I had another post planned for today. But then something came up.
Sitting in a restaurant, I happened to mention to David how "hippy-dippy" our parenting was. You know, all that co-sleeping and extended breastfeeding and hugging and empathy and carrying our kids around in pouches on our backs and soothing them through temper tantrums. All those nights we didn't go out together, because we didn't want to leave our kids with a sitter/stranger/potential pedophile. All those neighbors and friendly critics who gave us the occasional look or comment like we baby our kids or hover too much. Like we were too involved.
In the middle of my talking I looked over at David. He had no idea what I was talking about.
That's when he said it: We are pretty tough on our kids. We yell at them. We are impatient with them. Then he started giving me examples. Real life examples. He was being kind of course, using "we". I mean, David might be many things, he might have extraordinarily bad taste in orange sweaters, but the man isn't a yeller. He gets short with them when they dilly dally getting ready for school sometimes, and he's had a tussle or two with Lucy over settling into bed at night. But I'm the yeller. What he could have said, and maybe should have said, was that I'm the impatient one, the intimidator, the one who can light a fire under their little bums with my blasts of furnace-like anger. He was also pretty sure the neighbors knew we were yellers as well.
To be fair, I'm loud by nature. When I'm happy, I scream. If you walk into a bar and I see you, I will leap from my chair, run across the room, clumsily bumping people out of my way like a drooling hyper-active Labrador, shout your name, give you a huge hug, and shriek about how gorgeous you look, so that even the table in the back of the room will hear it.
I get a lot of credit around this blog for being patient - all the cooking with kids, and the messes that I allow the kids to make in the kitchen, and the countless quelled temper tantrums and crazy brisket-wearing behavior that I write about here, and I'm pretty good at those moments of hysteria. I like the craziness, the nuttiness - but the truth is, I wish I was better at parenting. And I'm not looking for reader sympathy here. Sometimes I just do a piss poor job at this. It's a fact.
I wish I didn't lose my cool with them. I wish I could let Edie have her temper tantrums, where she lays on the floor and kicks her feet in the air and wails like a two year old because I'm not getting her chocolate milk fast enough. I wish I could just let her be angry, and unseemly, and not make her feel terrible for having the audacity for showing her true, ugly feelings.
I wish it didn't drive me bananas that Lucy is afraid to be alone in any room of the house and so when she has to go to the bathroom, I have to stop whatever I'm doing and sit on the edge of the tub while she poops. I wish I could just remember that I was the same way when I was little. I always thought there were boogey men behind the shower curtain and mice under the sink. I wish I didn't grumble about it and remind her she's six and this isn't what happens with six year olds. I wish I didn't make her feel small for sharing her deepest fears with me.
I wish that when the house is a total and complete wreck I didn't get resentful, muttering bitterly as I pick up discarded sweaters, stranded toys and bits of smushed bacon in the rug. I wish it didn't bother me that I found all of their Barbie clothes stuffed into the heating vent and I wish I didn't go on a tirade so epic that they feel their mother has vanished from the room and replacing her is a ranting, nagging, manic, dust-bunny fighting lunatic.
I wish I didn't show my disappointment, my seething pissed-offness, when Edie kicks over my wine glass for the third time in a single two hour time span. In the moment, I wish I could just see it as an accident. A stupid, unimportant accident. I wish I remembered that what I really wanted her to do was go to sleep so I could relax, maybe spend a few moments with her father, but she couldn't, and that's not really her fault at all.
I wish I didn't get grumpy with Lucy when she plops herself into my lap, with the grace of a camel, and slams the laptop lid shut just as I'm about to write something utterly brilliant and necessary. I wish I could see it for what it is - her message to me that she needs me. That I need to pay attention. I wish I could calmly explain to her in the moment what I needed to do to finish, and when I'd be able to give her my focus. I also wish I didn't get sucked into thinking that email needs to be sent immediately or that arbitrary deadline I assigned to a particular project has to met at the expense of time spent with my girls. I wish I had more balance.
I don't wish that I was perfect or an angel. That isn't the kind of role model they need to get them ready for the world. I always try to talk about my screw-ups with them, let them know why I blew up, but the yelling isn't the worst. It's when I show my unmitigated disappointment about something they've done or didn't do, when I momentarily - just for 30 seconds or so - withdraw my love, respect or admiration for them. When the frustration rises up in me and I can't push it down or away, or pretend it isn't there, and I feel the need to pelt them with it just a little, to send them a little message. And what they learn, I'm afraid, is that their mother can turn on them, will turn on them, will squeeze a bit of lime into their wound. That she can't be trusted to always be on their side. That I can't be trusted to always be on their side.
Just writing it down gives me chills.
What I'd rather do - what I'm going to try to do every day now - is reign myself in, be in the moment, think about my reactions, what I'm saying to them with my body, my words, how often I smile, take a second to think before I talk, and give them the benefit of the doubt first. Because if David and I don't, who the hell is going to?
As I'm writing this, Edie drops her melting ice cream bar into David's shoe. I really want to get this post written, just a few more words to go. I told her it was okay, no problem, just a spill. I got the paper towels and we wiped it up together. The ice cream in David's shoe was kinda funny actually. It took all of an extra minute. Not a single hurt feeling for her or flash of guilt for me. I still finished this post. Baby steps.