Saturday, September 15, 2007

Real Parenting

This time last year, I was with child. Inflated and bulging with child. I was a balloon with feet, a waddling, aching reminder to all women suffering from baby fever that baby fever culminates in a month long bloat fest spattered with much complaining and cursing and topped with the people you live with wishing you'd just go somewhere and finish gestating already.

One afternoon, at the height of the bloat fest, I arrived at preschool to pick up the boys and waddled over to the 4 year old class, out of which Owen dashed, hollering about being star student for the day and proudly puffing his chest, where he'd been decorated with a sticker that declared, "I'm Special!!"

And so began the afternoon from hell. The boys were excruciatingly LOUD the entire ride home, shrieking and whining and managing to hit each other even though they weren't sitting in the same row for f's sake. I growled and grumbled and threatened, and they pretended not to hear me, but we made it home before I reached the "neck turning 360 degrees, eyes rolling back in my head" phase.

Inside, the shenanigans continued. There was much rolling on the floor and screaming, laughter and tickling that disintegrated into tears and smacking because the play had gotten too rough (it ALWAYS gets too rough). The smacking and tears inspired wailing and whining, and whining plus the bloat, plus the tearing bread of the peanut butter sandwich I was making, plus the post-loud-ride-home stress, plus the longing from deep in my bones to have a nap and the knowing that that would not happen, plus the Braxton Hicks contractions that had been torturing me since week 32 = me losing my shit.

I yelled at them. I mean yelled. Very loudly. I had them backed up against the couch, and I was full on flailing my arms and screaming incoherently that I'd told them to calm down eighty times and they never listen and I'm trying to make YOUR lunch and you're both going to bed RIGHT NOW with nothing to eat and then...Owen laughed.

At first he snickered, then he giggled, and then we was wracked with giggles, and I realized that he found me ridiculous. And that, my friends, sent me over the edge I thought I'd already gone over. But no, there was another, much steeper edge.

I put my hands on my oldest child's face, held his cheeks, and forced him to look at me. I asked him what was funny. Was it was funny to make me so upset, to have me screaming at them because they couldn't listen worth a damn? Was it funny to be screamed at? To be so disrespectful? My face was an inch from his, my hands still squeezing his cheeks, the impulse to turn him over and smack his bottom HARD dancing in my nerve endings, my voice bellowing and unfamiliar. I gave Owen a little shove away from me and stood back to look at him. I was shaking with anger and fear. I felt very close to out of control. No. I was out of control.

Owen's eyes were bright with genuine fear, tears now streaming down his face, no trace of a smile left. Mitch had pulled himself next to Owen, practically under Owen, and sat clinging to his arm. I watched them huddled there, truly afraid of me. I saw them watching me with the panic of not knowing what would happen next. Then I noticed the "I'm Special!!" sticker still decorating Owen's shirt, and the image of him dancing in front of me happily after school, so little, so taken with such a small honor, so full of naivety and happiness, deflated me utterly. I turned and left the room, found my bed, and crumpled. I cried and cried with shame, frustration, sadness, fear. I had never felt so outside of myself, so detached from the woman I'd been 5 minutes before, a screaming, abusive maniac. I feel shame even now remembering, picturing their faces on that couch, blanched with fear. Those boys, 2 and 4 years old, were afraid of me, their mother.

Before long I got myself up and washed my face, blew my nose. I went into the dining room where the boys were silently eating their sandwiches, looking sideways at me as I came in. I sat down across from them, and I apologized. I told them I was very wrong to scream at them, that I was very wrong to grab and shove Owen, that I was very wrong for losing my temper so horribly. I admitted to the boys that I was bone weary, and I said sorry. Many many times. Then my boys left their seats and came to me, washed of their fear and anger at me, eager to make me happy again. They hugged and kissed me and absolved me, and I never felt more unworthy of absolution or more full of pure, pulsing love.

A moment like this has never happened again. I hope it was my lowest moment as a mother. I hope I won't be that wild woman again, hot with anger and too overwhelmed to stop the wave of rage from crashing over my children. But that moment, ugly as it was, is real parenting. Real parents screw up. They lose their footing. They have horrible, nasty temper tantrums. They show their children the very worst side of themselves.

