We attended the open house for the twins’ school next year. They will be in kindergarten. How this is possible, I have no idea, but we’re here. I’m trying to enter into this season with presence and honesty, even though I kind of feel scared shitless.
Because I feel like they’re slipping away from me already.
I know – I’m being a little dramatic. They’re not even five. But there are days when I feel like I have zero influence on their lives. Because either I’m repeating myself a dozen times before they respond or listen or they are doing the exact opposite of what I ask them.
One morning last week when I dropped them off for preschool, I made a rookie mistake. Heaven forbid, I open the doors or allow anyone else to open the doors, but as we walked in with another family, I saw their littlest reach for the door bumping into Desmond as he grabbed the door handle. So I told Desmond to let Colin open it for us.
Hell hath no fury than an almost-five year old who is deterred from this task.
I watched him have his meltdown and waited as he stomped his feet and screamed through his tears, “I. Hate. School!!!” I said to him, gently, “You don’t hate school. You’re frustrated with Mommy for asking you to let Colin open the door.” He responded with more shrieking, stomping and pounding the air. Finally, I was able to convince him to help me distribute the Valentine’s Day cards to all his friends’ cubbies. We were doing so great, and he was starting to forget the door.
Along comes Ozzie, our youngest.
These two together are a constant train wreck on the verge of happening. Ozzie starts shoving and goading Desmond, which makes him cry even more, of course, and it’s totally derailing whatever progress we’re making with the cards. Finally, Oz punches him, and then I yell at Oz and shove him aside. He falls to the ground and cries like I’ve committed the ultimate betrayal. Et tu, Mommy?
I’m done. At this point, I leave the rest of the cards on top of the cubbies, throw the lunch boxes in the fridge, and stomp out. Desmond tries to follow me and I say very firmly, and in a not-so-Happy-Mommy voice – “GO TO YOUR CLASS.”
He cries, and turns around.
I get in my car, drive off, and cry at the stoplight.
I know, I’m being a little dramatic. But, they’re about to go off to school-school. I feel like I’ll blink and the next twelve years will be over, and all they will remember is how I yelled at them and left them at school today with my voice in their ears void of any loving support. I know, I know – we all have our days. I know we all have our exhaustion. I know we all have moments where we just can’t hold it together even for the sake of our kids.One of the worst things about being a parent, for me, is the self-discovery, the being face to face with one's secret insanity and brokenness and rage. ― Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First YearClick To Tweet
My mother was never this way in public. She was the prototypical Tiger Mother – hardcore piano lessons, school was the be-all-end-all, and Lord, Lord the emotional manipulation, the screeching and the wooden spoons. But, she was somehow able to keep it together when we were outside of the house. She never raised her voice to us, she never shoved us, and we were never just dropped off in anger or frustration.
Sometimes this patient demeanor would translate into a muteness and reserve. When she didn’t speak up or if she was reticent to participate in conversations with the other parents, I would feel annoyed. Why is she just standing there staring? I would ask myself as I observed her with the other kids’ mothers.
I wonder, though, if being an immigrant had anything to do with her voice when we were out on the playground or at school together. She has always struggled with the language, but it was more than that – she wasn’t comfortable or familiar with the culture around her. Perhaps she felt the depth of her foreignness when the mothers around her chattered about pie recipes or the latest visits with the in-laws. I began to see the origins of that smile she would automatically paste on her face whenever we were out together. A smile to express listening, but one to also cover up the straining-to-understand, and I could almost feel her heart and spirit were somewhere else, on a different shore.“Do you know what a foreign accent is? It's a sign of bravery. Those are people who crossed an ocean to come to this country.” ― Amy Chua, Battle Hymn of the Tiger MotherClick To Tweet
When I look at her now as I stand on this side of motherhood I realize how brave and strong she was with us. How some of that not-so-secret insanity and brokenness and exhaustion we saw glimpses of in the home – what a burden that was to carry for our sake. How she must have carried it alone in so many ways – holding it in private and out there. How grateful I am for the community of mothers and teachers and schools and childcare workers and babysitters and my spouse around me who get it and help me to keep parenting through it all.
I doubt the kids will remember the moments I lose it with them – the screaming, the frustration, and the stomping away, but I will remember, I think. But, I’ll remember the grace, too. I’ll remember the ways my mother kept on, and I’ll remember the ways the kids keep on, I’ll remember how when I picked them up from school, they came to me with squeals and laughter, squeezing my neck, they ran to me as though I’d been away for days and that morning nothing but a wisp of a memory.