.

I hated my anger and so did she; I think we both thought I shouldn't have any, but I didn't know any other way to feel.

We rode down the street, me with my iPod in my ears, listening to soothing music, she in the stroller. When we arrived at the school, she begged me to carry her up the path, the path she normally insists on walking down by herself.

I picked her up and hugged her little body, reassuring her that even in my annoyance, I loved her. I hope it is enough.

Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
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37 comments:

Multi-tasking Mommy said...

I just love it how kids HAVE to have one of the 'new' things from the store, even if you have an opened box/container/whatever at home already! The bunny is the same way.
I'm sorry, but I did giggle at your story, of course if it happened to me, there would have been no giggling!

slouching mom said...

this is such an accurate rendering. i feel for you here, and i feel for persistence, and...sigh.

hard to be a kid.
hard to be a mom.

Mary Alice said...

Of course it's enough. Don't be so hard on yourself. You are not abusive. You are frustrated. She will learn to make better choices, but she has to learn that actions have consequences and that not every single thing you do in life will be met with approval. It won't. A mother’s love is always there, and you are showing her that beautifully - but you won't always be happy with her - and you what? You don't have to be. Real love allows for disappointments.

Christine said...

it's ok to be angry. sometimes they push the envelope and they need to know that we have feelings and emotions, too. and the way you handled it was just fine; angry but not screaming and yelling. your girl is just so creative she can't help it, and you recognize that.

you're a good mama, love.

Running on empty

dharmamama said...

It's hard for me to comment, because seeing Persistence as wrong, and needing any kind of consequence just goes against how I've lived my life with my boys for the past 8 years. There's so much angst and drama that can be avoided by a shift in perspective. This is hard because it's NOT a judgment against you, and I know no matter what I say, it will sound like that. But I read about struggles with kids in different blogs, and it's just so unnecessary, and such a waste of precious, precious time. You didn't need your anger, you didn't, and your heart and your daughter both know that.

There is another way.

Kyla said...

BubTar and I have the "poor choices" conversation almost daily. His aren't tangible, though. He inevitably melts down over something smallish (to us, at least), we send him to his room for cool down time, he EXPLODES, we redirect, he is ANGRY, we shift from cool down to time out due to unkind words he's likely spoken by this point, then he sobs and we talk about how all of this started with just the simple need to calm himself a bit and how if he had decided to do that none of the rest would have happened at all. It all boils down to choices. He's getting it, slowly, sometimes now when I suggest cool down time, I also say "Remember to make good choices." and it heads off the rest of it, but sometimes not. Slowly, but surely, I guess.

Magpie said...

Oh hon. The little ones are trying, oof, they are. But you're a good mama, and a good teacher.

Sober Briquette said...

Julie, in the end, she asked for reassurance and you gave it.

You are not mistaken for establishing limits and communicating expectations to your children. You are being way too hard on yourself for this.

Jeff said...

Very touching.

Your comment that you were "catastrophe and mess fatigued" had me laughing though. I hope you were going for humor there. ;-)

Kathryn said...

Wow. I think you are being way too hard on yourself. Sometimes children need to see that what they do affects other people, and there are consequences to their actions. You yelled. I don't know if anyone could HONESTLY say that they wouldn't have yelled in that situation. What is amazing is that even in your anger you were telling her that you love her. It is good for her to know that mommy may be angry with her, not like what she did, but will always love her. I think you are a fabulous mommy. Your kids are fortunate to have you.

Julie Pippert said...

Kyla, that is Patience. Not all the time, but in one of her phases. Like this week. She's been in one. Between her melodrama and Persistence's disasters, I am nearly at the end of my rope. I feel spread too thin and unable to adequately handle anything because it is rushing at me too fast.

That's me, the slow processor, LOL.

We go through these phases of what I call Crisis Management Times and they are rough. Oh please let us get back to fielding slow pitches one at a time, PLEASE.

LOL

Thanks to everyone for good advice, comments and understanding. It's a needed balm right now.

I probably am being too hard on myself (but who would I be without doing that? It's like my raison d'etre LOL.) however, every day has included something like this. And I have been angry every day.

I mean, as Kathryn said, who HONESTLY would not be daily losing their cool if the past week included (but was to limited to):

* Burt's bees on dining chairs.
* Diaper cream on entire floor of her room.
* Moon sand all over office floor.
* She leapt on an unopened bag of tortilla chips and they exploded all over the kitchen (in small trod upon shards).

You just get fatigued by the disasters and being irritated.

And me? I am now PREACHING to the CHOIR. LOL

(Slightly defensively still lol, even though I've been told welcome to humanity ten times.)

Okay getting a handle on myself and dealing with this. I'm good. I am. I'm super duper. LOL

Mad Hatter said...

We're human. We get angry. God forbid my kid grow up to think I am an automaton.

