Mealtimes in our house are excruciatingly long. We could be at the table for hours at a time, try out several meals before my kids will accept one each, followed by me repeating the words “eat your food” over seven hundred times before they’ve eaten about a third of it while managing to get the other two thirds anywhere but into their mouths. My baby will magically get food in his diaper while fully dressed.
It’s a painful process most of the time, and more than just physically. Before every meal I aim to get them to eat healthy foods, finish up in under an hour, and get them cleaned up and ready to go out and do something fun. And when one fails to reach set objectives at least three times a day, every single day, it can become an emotionally draining exercise.
The other day, after about three hours at the table, I dug my baby out from the pile of food he was in, put him on the floor and told him it was time to wash up. Washing up, ironically, is one of his favorite “games”, most probably because it includes water and splashing and making a mess of a different nature. I should also point out that my 15-month-old is one of the cutest little people I have ever seen, so happy and active, and so easily excited. The downside to this however is that he will run and throw himself headfirst into anything without realizing that there may be dire consequences, very much unlike my Highly Sensitive four-year-old who is cautious and studies his every move. So my little bundle of joy and tomato sauce ran towards the bathroom, waving his arms and squealing from excitement. When he got to the bathroom in under three seconds, he flung himself at the sink while clumsily trying to climb up the stool. Well, I caught him in the nick of time before he fell over and hit his head on the sink and then the floor.
And then I snapped.
I don’t know exactly know what it was that pushed me to raise my voice at my baby. Maybe it was the endless lunch we had just had. Maybe it was the fact that the next meal was right around the corner. Maybe it was me trying to establish boundaries to let him know that he needs to calm down and be more careful so I don’t have to worry about him all the time. To be honest, I didn’t think my reaction was over the top, until I realized the squealing had stopped. And that’s when I heard the most heartbreaking sound a mother could ever hear after she’s yelled at her child. It’s wasn’t the sound of angry screaming or stubborn protesting. It was much worse than that. It was the sound of silence. As soon as I’d placed him on the stool and held out his little hands under the tap, I took a look into the mirror and saw the saddest face I’d seen on him. In an instant I’d managed to break my happy little boy’s spirit which led him to whimper silently. He didn’t even try to get my attention. He didn’t even look up at me. He just stared at the water, the corners of his tiny mouth turned down, and didn’t say a word.
My heart shattered into a million pieces at this site and I immediately bent down and squeezed him. I used my absolute squeakiest voice to tell him how much I love him and how sorry I was. I covered his face with kisses hoping I could wipe out the sadness and get him squealing again. And then he did something even worse than the silent whimper. While the sadness was still clear in his eyes, he gave me a polite little smile, as if to make me feel better about myself. For about five seconds I couldn’t breathe. And when I stood back up, I saw her, right there in front of me, looking back at me from the mirror. Mean Mommy.
Mean Mommy was never part of my plan when I thought about what kind of mother I wanted to be to my children. But with time, she somehow crept into our lives with her anger and her yelling and her constant need to say “no” to everything. The word “no” is currently the most recurrent word in my vocabulary at the moment. I must say it over a thousand times a day. It’s just ridiculous really, and what’s more ridiculous is that I didn’t realize how ridiculous it was until my four-year-old said to me one day: “Mom! Can you please say YES?”
In her effort to save time, avoid a mess, stop destruction, or just give herself a break, Mean Mommy will respond with a no so often and so naturally with little consideration to the effect it’s having on her kids. She will snap much too easily, sometimes maybe with good intention, and doesn’t realize it’s creating a bad vibe at home. She will raise her voice at her kids in an effort to establish discipline, without seeing that it can actually be counterproductive. Mean Mommy doesn’t notice how much of her behavior is rubbing off on her children until she hears them say things like “Mom you’re punished!” or “This is your last chance!”
Yes, Mean Mommy moved in a while back when I was weak, and she made herself at home. She got so comfortable here that I became unaware of her presence. Sometimes I would catch a glimpse of her and tell myself I would not allow her to interfere with my business. And yet, no matter how much I fight, she always seems to get between me and my children when things get out of hand.
When I saw Mean Mommy in the mirror that day, I wasn’t surprised. I knew she’d been there for a while. But I was surprised at how much I’d let her get away with. Thing is, she doesn’t always come across as very mean. Like the other night, while I was putting my four-year-old to bed, and listened to about fifteen stories he wanted to tell me, twelve of which were the same story, Mean Mommy interrupted him at some point and told him to go to sleep. I didn’t even occur to me she was there until my son said “Mom, please listen to me!” And then I realized Mean Mommy stopped him from telling me his plan about using the four coupons he’d received for free Superhero stuff to get himself some headphones, me a closet, Daddy a kite, and his baby brother some shoes. I couldn’t believe I almost missed out on hearing that instead of picking out four things for himself, he wanted to get the whole family gifts.
This whole parenting/mothering/working mom/stay at home mom stuff, it’s not easy. Having kids is the ultimate test. You discover things about yourself you never knew existed, both good and bad. You never really know what the end of your wits looks like until you become a parent. The emotional roller coaster you’d experienced in the past becomes this super rocket that flies into space and back in seconds, giving you the incredible opportunity of being drunk with joy and extremely depressed, all in one day. You worry so much about your kids it can leave you out of breath; you question your every decision, your every move, every word you say, every toy you buy, every book you read; you run and wipe and wash and rub and scrub and sing and dance and cook and feed, day in day out, until every muscle and every joint in your body aches. Dealing with your children’s tantrums and energy and sensitivities while making sure you don’t damage them is not an easy task when you have your own issues to deal with. It’s a tough job, a job like no other. It’s no wonder Mean Mommy makes an appearance every now and then.
And this Mean Mommy person, she’s not a terrible person. She really doesn’t mean to do harm. When I saw her looking back at me, I also saw Tired Mommy with dark circles under her eyes. I saw Worried Mommy with premature lines on her forehead. I saw Sad Mommy regretting what she had just done. I saw Human Mommy whose nerves can only take so much.
I am not saying that Mean Mommy won’t be meddling in our affairs anymore. I know she’ll show up again at some point. But I can also honestly say that I have not been able to stop thinking about that incident with my baby, which has brought back all the other incidents that I wish I could take back. And I won’t pretend that I’ve now figured out how to live my life to rule out negative energy for good. What I do know however is that it’s okay if my son decided to sit on the coffee table instead of the chair. It’s okay if they yelled and screamed and ran around the house like maniacs. It’s okay if they got play dough on the carpet and ink on the white leather couch I love so much. It’s okay because they’re having their fun and learning a great deal in the process. There will be stains on clothes and broken toys and bruises on knees; we will have to part with things we love, to kiss booboos away, to accept a house less neat and tidy than we were previously used to. And even though it’s not easy at all, all this also being part of the ultimate test I was talking about, when you see those happy faces, those curious big eyes, those excited arms waving about, it’s just all worth it. So long as there is no real risk of someone getting hurt badly or the house going up in flames.
My baby got over the incident in under a minute and a half. And even though things are good between us, what happened that day will stay with me forever as a defining moment; the moment I make a written promise to myself that I will stop for a moment to either breathe or count to ten before I say “no” or raise my voice. I might get some weird looks from my kids while I breathe deeply and chant with my eyes shut, but I suppose Weird Mommy is more pleasant to have around than Mean Mommy is.
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