I had a FAIL moment this morning.
The issue started upstairs and soon became an all-out brawl. I was minding my own business in the bathroom, tweezing some evil, errant hairs that missed the Hey, we’re a girl! memo and working my way through a cup of coffee, when I heard it.
Then the soundtrack to every Saw movie ever made. Followed by a house-shuddering crescendo, and the word I’d been hoping not to hear: “MOM!!!!!!!!”
With that, the entire psychotic freight train derailed. And headed for me.
There are ways to handle this situation effectively. I did not choose one. Instead, I swung the bathroom door closed, turned the lock, flipped on the fan, twisted the faucets to full blast and flushed the toilet, and yelled, “NO! SO SORRY! CAN’T HEAR YOU!”
Oh yes I did.
It could have been a learning opportunity. A chance to be firm and set boundaries. Or to be empathetic. Or to talk about respect. Or to do about a million things other than take the old fingers-in-ears-“LALALA!” moment to an entirely new, plumbing-hazardous level. There was a higher road. I saw it, and I hid in the bathroom instead.
Once upon a time, I believed I would never take the low road as a mother. This was when I was still a parenting expert, back before I actually had kids. I had younger siblings, after all, and I’d babysat some, and read a few parenting books, and watched lots of TLC and Oprah. If anything, I was more well-rounded than some parents out there. Plus, I was just a natural at it, really. A bona fide parenting savant. On any given day, in any given Wal-Mart, I could find at least a half dozen parenting situations that I knew how to handle better. I’ve so got this, I thought. I was never going to be a spectacle out in public when I had kids. NEVER.
To my credit, when I was pregnant with my first, I did ask parents for their wisdom. “What’s it really like? What should I know?” Here’s what I learned from their answers: People are damned liars. Some fib by omission (“It’s the best thing that will ever happen to you,” minus the boogers and poop and exhaustion and screamyness), while others are just evil con artists who should burn for all eternity (“Childbirth is a good pain, don’t worry!”)
Don’t get me wrong, I’m right with everyone else who will tell you that raising kids is the most amazing thing you’ll ever do. But there are certain parts of it that are something less than fun and that no one warns you about. It’s the ultimate bait-and-switch, like landing a job as a movie theater usher (free movies, yo!) and then learning that, oh yeah, someone has to clean up after people who spill popcorn, smear chewing gum under their seats, and lose control of their bowels at the scary parts.
For example, no one warned me about all the blood. Oh my God, so much blood. From childbirth through wobbly first steps, climbing mishaps, learning to ride a two-wheeler, and every milestone in between, it’s like Moses before the red sea, but with more peroxide and less divine help. And there’s the non-milestone bleeding, too, like when your preschooler randomly falls off of a random stair to land on a random headband that was left on a random spot on the floor, and all of this randomness results in the headband’s little plastic teeth embedding themselves in his forehead. And you don’t realize that’s what happened, so you try to move the headband to figure out why there is so much blood, and hear the sickening crack-crack-crack sound of all of those little teeth breaking off the headband and staying stuck in his head. And congratulations, your son is now a sideshow freak of extreme body modification, with a peppy little crown of plastic spikes permanently lodged along his hairline. There will be an ER trip, and a big bill, and a lifetime family ban on spiked headbands but more than any of that, there will be blood.
(Along the same lines, be warned that nursing incorrectly – as I did for several months – can sometimes lead to blood blisters. And if you co-sleep with your nursing baby and one of those blood blisters pops during a nighttime feeding, your sweet baby will look like a tiny vampire and you will pee a little when you wake up to her blood-covered face grinning at you.)
I was also unprepared for just how much I’d need to use my voice, every day, all day. That I would miss thruway exits as a result of participating in conversations like this:
You know how Ursula is evil?
And some people are mean? Like, bullies and stuff?
And Ursula is evil, and there are bullies?
With all the evilness and meanness?
“Yes. Where is this going?”
Well, I’m trying to tell you but I feel like YOU NEVER LISTEN TO ME! YOU DON’T LOVE ME AT ALL!
Or that I would have to provide endless explanations for life’s injustices, like ants not having backbones, and how cats can’t turn into dogs, and why airplanes don’t have eyebrows (Aidan literally sobbed at that last one).
And I’m not saying that there’s something wrong with kids, necessarily, but I do have to wonder what it is in their wee little minds that can make these associations:
Scrambled eggs that were the “favorite” last week = NOT FOOD
Pepperoni that’s little circles and not big circles = NOT FOOD
An apple that sat out for 1/13 of a second and is slightly discolored on that one bite = NOT FOOD
The second serving of pot pie that was just requested 20 seconds ago = NOT FOOD
And then make these associations:
Cigarette butts on the side of the road = FOOD
Glue = FOOD
“I don’t know” from the floor of the van = FOOD
Dirt that may or may not have actually been dirt = FOOD
So after a certain amount of time of navigating these situations, I’ve come to understand something. That back when I thought I knew what I was doing, I was actually just incredibly naive (at best, and downright stupid at worst). And that today, now that my grasp on how to parent feels so much more tenuous than it did in those rosy, pre-kid days, everything that I believe to be right and true, at some point or another, will take back seat to the urge to hide in the bathroom with tweezers and coffee while my children scream at each other in the hallway.
In some way, that feeling of humiliation in my gut when I step outside to realize that the windows were open and the entire neighborhood probably thinks we’re a bunch of ranting lunatics, is when I’m truest as a mom. It’s when I’m the humblest and most open to learning new and better ways to deal. Those are the moments when dogmatic ideals lose to experience, when I have to go with my gut and sometimes fail. So for that reason, I love my fail from this morning. I can share it and laugh about it and the next time I’m about to be trampled by a runaway kid argument, I’ll remember how the sink almost overflowed and I nearly dropped my tweezers into the toilet, and it will help me keep my perspective – and my cool.
It’s okay to fail.