Jenny said...

I'm with you on the money piece. That's what struck me immediately. Yogurt isn't cheap and my daughter wants to eat many of them each day. She has two yogurts at her babysitter and another at home. Three a day is all I can feel okay with funding!

Anyway, my point was that I would have been probably even more upset by the waste of money than by the mess. Especially in light of all the other things in your week (chips, diaper cream, etc) that have been spread everywhere.

Your reaction was so normal. I'd probably have blown up. And, of course, then regretted it later.

SciFi Dad said...

You paint an amazingly vivid picture Julie, seriously.

(And in all honesty, I was actually relieved when it was "just yogurt" because the build up felt like it was going to be something horrible. Not to minimize what you went through, but for a reader to know something bad is coming, to discover it was yogurt wasting and not something far more serious is a pleasant surprise.)

However, back to the point: kids are resilient. She knows you still love her, and I'm sure your carrying her was enough to maintain that fact in her mind.

Andrea said...

Exactly. Way too hard on yourself. You got mad, but all you did was say What have you done? Perfectly reasonable.

Jodi said...

it always seems so fragile -- the relationship between mom and toddler/baby... it's so hard, but in the end you were both holding onto each other and letting the other know you loved her... stay strong

liv said...

you are totally fair. i would have lost my mind. getting stuff out of the fridge and cabinets is a major source of consternation at my house. there is nothing wrong with letting them know that they have done wrong. if they cry because of the shame of having done so, too bad.

(i know. i'm mean)

Gwen said...

Dude. All you did was speak with anger? I agree that you are being too hard on yourself. TOO. HARD. I would never even post about what I did if that ever happened to me.

Buck up, little camper!

(And is there any way to get Persistence to start helping you clean up her messes? That seems like a consequence that might make the scope of her actions more tangible to her.)

Michele said...

Such a beautiful story. I would have totally freaked out if Zoe had done that and I probably would not have calmed down at easily as you. Once again, you are my hero.

painted maypole said...

it's enough. it's ok for her to see you get angry, as long as she knows you still love her. she needs to know that anger doesn't equal loss of love. YOu're doing good.

And I loved your descriptions in this. lovely.

melissa said...

Are you sure you don't live at my house?

This kind of stuff happens to me at least once a week. And yes it is maddening. And yes it is usually something to do with some sort of creative expression so you don't want to TOTALLLY lose it. And yet...

But I so believe that the kids have to know that their actions have consequences and that what they do can make you angry. If they think that every action they do makes you happy and proud, no matter what, then what do you think they will be like as adults? A little shame that causes some introspection can be a good thing.

Of course, it's all meaningless if she doesn't believe that you love her. Which you obviously show her at every turn.

Great post. :)

Karen said...

Julie - I was truly touched by the range of emotion this post shared - both on the parent and the child side. I've been there - many times.

wheelsonthebus said...

I totally needed this post. Zachary and I had a rough day today, although much better than our rough days used to be. I just was frustrated with him about five different ways today, and I hated getting angry when he did not realize what he had done.

flutter said...

sounds like just enough, Julie

Laura said...

"I am catastrophe and mess fatigued"

BRILLIANT!!!!!

Thanks for sharing...you wonder what goes through their heads at times and we always hope hugs and love out weigh annoyance.

Nicely written!

Jennifer said...

This is so beautifully written. I soaked up every word.

And yes, it is enough. I believe it is.

cinnamon gurl said...

I hate it when I'm angry all the time, but once or twice, I really do think it's better for kids to see anger.

This was a lovely post to read though, if not to live.

Cathy said...

You got mad when mad was warranted. You also remained loving.

Good mothering, if you ask me.

Lawyer Mama said...

Ah, yes. The yogurt dump. Ours was a cottage cheese dump this week. And then there was the emptying of every. single. drawer. upstairs. And the 5 rolls of toilet paper. And the bag of cat food....

I feel your pain, babe. And the anger is only natural. I tend to think that *not* instinctively reacting with anger is freakishly abnormal. I don't think I could stand to be around a child (or an adult) who never had any consequences. Seriously.

Mama Drama Jenny, the Bloggess said...

I can so relate to this and I wish I didn't.

Who knew our moms were in such turmoil when they were yelling at us when we were kids.

I had no idea.

PS. I can't wait to see you today!

dharmamama said...

It's not that there *aren't* consequences... It's more than I can go into in a blog comment; like I said, there was a whole shift in my perspective on parenting. Started because when I did sometimes yell at my kids, my heart absolutely hurt, and told me there had to be a better way. There IS. There is a better way. And it has taken lots of work, and healing, and looking within. But it's been absolutely worth it, because now, my boys are 15 and 8, and we have a better relationship than I could ever have imagined. Based on trust, respect, and connection.

