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There are worse things than, "I hate you."

In the morning when they crawl into bed with you, half asleep still, warm and scented so poignantly of themselves, when they stretch their ever longer bodies alongside you, give a wiggle to snuggle in, when you wrap your arm around them and by habit they lift their heads a little, when you bury your nose in their hair and your mouth reflexively kisses the crown of their heads, when the sky outside is shifting from navy to a dense gray, the time before the feel a contentment so deep and perfect it feels like a quiet joy. It feels like a joy so marvelous it is near silent, with no need to trumpet itself. Your hope rises with the dawn, glowing with the yellowing sun. You think it's good, this is good, and it's okay, it will all be okay.

That's important because you---those of you who mother---know that every day somewhere in at least one corner of your heart is the fear that your child will be hurt (or worse) in this life, and you can't get rid of it because you've lived a life yourself, and you know it's true.

But more than any lingering pucker on the knee from a bad spill on a bike, you fear that scarring on the inside. Small blemishes on the outside give us character, but sometimes, those healed wounds on the inside change our inner landscape in ways we wish had never been.

You---those of you who mother---see who your children can be, and are, so watching the inner character alter in a withering way is much worse than the little lumpy scar on a calf from that one time a Pyrex bowl shattered and embedded a shard of glass all the way into the muscle. It's worse, even, than the pinkish oval near an elbow from that time a running toddler got away from you and brushed by a hot grill. It's even worse than the looks and comments your got as if you could have and should have prevented the accident by taking better care of your precious child.

That's because your worst fear is not that some mean girl or stranger is hurting your baby, but that you are, in ways you cannot help.

That you, simply by being yourself and true to your values, are creating a challenge and pain point for your child, and you begin to remember the time you searched for an adoption certificate for yourself, so sure you were that you could not possibly have been born to your very own parents.

You now know just how very much that disbelief and disappointment must have hurt them, your parents, even if they too understood, having been there and done that themselves.

But you know you've entered that stage, that "wish my mother was some other way, more like her" stage one day when, well, your child says it, flat out to you, innocently and unblinkingly.

It's a regular day, this day that it happens for the first time. The morning was filled with cajoling and ringing threats of threats to get ready, mixed with silly incentives such as singing the "move it move it" song. But your three year old will lollygag and eventually it ended with tears, as it tends to, and you shoving small bodies out the door in an annoyed way. The three year old was crying because there was no time to do a fancy hairdo because she simply would not put on her shoes, and with honest sentiment, that child, that lollygagging morning disrupting peace breaking child snarled at you in fury, "I HATE YOU!"

But you are immune because this is your second child and the 23,765th time it has been said to you. By now, you know it really means, "You have thwarted my will and for that I wish I could immolate you on the spot." By now you know the sentiment will be gone before you back the car out of the drive and hit the LMNOP part of the Alphabet Song. By now, you are not fazed at all by I hate you.

But once upon a time you were. Once upon a time you had grand dreams, visions and plans to be a Great Mom who was at peace and in harmony with her children through positive parenting. Once you planned to never breathe a harsh or angry word, much less a threat, thus mitigating the need to ever mete out a punishment.

Once you thought every minute of every day would be like those cozy moments in the morning.

It worked for a long time with your first child. The first time she turned on you it felt like a shock. It felt like a betrayal. Who is this child? Who is this furious mom talking to her precious daughter through her teeth?

You kept trying to get back to that place of harmony and contentment. You kept trying to get back to morning. But that time had passed. Two people can harmonize, but with independent spirits and wills, two people who care will not always be in harmony. You know this is a good thing, this developing of self and independence, and someday you will not have to remind yourself of it, someday you will know it. You hope.

You don't know if it's anything at all but you never expected that with your second child, you never aimed for it. She is getting quite a different early life than her sister. It is what it is.

It is sometimes a more honest relationship because from the get-go both of you acknowledged each others' flaws. Accepted them. Or maybe that's just who you each are as people. For now.

But your older daughter recalls the feeling of the morning and she wants it all from you, too. You recognize the times of shock and betrayal in her, when she can't find that mother and moment and feeling. You recognize it and know it, in that intimate "me too" way. You two have had a closeness so different than the one you have with your other child, and so often you are able to be each others' everything.

But her world began broadening beyond your comfort zone when she entered school, and you had to slowly accept and admit that your completeness---your control---was slipping. You began to see your flaws in the system. You knew the kind of mother you are and the kind of mother you are not.

