Things got a little hairy on the mothering front last night because it was Report Card Day. There was a difference of opinion between Noah and me about what constitutes a “good report card” and I ended up locking him out of the house. Yes indeed. In a move of deep maternal wisdom, after he stormed out the front door and slammed it behind him, my hand went right for the lock and clicked it shut. “That kid is not getting back into this house,” I thought. A well-thought-out parenting strategy if ever there was one.
Then, in the grip of insane rage, I went downstairs and locked the back door too. And then went back upstairs to make dinner. At one point I saw him move quickly past the kitchen window, trying to see if there was anyone besides me near the door, probably. As it got dark, bad thoughts started to come into my head: “What if he snuck in through the downstairs window?” “What if he went to the convenience store on the highway and gets picked up by a sexual predator?” “What if he doesn’t come back?”
Eventually I had to do some stealth reconnaissance around the house because I couldn’t admit that I had locked him out and now didn’t know where he was. Things just don’t work that way around here. Jacob knew what was going on, but with the well-honed survival skills of a middle child, he was moving very slowly and quietly, most likely with a house key taped to his underwear and wondering how to stockpile money under his bed.
I found Noah in the family room with Gabe watching SpongeBob. My first thought was, “How the hell did you get back in here?” but that seemed like a negative conversation starter so I just stood there looking at him. He avoided eye contact, but as I was standing between him and the television, he had to recognize my presence in some way.
“There’s something unsavory between me and the TV,” he said, with a very tentative smile.
“I think that’s your feet,” I said.
And then it was better. Then we could talk. We talked about the report card, our different perspectives, our reactions. It wasn’t perfect but it was better. “Did you try to SNEAK back into the house?” I asked. “I tried to pick the back lock with a piece of wire, but it didn’t work. Jacob let me in.”
For anyone who has small children and wonders if things ever get easier, the answer is, “No.” No, I’m afraid not. For anyone who cannot imagine their tiny adorable offspring making them so angry that they want to push them down the stairs, get back to me when they have a high school diploma in their hands. Or better yet, don’t, because if your parenting life is a bed of roses, I would REALLY rather not know about it.
The screaming and the drama are such a drag. And the anger. It feels so isolating, and the only thing that made me not turn either myself or my first-born son in to DCFS after another argument this morning was talking to a friend who shared her own ugly, raw, funny and true parenting stories with me. “Girl, you are not alone,” she kept saying, and because I know her, and I know her kids, and I know they love each other, things felt so much easier.
After the door-locking situation was over last night, I was brushing my teeth to the sound of the 4-year old wailing in his bed, “I’m ALONE! I want someone! I’m ALONE!” He wouldn’t say, “Mama! I want you!” like he usually does if he wants me to come in, because a few minutes earlier, I had told him no, I would not go through the house AGAIN looking for the Easter egg with the rubber bug in it that he has hidden God knows where. So he was angry, over tired, and probably stressed from all the prior yelling.
He was listening to me brushing my teeth, and I was listening to him sobbing. Part of me was heartbroken, another part laughing, and another part barely paying attention because I knew that in 30 seconds he would start calling me. And sure enough, “MAMA! COME IN!” So I went in, sat on his bed, and he turned his back to me and said, “I want to be alone!”
“Oh, you have so got to be kidding me,” I thought. “No, I don’t think so. We are NOT doing the Drama Queen routine in here.” I laid down on his bed, and like a 40 pound magnet he flipped over and laid his legs on top of me. He told me that he felt sad, and we talked about that for a little while, he asked me to go look for his egg 10 more times and 10 more times I said no, we would look for it tomorrow. We said how we still love each other even when we’re angry.
It was a horrible evening. And then it was this morning. And a new argument, and another chance for redemption. Peter Ustinov said, “Love is an act of endless forgiveness.” It certainly feels that way. Noah is outside washing my car, Gabe is sleeping, I am writing this down, and later my friends and I will sit together and remind each other that we are not alone. Thank God.
Just when it has seemed I couldn’t bear
one more friend
waking with a tumor, one more maniac
with a perfect reason, often a sweetness
and changed nothing in the world
except the way I stumbled through it,
for a while lost
in the ignorance of loving
someone or something, the world shrunk
hand-size, and never seeming small.
I acknowledge there is no sweetness
that doesn’t leave a stain,
no sweetness that’s ever sufficiently sweet. …
Tonight a friend called to say his lover
was killed in a car
he was driving. His voice was low
and guttural, he repeated what he needed
to repeat, and I repeated
the one or two words we have for such grief
until we were speaking only in tones.
Often a sweetness comes
as if on loan, stays just long enough
to make sense of what it means to be alive,
then returns to its dark
source. As for me, I don’t care
where it’s been, or what bitter road
to come so far, to taste so good.
Stephen Dunn, from New and Selected Poems 1974-1994