The Day I Failed

Have you ever had days when you failed? Times when you feel like a completely incapable parent who — despite trying moment after moment, day after long day — you can’t shake the fear that you’re failing your child? Well, I have.

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Yesterday was rough. It started out fine enough with the usual morning blips: “He took my toy!” “He’s sitting in my seat!” Standard sibling stuff. Then the day spun into afternoon and the brief firecracker bad decisions morphed into waves of whining and misbehavior, not listening and blatantly ignoring threatened consequences. It culminated in me hauling my 5-year-old offender out of the local family concert in a football hold (aka: “the carry of shame”) and to the minivan while my husband, 3-year-old, and 6-year-old stayed to dance and play in the sun.

My middle child squirmed and shrieked in protest against the car seat harness, his consequence. Meanwhile, I sat in the driver’s seat unable to fully focus on his lamentations as I was audience to an internal shaming of my own.

I replayed the entire day, focusing on each time I reprimanded, discussed, scolded, incentivized, redirected, threatened, complimented, and yelled at him. I couldn’t determine what to do differently. I felt helpless. I felt like a failure.

“Adults who make bad decisions are unhappy but adults who make good decisions are happy,” I tell my children, “and I want to help you learn how to make good decisions so that you can be happy adults.” “The world,” I remind them, “has consequences, and so Mommy does too. If you make good decisions, good things happen; if you make bad decisions, bad things happen.” I give them the power to choose their destiny, in a sense, through decision-making. Just like life does, but for now they’re learning in the relative safety of my cocoon.

My eldest knows this speech backwards and forwards. She often retells it to her younger brothers when they misbehave. My youngest prides himself in making “good a-cisions”, as his 3-year-old tongue pronounces it. My 5-year-old presently does not care.

I know my bright, creative, and kind 5-year-old is capable of making good choices and selecting reason over impulse. His teachers note how well-behaved he is in school. But right now he’s not.

“You’re a smart boy who can make good decisions,” I calmly remind my middle son multiple times daily, “make good decisions.” But he doesn’t!┬áRational me who has parented a 5-year-old before knows it’s the age. Reasonable me knows this is healthy and good… a sign of appropriate development. But mom me is sick of it. Emotional me feels like a failure whose setting her child up for a future of bad decisions, squandered opportunities, burnt relationships, and turmoil. Mom guilt is a bitch.

Then, during evening circle time it all changed. After completing her own circle time share, my eldest asked me to do my circle time after my middle and youngest children had retreated to a sudsy bath. In accordance with our circle time formula, I noted my three dislikes of the day, my three likes, and then I sighed and shared the one thing I would’ve done differently: I wouldn’t have gotten so frustrated with my middle child. “I don’t like yelling at you guys,” I told my daughter. And she smiled. She smiled in this knowing, kind way that stole my breath for a moment. “I know, Mommy. You’re trying your best and you are doing a good job. You NEED to do that so that he can learn to make good decisions.” It was as if all of my internal reason had gotten so frustrated being ignored in my own head that it spilled out through my 6-year-old’s mouth.

I hugged her and thanked her. I ended circle time with the last sharing point: what I was looking forward to tomorrow.

And told myself that tomorrow would be a better day.

How to be a Happy Parent: Enjoying the Sh*tshow

My toddler lost his shit on an evening walk. A block from home, he began shrieking but my other two were happily biking along. I raced down the sidewalk — plastic tricycle under my arm as I scurried to launch my novice two-wheel biking daughter from a stop and tried┬áto avoid getting run over by my middle son’s speeding training wheels — while my melting 2-year-old followed 10 feet behind me, still wearing his lime green toddler bike helmet, wailing and moaning at max volume. We were a scene.

I had three choices on that gorgeous evening: 1) get flustered and embarrassed and race everyone home in an anxious whirlwind, 2) get angry and yell a tirade while herding my brood home, 3) laugh at the ridiculousness of our situation and actually find a way to enjoy the calamity. Fortunately for me, I didn’t even realize my other two options. I defaulted to #3. I just laughed. I laughed hard. Because, why not?

A neighbor, fastidiously tending to her garden as I only wish I could, laughed at the sight. Some may have bristled if not barked at the gaffe. Instead, I laughed along with her because we looked entirely ridiculous. I mean, c’mon, what newlywed couple thinks ahead to eventual parenthood and sees that version of the family stroll in their future? None! And that’s why we procreate. Because we’re morons… naive, pompous optimistic morons.