You did not realize she knew it too.

At least you did not until that day, when, annoyed and ashamed at the reception you knew you'd get hurrying up a few minutes late to the spot at school where your daughter waited, you ran into That Mom, the one you are not, and she was waiting with your daughter.

You felt this complicated sense of obligated appreciation mixed with resentment because it really wasn't necessary and you hadn't asked, then also you sensed something more behind her, "We waited to keep her was no big deal!" explanation. You sensed her trying to fill some hole she thought was there. Or maybe you were projecting. You don't know.

You shucked these thoughts and feelings aside. You let the, "I should be more involved at the school" and "Somehow I should be able to juggle my be in two places at once schedule better" and "They want me to be someone other than who I am" thoughts float away like carelessly loosed balloons.

You smiled, and focused on your daughter, her moon face and prominent cheekbones so very dear, and let your heart feel complete to have her with you again.

"Thanks," you said, hugging your girl, hugging her sweet form, trying to fill her with the knowledge of how much you love her. You tugged both your girls' hands and walked towards your car.

"Her mother came to school today and read us a story!" your daughter said.

"How nice," you said, proud of your even tone.

"Her mother comes to school a lot!" your daughter said.

"I hope the teacher finds that helpful," you said.

"Probably!" you daughter said, her cheer growing as yours collapses. "She always plays fun games. She's like a teenager! She always plays and dances and she says her mother is like that at home. She plays games all the time, like a kid, like a teenager!"

"How nice," you said.

"I wish I had a mother like that," she said, to you, her mother, "I wish I had a mother who could be like a teenager! I wish she was my mother!"

You can't say anything at all because your heart has stopped and the breath froze in your lungs and your tongue turned to ash. You know you ought to say something, something graceful or funny or wise. But you've got nothing, nothing but a mouth full of ash.

That's when you felt every single flaw and insecurity you own as a mother. In an end of life style flash you saw every time you did something other than what a Perfect Mommy would do---the losing your temper moments, the giving in moments, the taking a trip on the first day of school moments, the short tolerance for playing on the floor with her moments, the let her watch TV instead of interact with her moments, the rest of them, the writing instead of reading books at school moments, all of them, all the times you weren't who or what you figure you should be.

You feel every single time in your life that you felt unlovable, unlikable, not good enough, not enough, not a fit, not what someone else who mattered to you needed.

That's when you realized your arrogance at weathering "I hate you" was simply naivete and bravado. That's when you realized there were things much, much worse than "I hate you" and you couldn't possibly imagine them to prepare yourself for them when they came.

Because there is no way to steel yourself for the moment when your child weighs and measures you and finds you wanting. None at all. There is no way to prepare yourself for the realization that even if it is just a fleeting thought in a brief moment, your child wishes she was someone else's child. Wishes you were someone other than who you are. How you are. Forgets for a moment, the whole of you, the good works well aspects of you, and is so overwhelmed by how much she likes the Plays Like a Teenager Mom that this washes out everything good about you and is the most desirable characteristic.

That's when you know unconditional love is one way.

That's when you come to treasure those mornings with a fierce sort of desperation underneath the joy and contentment because you know just how very momentous they are.

You swallowed the ash and it sat in a burning stinging pile in your stomach. You wrapped your arm back around your daughter's shoulders and hugged her, coughed, and managed to say, in a choked sort of voice that sounded as small as you felt, "Well. Well. I bet someone who plays like a teenager is a lot of fun."

She looked at you funny, suddenly seeming to realize something was out of joint, but not sure what or why, and you remind yourself, as your mind has been telling your heart since the first words came out of her mouth and poured over you like acid, that she is so very little, younger than the shoes on your feet, for all that she seems so big and sophisticated compared, you know, to a few months ago.

You coughed again and said, slightly stronger, "It's nice to know people who can play like we like, it's the good thing about meeting new people, huh."

That's when you realized this was not at all about you. She was not wishing you away or otherwise. She was trying to explain how much fun it is to play with this fun person. She would not actually trade you, like a low value Pokemon card.

That has to be the hardest lesson of parenting, you know, that it usually is really not at all about you, or personal. That even when you feel as if you have been crushed beneath a 50 ton steel support beam, you still have to get over your own feelings, and hear what your child meant to say, so that you may help her learn her words, how to use them wisely and conscientiously, with respect and consideration, so that the people she meets throughout her life do not end up with ash in their mouths.

