Updated: Feb 14, 2020
I have to admit, I thought this space would be filled with cute little stories of goat parkour, and tales of life with the kids. Like the time Mason went to poop in the backyard, lost his balance and tumbled into the creek. Or the time we dropped him off for the first day of preschool, and by noon he had found three different ways to escape the play yard and head for home.
Those are the kind of stories I imagined - funny Mom stuff that gives you grey hairs, but later makes for a good story.
But this week, the Muse decided that the funny mom stuff
needs to take a back seat to a more serious Mom confession: we’re a family of yellers.
I know, says the Muse. Stay with me here.
Once upon a time I was the picture of patience - the early days of motherhood when my ideals about how I would mother, and
what kind of children that would create, were fresh, and fueled
with so much clarity.
Don’t get me wrong, I was a hot mess on the inside. I was wrestling with the pain and trauma of my own childhood, trying to identify the truth in my own memories, while also working out how not to carry forward some of the mistakes of my parents. How was I going to do this differently? It was painful. It was a struggle.
But no matter what was going on inside, I was the picture of patience on the outside. Even when my tiny creatures would bathe me in love and delight one minute, and then immediately pluck the strings of my deepest wounds the next, I didn’t yell. I breathed. I instructed. I guided tiny hands, and encouraged tiny hearts, to do the right thing. I stood over them as they threw tantrums, allowing the full breathed of their emotion while making sure they didn’t hurt themselves. Stay clam. Wait. Love them when they return to themselves.
Over and over and over again. Day after day after day. I watched the clock, waiting for nap-time and bedtime - when I could fall apart a little - but during waking hours I was present, focused and patient.
Ha! That last word now feels as foreign to me as an uninterrupted night’s sleep. Or two minutes in the bathroom without someone spontaneously bleeding.
I’m gonna leave that right there to hang out while I confess: I don’t have any patience anymore. It all went out the window about six years ago, right around when Sophia was six and Cooper was four. Right around when I was staring down the last seven months of part time pre-school, and seeing the glorious light of freedom on the horizon. It was right at that threshold and returning sense of freedom, that we found out I was pregnant again. A new baby. A reset of the clock. A dialing back to zero on all those plans waiting in the wings.
I was all-in on the stay-at-home-swaddle-make-your-own-baby food-be-there-for-every-nap-years. A hundred percent all in, and if I had to go back, I would do it all again just the same. But I was also the Mom who longed a lot for kindergarten. So, by the time Mason arrived, just two months after Cooper started school full time, something had shifted in me. I was bitter. I had gathered back together all the stuff required to care for a baby, but what I couldn’t recover was that deep well of patience. I realized immediately that I was optimal with two kids, but with three, I was off the rails.
There was a lot fueling the desperation of that time.. Cooper was just coming out of two years of regular tantrums that sometimes lasted as long as an hour, and made me want to put daggers in my eyes. Sophia’s sleep anxiety held us hostage with a 3 hour bedtime routine - just to have everyone end up in our bed anyway. And we had a newborn with double club feet, so we were almost weekly at a specialist, dealing with double leg casts, achilles tendon surgery, and cumbersome leg braces that required new, very expensive corrective shoes, every six months. It could have been worse, but it most definitely could have been better.
The yelling started innocently enough. I had two kids to get out the door every morning, but I was caught under the third one with marathon breastfeeding and blowouts. From the sofa or changing table, I encouraged the big kids to move themselves along. But as much as they tried, they still weren’t big enough to pack their own lunch or stay focused to find their socks. LOOK IN THE OTHER BASKET. THEY DON’T HAVE TO MATCH!
I was overwhelmed. I was tired. I was frustrated and disorganized. There was never anything clean to wear, and if it was clean it was ill fitted on me, or nearly outgrown on them. If I tidied up, it would immediately fall apart. If I gained some semblance of organization, it would quickly crumble at my feet.
I felt like crying all the time. I likely had post-partum depression. I was disoriented and felt like my sanity had trotted off with the plane tickets to Mexico and the last twenty pounds of baby weight I had worked so hard to lose, because I thought we were done at two.
I thought we were done. I couldn’t rest on that line of thinking for long, or I would start to cry again. So, instead, I yelled.
It became a dance of yelling and then quickly apologizing. Quickly taking them off the hook for my bad behavior. It’s not you it’s me, BUT GET YOUR DAMN SHOES ON!!! I never stopped yelling. Or feeling guilty about it. The hot mess inside had breeched the borders. It was spilling out all over the place, and my hands were too full to gather it up and tuck it back in its place.
This is how Mason got the hashtag #sorrynumberthree. I was in survival, so he was given too many videos too young. He learned to feed himself on cold leftovers right out of the fridge, with a spoon. He napped in the stroller. He potty-trained himself in the backyard.
This is also when I discovered what happens when a mom goes off the rails a little - it sets the tone for everyone else in the house. If I eat bad, everyone eats bad. If I stay up too late everyone gets to bed later. If I yell, everyone else starts yelling. I hear it now, so many years later as the bigger kids interact. I hear the edge in their voice as they try to work through a problem. I hear all three of them quickly go from calm to screaming at each other.
Oh god, the guilt. The helplessness in knowing that I can’t dial back the years and find more help for my overwhelmed self. That I didn’t demand more self-imposed breaks. I didn’t have the bandwidth to do all of the things I knew would make me a healthier, more present mom again. Now those years are gone, what’s done is done.
And so, I sit and contemplate how to do better from this moment forward. To ask why it is any of us yell, and where is it rooted? What I keep coming back to is something that someone much wiser once told me. It boils down to this: we operate from just two places, Love and Fear. There are only two. Pick any emotional adjective (hate, jealousy, shame, acceptance, tolerance) and you can place every last one in those two categories.
Choosing love isn’t always the easiest, but when love wins, magical things happen. When fear wins, it can manifest in sadness, overwhelm, depression or anger. While some of us cope by getting sad, or crying or turning inward, others spring-board into lashing out. That’s me. I get angry. That child in me that fears being alone, misunderstood, betrayed - gets triggered and I don’t know how to stop sooner on the continuum. I shoot right past introversion and sadness, straight on to total frustration, and then white-hot anger.
Bleh. I wish I could find my way back to that place of control. I wish I could parent myself through the tantrums and stand guard over my tempest body while it feels the full breadth of emotion, and then love myself when I turn round right again. I wish in doing so it didn’t take everyone with me. That everyone didn’t watch so closely with learning eyes, how much I struggle to keep righted and clear headed.
My hope is that what sticks with them is not how I derail, but when I do, that I find a way back. It’s not so much that we can’t make a mess, but we have to be sure to clean it up. To get right again with the people we love. To take them off the hook for our bad behavior and the times when fear wins over love.
The Muse confesses: I am imperfect. Maybe we can be imperfect together. Maybe when we’re together, that small child in us will feel more love and less fear. More love, less anger. Less anger, a kinder tone. A kinder tone, a happier family.
Today is a new day to try again.