Sometimes, though, all it takes is a little perspective and a diminished give-a-shit to survive our childrens’ childhood with any semblance of sanity or grace. We just need to choose amusement over anxiety.

Sure, I get mad and frustrated and yell… daily. You bet I lose my cool when everyone is asking for something at the same time but no one’s listening and I just. Need. To. Pee! You know I sure as heck have nights I careen into the sofa after a long day, feeling a mixture of mom guilt, emotional exhaustion, and a life-sustaining thirst for a glass of wine.

However, for the most part of most days, I try to laugh. I try to find the humor in the madness, the chaos, the misbehavior, the messes, the drama. I laugh because it is simply absurd what these children dish out. I mean, in what world would one expect to find a sock on a picture frame (unless at a frat house)?

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How is it normal to find a kid pantless in the playroom practicing W.W.E.-style rope dives from the sofa arm while another practices drag performances into a “Bubble Guppies” microphone? When did, “Don’t bite your brother’s bum”, “We don’t wipe our penises on the toilet”, and “No heads in the trashcan” become part of my daily vernacular? What have I done with my life?

Something awesome, that’s what.

I took an existence I once considered stressful and exhausting then added so much stimulus, so many demands, and so much ego-obliterating activity to it that it spun everything I thought I knew about the world and myself upside down. I realized I could choose to be angry, amused, frustrated, appreciative, flustered, calm, or joyful. I could choose the feel judged or I could choose to shamelessly own my mess and invite others to revel in the hilarity right along with me. I may not be in control of the chaos, but I am in control of how I respond to it… how I perceive it.

By shifting my perspective from, control-freak to laughter-prone, it changes everything. It changes the situational trajectory, the bystanders’ responses, and my emotional state. Being quick to laugh is a gift we not only give others but ourselves.

Why get defensive and angry at witnesses when we can let it go and just allow the audacity to amuse us? Soak it in as you would watching the scenario on a sit-com. Emotionally detach. Take a breath. Enjoy it. It’s always more fun to laugh with others anyway.

These are the hardest days, friends, but they are the best days. It’s up to us to find a way to enjoy them.

Lessons of My Tantruming Toddlers

So this was my Target run this morning with my cute little, potbellied, snot-nosed companion.

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#3 Tantrums amidst candy and beer

Gold-star parenting, taking a photo of my raging 1.5-year-old, right? Pffft… the photo was worth it.

I remember back when my first child (now a sparkle-loving, highly articulate, graceful-as-an-elephant kindergartener) would throw public tantrums. Oh how I would shrivel! My face grew red, I could feel real and perceived eyes on me. I gave SO many shits about what others thought. Granted, when my bull-headed mini-me would rage she would do so for at least 30 minutes. No amount of distraction or redirection, ignoring or punishing would calm the storm. She just needed to let loose until the tides turned. And so she did. And so I learned.

Along came my second child. My daughter, but 20-months old at the time of his birth, was still in the infancy of her tantrum season. We’d walk the aisles of a grocery store and she’d wail. We’d shop Target and she’d walk behind me losing her ever-loving mind. Her infant brother, tucked neatly into his stroller, had been prepared for these animal noises in-utero, so he was utterly unaffected by her demonic yowl-and-flail maneuvers. I’d remain outwardly calm, inwardly reminding myself to stay steady, willing myself to pale the increasing blush in my cheeks. I’d nod at the reassuring smiles from on-lookers, I’d respond to kind words with a silently mouthed “thank you.” I’d ignore unsolicited advice to “teach her a lesson” or “get out the belt.” I kept on with my errand. I preserved.

My second child came of age and would tantrum in public. He’d sit down in the middle of a busy aisle or attempt to run across the street and I’d scoop him up into the crook of my elbow so that his belly rested on my hip, his squat legs kicking the air behind me. We’d go about our errand or family walk as he flailed in my arm, securely positioned in the “carry of shame.” Often both he and his sister would simultaneously unleash their inner demons. Onlookers would reassuringly smile and I’d smile back. Passersby would offer kind words and I’d respond in jest. After a few minutes, he’d relent, his sister would eventually follow suit. He knew his sister had calloused me; he could not win.

Then my third child arrived, 2.5 years after my second. He tantrums and I giggle. He hops with anger in a store aisle and I stop to take a picture. Do onlookers sneer or even notice? I haven’t the faintest. Do people seem unsettled by the fussing of a toddler in a public space? I neither know nor care. I’m just living the fleeting humorous moment, because this too shall pass.