You have to be more than the moment. You have to be so that she does not grow up thinking love can burn up and float away if you are not exactly who someone else thinks you ought to be.


Bon said…
Julie...this made me weep. i just put my boy to bed - my sweet boy who is suddenly full of language and feelings and will - and i see morning stretched behind us and like you say i'm shocked and i don't think i realized or admitted until reading this that we will not be returning to that state of being in the same way ever again.

and yet how even more important it is that i mother him and love him as he learns to be this new independent self.

i'm saying it all wrong, but i needed to read this...and it moved me.
Melissa said…
Before I comment, I'd like to say something.



Cause you're back, right? I mean this is three posts and I'm thinking that you might, just might, make this a habit again, even if it was just once a week.

Ok, on to the comment. :)

You're right. That wasn't about you. This is the beginning of the phase where they just don't see adults as people anymore. We're just sort of "there". It's odd actually.

Wonderful post. :)
Yolanda said…
Gasp. This did not end where I thought it would. I suppose I am just too young in my motherhood, too immature in my parenting skills, to know how to do what you say must be done: get over your own feelings. I suppose every mother knows exactly where she is lacking, but I don't think that shriveled little person inside of me who has never been good enough can survive being told exactly how inadequate I am from the child I gave birth to.
Unknown said…
First of all... Let me send a virtual hug, because in spite of how you bring yourself around to the "right" way of thinking in these moments, they are still draining, leaving you exhausted and wrung out.

And you are right. It is usually (almost never) about you. And we often as parents, out of our own needs-to be loved, reassured, acknowledged--we often hoist upon our children our own issues and desires.

Parenting is hard.
Anonymous said…
The truest thing a friend who became a parent well before I did said about the journey is this: "Parenting is heartbreak."

To which I'd add, "Heartbreak if you do it wrong, heartbreak if you do it right." You just break in different places.

It's hard not to be everything to your child, and to accept that as they grow, they'll find more of themselves in other people.

Oh so hard.

Thank you, so beautifully expressed.
Liv said…
for once, i did not use "context clues" in order to develop a response to JP the verbose. here, now, yes, and yes. you are so very right, and so very true. i will admit that there are deep fears that lurk inside of me about what the world will do to my children, but as a 31 year old child whose own mother admitted the other night to hating me for the past 27 years, i say, "yes, julie. the mothers that are supposed to love us can hurt us so very much more than what's out there in this world."
Anonymous said…
Oh man. That was great. Thank you.
alejna said…
That was so powerful, I could feel the hurt.

And at the same time, it was so beautifully written.

I was particularly moved by the line "...that she is so very little, younger than the shoes on your feet..." It's such a grounding thought.
Gwen said…
I think it's inevitable, sadly, that we hurt the people we most love the most. Because love extends power to another.

I know this hurt, but I'm glad that you found a way to the other side of it.
jeanie said…
Ah - I now view motherhood from the ancient grove of being mother of a 9 year old, and children, like seasons, change.

As do mothers.

Now there is weight behind a barb that offers "I hate you" that makes the immolation desire seem that much warmer.

And now you can retort "there are much worse mothers than I" and be absolutely sure you are right.

Glad to see you back, girl.
And now I am a weeping puddle of goo.

Beautiful. Truly beautiful.
Sukhaloka said…
Julie, this is one lesson I promise I'll store up for when the time comes. So true(and not just with your kids), and so beautifully put. Thank you.
Anonymous said…
Once I wanted to be the cool mom that all the kids loved more than their own parents, but after a while I realized that I had a mom that all my friends would have traded for and she made me crazy and wasn't cool at all - which made me question my friends a bit.

I am not cool. There are a lot of things about motherhood I don't like and can't live up to. I still think my daughter is pretty lucky to have me though.
flutter said…
Oh, J this just cracked my heart
painted maypole said…
this is a beautiful post, Julie.

I have not yet heard those dreaded "I hate you" words yet, but I am not looking forward to it.
Amie Adams said…
Oh those mornings...I never want to get out of bed.

Best thing my mom ever said to me was that she knew her mother did the best she could. My mom is a way better mom than my grandmother was to her, but she did do the best she could.

