With parenting, sometimes it’s the small things that wear me down.
Yesterday brought a hundred small battles with my daughter. She is nearly four, so her previously sweet disposition has been smudged out, replaced with the attitude of a rebellious teenager.
Yesterday, her skirmishes were ignited by my unreasonable requests, for instance, “Please brush your teeth,” “Please get your shoes on so your brother can make it to the bus,” “Please use the potty,” (she didn’t) and “Please don’t pee on the slide,” (she did).
Other tantrums erupted when I tried to talk to my mom on the phone, when we ran out of popcorn, when I wouldn’t let her play in my car, and when her hard-boiled eggs took too long to cook.
By the end of the day, I felt like I’d endured dozens of emotional paper cuts, the sum of which left me bleeding out.
But then it was tubby time, and I needed to wash her hair, and though I realized this would be a treacherous undertaking, I knew had to go forth, since I couldn’t remember the last time we’d washed it.
As expected, this brought much screaming, followed by her refusal to exit the tub, despite my sly bribes of movies and snacks. My voice kept getting louder and sharper as she continued to scream, and I felt so worn out, and so not cut out to be a mother, and wondering why no one tells you that parenting is made of thousands of tiny moments that strung together, can threaten your patience, your values, and, on nights like this, your sanity.
My six-year-old was there with us, he of the sensitive yet fiery temperament. He started to cry because the whole scene was stressing him out, too.
And then he did something small that was not small at all, something that changed everything.
Still wrapped in a towel, he crouched down and talked to his little sister in a calm, sweet voice.
“Do you want to get out of the tub and watch a movie with me?” he asked.
My daughter stopped shrieking and instantly stood up in the tub, tear tracks mingling with bathwater on her luscious cheeks. She was ready to get out.
My son beamed as I stood there, dumbstruck.
“Mom, I think she just needed someone to speak to her in a kind voice. Your voice was a little mean, Mom,” he said.
I wrapped my little girl in her favorite pink towel, and hugged her tight.
And then I started crying, because it had just been such a sh*tty day, and I was so frustrated with her and even more frustrated with myself. And because I should have more patience for these little spirits wrapped in skin, wrapped in towels, these little creatures who the universe has entrusted me to take care of.
And because my six-year-old had just schooled me.
He saw my tears and threw his arms around me. “I’m surprised to see you cry, Mom. Everything’s okay, you know.”
And I cried the ugly cry for a few more minutes, and he asked me why I was crying.
“I just want to be a good mom to you guys,” I sobbed, sounding like something out of a Lifetime movie.
And my son said, “You’re the best mom.”
And my daughter, who’d just done an emotional 180, said, “Yeah, you’re the best mom. Except for Andrea,” she added, citing a good friend of mine.
“You’re the best mom for us,” my son amended.
Then the three of us snuggled on the couch for a short TV break before bed, my son in the middle with an arm around each of us. And I told him how proud I was of him, and how much I loved him and his sister.
And I sat there, as images blurred across the TV, with my son’s arm resting on my shoulder, and I thought of all the phases our kids go through, and the phases we go through, and how damned hard it is to ride with them.
And yet how good it is, because there was my boy, the one I worry so much about, who tonight reminded me that maybe, all the small, good things we parents do just might matter. That sometimes these small, good seeds we work so hard, day after day, to plant just might take root in the dark, blooming up from our kids when we least expect it.
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Author: Lynn Shattuck
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: Emily at Flickr