"What do you want to wear?" I say in my best negotiating-with-a-toddler voice. I'm working hard to stay cheerful. She picks something goofy, too small and rather inappropriate for the weather.
"Perfect! Great choice!" I say and wrestle this child who has mysteriously and suddenly lost all muscle tone into this lousy excuse for an outfit.
I hear Andrew from downstairs, "Why don't you hop in the shower and I'll get the kids ready?" I know, most women would LOVE hearing this. But I'm annoyed because it feels like he's trying to control the situation. We're often late, and he hates that, usually blames me. I do my best to avoid you're-not-the-boss-of-me mode. I'm only moderately successful.
I try to make myself some oatmeal. The dog is in my way. The dog is always in my way. This morning, I'm not in the mood, so I put him out in the backyard where he can roam and explore and run. But he wants back in...very badly. "Fine. Come on in buddy," I say and open the door. He just stands there and about five mosquitos come inside instead.
The clothes I planned to wear? Dirty. Those earrings? Missing in action. That purse? Emptied out on the living room floor. The oatmeal? Totally forgot to pour it into the boiling water. The babies? Crying. The toddler? Not even sure where she is.
I burp Gus while I grab a pack of pop tarts from the cupboard. He lifts his head off the burp cloth and pukes down my neck. New shirts for both of us. Burping Louie, letting the dog out again. "Go outside Murphy. Hurry up," I say while holding the door ajar, welcoming in the rest of the mosquito family. Murphy finally goes outside while Louie shoves the burp cloth out of the way and empties his stomach all down the back of my shirt. Without even thinking, I slam that door as hard and as fast as I possibly can. The thunderous crack echoes in the kitchen, stops Gus's crying and brings Harriet out from hiding. I walk slowly through the intense silence and into my bedroom to change...for the third time in one hour.
I was frustrated. Frustrated...disappointed...such gentle, fancy words for something so plain and simple - anger. I was angry. Boiling mad like the oatmeal-less pot on the stovetop. Furious as the storms that were apparently raging inside my babies' tummies.
I've never been an angry person. I don't mind conflict, probably because the more intense things get, the more calm I get. I've never struggled to stay cool in the midst of relational tension...until I became a parent. In her book Surprised by Motherhood, Lisa-Jo Baker writes that she didn't realize that she had a temper until she became a mom. Same here, Lisa-Jo. Same here.
Maybe it's the sleeplessness. Maybe it's the feeling of powerlessness that happens when you can't get an eight-pound baby to do anything you want her to do. Maybe it's the caldron of emotions that gets stirred when two adults from different backgrounds try to parent the same child. Maybe it's the hormones. Maybe...yeah, pretty sure it's all of the above. And then there are the endless toys everywhere you walk...all of them somehow sharp or squeaky.
My husband's not immune from it. In fact, he's the primary target. I remember when we were having such trouble getting Harriet to sleep, we went for a morning walk. Andrew was full of advice and theories, and I literally had to step to the other side of the path to keep from slugging him. And not in a playful way. I wanted to punch him in the arm and I wanted it to hurt. I was angry. Sometimes, my fuse is short...too short. Sometimes it turns into sarcasm. Sometimes I get loud. Sometimes it's just a seething silence.
We're potty training around here. Have been for quite a while. We've taken a really relaxed approach to it. Partially because we want her to lead and partially because we're lazy. Some days she wants to wear a diaper, and that's fine. Most of the time, she wants to wear her underwear, which is exciting. I'm so proud of her. The other day, she was drinking a lot. She had four accidents in about three hours. I kept asking her if she had to go, and she'd insist she didn't while doing a dance that looked like she was standing on hot coals. I begged her to use the potty. Enter power struggle. I backed down, knowing that this was a battle I couldn't win. All of a sudden, she's standing in another puddle. I already had the boys in the stroller, all ready to go to the park. I didn't want to leave them in the driveway while I got her changed, so I wheeled them into the garage and hurried her into the house.
|They were kind of like this...except crying.|
"I'm not mad that you peed, honey. I'm mad that you keep lying when I ask you if you have to go."
"But Mom, I...no, not those pants!"
I did not have time for this. I ran and grabbed a few pairs for her to choose from. She deliberated for several minutes before announcing her decision. All the while, I'm sighing loudly, rushing her, feeling my face get hot. I put the pants on her and gently push her out the door.
"Mom," she says in her best preschool teacher voice, "It's not a good idea to push kids. And when you use that hard voice, it hurts my feelings."
"Okay, I'm sorry, sweetheart. Let's talk while we walk."
And we did.
I usually find that my temper flares when my self care is low or my sense of self entitlement is getting the best of me. Like when I haven't had time out of the house in a few days. Or when I have insisted on doing the nights by myself for a week straight. Or when I realize that it's 6:00 pm and all I've eaten are some chips and fake guacamole (yeah, when you're eating artificial guacamole, you know it's bad).
Or when I start to think that I deserve this or that, because really, I don't deserve anything at all. And this season - the parenting one - is a season of sacrifice. When I was a little kid, we would sing this song:
Make me a servant, humble and meek
Lord, let me lift up those who are weak
And may the prayer of my heart always be
Make me a servant, make me a servant
Make me a servant today.
This has been my prayerful song for the past few months. You'll hear me singing it at the strangest times, all throughout the day. Reminding myself that I'm a servant mama, making sure that while I'm wiping their hands and faces, I'm also metaphorically washing their feet. If I'm able to take good care of myself while maintaining a servant's heart, those red hot angry emotions usually have a hard time besting me.
Every time we mess up is an opportunity. An opportunity to show our kids that we are flawed, sinful people, and that apologies are some of the most important words we can speak. In fact, the first words I spoke today were apologies - to Harriet for being crabby with her during her bedtime routine last night and to Andrew for...pretty much everything I did and said all evening long. My blog post was going viral and although I was excited, I was also feeling the weight and responsibility of those two million views heavy on my shoulders. I was digging deep to fight off the discouragement that I was feeling from the negative comments. I was exhausted (like maybe five hours of sleep in three days exhausted) and everyone in the family was feeling the prick of my spiny mood. So this morning started with two apologies, both graciously accepted. Harriet even told me that she thinks Jesus is warming up my heart.
That's good news, my girl. Really good news.