That's all we can do isn't it. And then just hope our children realize that someday.
Lady M said…
Wow. That was powerful, Julie. You have such a way of expressing complicated thoughts and emotions.
Magpie said…
Julie, that was such a true and moving post. I've missed that side of you. Thanks...thanks for writing this, for being you.
Anonymous said…
over a year ago, i posted a story about a fight over a band aid. you commented that we all lose it and it is ok to be an imperfect mom. that comment changed my life. thought you should know.

it's ok to be imperfect.
Defiantmuse said…
ah, this was beautifully written, Julie.

when I think back to some of the things I've said and done to my mother over the years my heart lurches a bit. Now that I can fully comprehend how it must have felt for her....I'm at a loss.

And I realize I can't avoid those moments I will have with my daughter when she grows older, as much as I wish we could bypass it I know that isn't realistic. I just hope I'm able to, as you said, not take it personally.
Anonymous said…
Julie, so beautifully spoken. I am so often overcome by mommy guilt and super mommy syndrome and it's so good to hear it put so poignantly. We missed you!
Anonymous said…
PS, I put you up as an editor's pick on kirtsy, but you need to update the footer link on your posts to go to the new url (kirsty, not sk-rt).
Elan Morgan said…
You are being featured Five Star Friday!
Found you through Kirtsy. You don't know how often I have felt what you are writing but I have not had the eloquence to put it into words like you do.
TZT said…
Oh oh oh. This post is so beautiful and so true.

Thank you for writing it.
~TigereyeSal~ said…
OMG, Julie. This is so powerful.

I'm going to have to re-read and digest this some more.

As it is, I have been taking too much time away from being the mum I want to be, and the mum my daughter wants me to be already.

I have to leave the computer, but I need to read this post again. There is soo much wisdom in here, that will (I hope) help me be a better parent, and maybe a better person.

Thanks for articulating something so powerful and universal. There's bound to be more from me later as I understand your concepts better, and reflect on the implications on my life.
Anonymous said…
Nice writing! I bet you felt much better after writing too. It's such good therapy.
I have to say that I think a mom who plays like a teenager is a little....creepy?
Maybe this was your daughter's way of saying she worried and missed you when you didn't show up on time and you could talk to her about those feelings at some point.
Our kids readily forgive us for such things. In the long run she is going to be very happy she has a mom like you who has a life of her own, who works and cares about her work...
Hang in there kiddo.
Rob said…
Oh goodness, I've yet to hear those 3 words and I wince at the very thought. Our little guy is so sweet and usually well-behaved (in a Mongol-horde sorta fashion), but every great once and awhile we have to have a day of sour to offset. Last Sunday was one of those rare bad days and it was just a train wreck from start to end. I tried several times to reboot my inner-self and connive some peaceful way through the day but nothing seemed to work. His foul mood just wouldn't lift and he kept pushing my buttons at every turn. I do think quite often about how those days shape him internally and it scares the crap outta me!

Maybe days like that are precisely why those silent little moments of prayer for peace, patience, & persistence exist...
crazymumma said…
a tongue of ash yet fingers of purest gold spinning this painful and true and beautiful writing.

It is the look in my older daughters eyes at times. Verging on contempt and not sure what to do with it.
Kate said…
I'm visiting your blog for the first time and wow, what a post. You really captured so many parts of the complicated emotions of being a parent. It's heartbreaking.
Beautiful and poignant. Until my oldest son turned 11, I had no idea how hard this parenting thing could be. Of course, I thought I did. But the exhaustion of the infant and toddler years pales compared to the power of our emotions, and theirs, as they grow. You've hit it on the head, Julie, and brilliantly.
Anonymous said…
I found my way here today for the first time after following you on twitter. Even in 140 (or is it 160?) characters something about you came through. I'm so glad I made the effort.
I won't even start with how your words pierced my heart-- thinking about similar times with my own daughter (now 24). We're both far wiser--and happier---now. Love your writing.
You've captured the thoughts of many fathers too. I have similar feelings when my children tell me of the fathers who are more visible in their children's lives, when I see those parents who somehow have the time to be present at school and after school activities. I suppose my work is my choice but I'm trying to do the best that I can to support my family in the best way that I know. And it creates separation and causes me to wonder if I'm doing the right thing.
Anonymous said…
Wow! Better late than never. You have completely captured in most descriptive words the essence of being a mother.

Love, Mom

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