Real parents also teach their children that when a person messes up badly, she must say so. She must ask for forgiveness. The children of real parents learn that people who love each other can sometimes say and do horrible things to one another but go on loving each other.

That moment was terrible and sad and gritty. But it was real. As hard as it is to let go of the myth that parents are slawart beacons of wisdom and grace for their children, real parenting will, some time, somewhere, include unleashing the demons. It will happen. It will happen to you, too.

The cool kids over at Babble's recently sent out the call for blog entries on this topic, and I felt called to answer since the topic is near and dear to my heart. Plus if I link back to them I could win this rad stroller, and poor Paige in her ghetto stroller would love a pimped out ride like that.


my minivan is faster than yours said...

What a beautifully written, honest engines post. I hate when I raise my voice at my kids, and I hate when my husband witnesses it. It is so foreign to all of them. But I know this. It WILL happen again! Oh, it will!

Single Mom Seeking said...

Hello Ashley,
It's Rachel, your new fellow blogger over at BabyCenter... I just clicked through your BabyCenter post to get here. I'm so glad I did.

Thanks for being so honest and bold: for writing about those out-of-control moments that so few parents will admit to having (when, of course, we all do, right? Even the most-patient of us).

This is written 10 minutes after trying in my calmest voice to tell my 2nd grader ten+ times to "Please put your shoes on."

Jenny from Chicago said...

So honest. Every parent has moments when they are not at their best but people who are good at this job make the follow-up a lesson and the effort to change sincere. Thank you for sharing.

Erica said...

Wonderful WONDERFUL post. And beautifully written.
I, too, got to your blog thru BabyCenter. Thank you so much for writing that. I.m a first time mom & have a wonderful little girl, she'll be a year next week. I think about how 'good' or 'bad' of a mom I am, a lot. I am so scared of being a 'bad mom' and losing it. She's our only one and so far she's a very good baby, never-the-less, that fear still hangs over my head. What happens when I have #2? Thank you for reminding us all that our children learn good things from those kind of outbursts too and it does happen to every single mother at one time or another and most of all, that it is OK (as long as it's the exception, not the rule, of course).
I agree with what you said in your BabyCenter post about mom's being bombarded with what the RIGHT thing to do and the RIGHT way to parent, from books & tv & the internet, etc.... It's nice to hear someone get REAL for once.

MadMad said...

What a great post! I don't think there's a mommy alive who hasn't felt this way at one point or another - both parts: the anger AND the shame at being angry; (Plus, hello? Pregnancy hormones! Not really the most helpful things when it comes to keeping the sanity alive, let alone doing so with children around...)

Mean Mommy said...

Thanks so much for the supportive comments, gals. It was a bit hard to admit how terrible that moment was, what a terrible mom I was in that moment. I appreciate your understanding!

Anonymous said...

I've never posted before anywhere - I found you blog via Babycenter and this is my first time reading it and I'll be marking you as a regular read - amazing entry. I yell too much, hate myself for doing it, kids are amazingly resilient - I'll be angry still at something they did and my reaction to it, and they cheerfully move on to the next activity.

Aliki2006 said...

I loved this for its honesty, too. I've had that type of moment--it's awful, but real. It's hard to be perfect, and even-keeled, and not the worst thing in the world for kids to learn that their parents are human, too, and fallible, and sometimes just so tired.

bella said...

Thank-you for keeping it real! Sometimes I read blogs and posts from mom's who seem to experience mothering as all rainbows and napping with their child bliss. Which it can be. which it is. but it is more, always more.
We are, just as our children are, HUMAN. And no one wants to scare their own kids or lose it so fiercely, though we all do. But as you said, and beautifully I might add, what does it help a child to have a "perfect" parent when they themselves are not and will not grow up to be, perfect.
Apologizing gives life to mom and child both.
Thank-you for being real and honest and raw. I loved this post.

Anonymous said...

It WILL happen again. And it won't be any easier the second time.

Your older, and meaner, sister.

Anonymous said...

It will happen again but the next tiem you wont lose control, you will finally have it. Your children must learn to respect authority. They must learn there are consequences to their actions. If you keep telling them you are wrong to be angry with them when they misbehave you had better start saving up now for when you will need bail money and money for rehab. Getting angry with yoru kids is normal. It does not mean you dont love them and they know it. I do not see how yelling at a kid is abusive.