One huge bit of awareness came for me from a parenting workshop I took based on Positive Discipline, by Jane Nelson. Now, that's a book that I think doesn't go far enough down the consensual living lane, but at the time, it was very helpful. At the workshop, we split into groups. Half of the parents pretended to be kids, half pretended to be those "kids'" parents. In my turn as a kid, my "parent" told me to get my shoes on, because it was time to go. I was to act... like a kid. So I did, and instead of getting my shoes on, I found a toy to play with, then I found a bottle of bubbles that I couldn't open. When my parent came in to see if I was ready to go, there I was, shoeless, asking, "Can you open this bottle of bubbles? I can't open it." MAN, they got mad! They began yelling - "I told you we needed to go! What are you doing with the bubbles?" As part of the exercise, the parent stood on a chair, to emphasize the size difference between adults & kids. I had really gotten into being the kid - so much so, that looking into that person's angry face and hearing their voice was VERY triggering for me, as I sat there, small on the floor, and they loomed above me from the chair. I felt so small and powerless, and unloved. I can't say that I have never yelled at my kids again, but experiencing that helped me realize that here are these small people, in their own worlds, who are completely and totally dependent on us - and yelling is SCARY and UGLY. It destroys vital trust. What a difference it would have made for them to say, "Oh - you found the bubbles? Here - let me help you with your shoes, then we can blow a few bubbles before we go."

Do I get angry? Sure. Hardly at all at my kids any more, because there have been many more perspective changes, and awarenesses. Such as - I couldn't leave my youngest alone. Not even "for just a minute". He came here with karma to clear, and has made it so clear that what he needed from me was connection, connection, connection and attention. I had to surrender to that - it didn't help me to say "He *should* be able to be here without me for a few minutes. So-and-so can be left alone." I had to surrender to WHAT IS. And in doing that, I experienced much fewer disasters. Now, I'm saying that as a person who craves alone time, and quiet time - who NEEDS that to survive. It took a lot of work and creativity, and surrendering. Surrendering to the fact that I'm his parent - I need to do what's best FOR HIM at any given moment. And everything about conventional parenting told me - if you don't leave him alone sometimes, he'll never be able to be left alone. And I questioned it as I was doing it, but now, at 8 years old, he CAN be left alone. And he doesn't dump goldfish crackers all over the floor any more. It took accepting that many of the "problems" were just where he was developmentally - and I couldn't compare that to where anyone else was.

There's lots of info out there about mindful parenting. I'm *not* suggesting that anyone needs to change, if what you're doing is working, then that's *awesome*. Yay! for happy parenting. But - if you're spending a lot of your time exhausted and irritated... something's not working. And it's not the kid. The kid is exactly who they're supposed to be.

And lawyer mama - I think you'd enjoy being around me and my boys. Most people I meet do. I have a teenage son that I love to be around. That says a lot to me.

If you want to just dismiss what I'm saying, please do. From a conventional parenting background (or even attachment parenting), our life seems really wacky and out there. But, if you're curious...
Vicki Falcone's Book "Buddha Never Raised Kids and Jesus Didn't Drive Carpool" is *wonderful*.

http://tinyurl.com/242ce6

And there's Natural Child:
http://www.naturalchild.org/ Lots of really great articles on that site.

And the consensual living website:
http://www.consensual-living.com/

Their suggested reading list contains many, many books - I love the Alfie Kohn book, too, and Naomi Aldort. She has a site:
http://www.authenticparent.com/

Again - offering resources, not suggesting that anyone needs to change what they're doing.

I *know* you're a great mom, Julie, even though I've never met you. I can read it in your words, and your tone when you write about your girls. I am absolutely NOT judging, and it's so hard to communicate like this, words on a screen. I hope you can assign positive intent to my words.

Gassho ~

Beck said...

I think being angry is okay, sometimes. Sometimes, it's appropriate. I'd have been angry too - and your behaviour after anger was wonderful.

Catherine said...

You told the story well...thanks for sharing it with us. Hug Persistence for me...

realitytesting said...

Sometimes, in moments like the one you describe, I wish that someone older and wiser and infinitely more patient lived in my home. Not to replace me, but to just stand beside me and rest a gentle hand on my shoulder. I never want to be angry, and I always know that they don't understand. It would just be nice to have someone comfort me in those moments when I am completely undone inside. It would help us all, I think.

ALM said...

Ohmygoodness. Those moments are so so difficult... and you just wrote about it so well, and helped normalize those feelings for me.

le35 said...

Although it's hard to be a mom, I LOVE your reaction, I'm so proud of you. Even though you were angry, and you asked her why, and I'm sure your anger emanated throughout the house, you still handled yourself well. Those are some of the hardest mommy moments, and you're awesome.

ewe are here said...

Under the circumstances, I think you handled the situation remarkably well. Really, remarkably well.