Mothering from Under the Guilt Quilt

My generation likes to do our mothering from under the guilt quilt.

Once, in a retail galaxy far, far away, I attended a management seminar on reactive versus proactive planning. I start out with a plan to be proactive, and someone (either someone under 46 inches tall and/or with a penis) doesn’t follow instructions, or “forgets”, and I go a nuclear reactive. In my head.

Usually my external reaction is more controlled– even when it doesn’t seem that way with my people. Really, between the PTSD-Vietnam-Army-Veteran-Father, and having a mother, I swallow anger and resentment like only someone with those strong emotions coded in their DNA can. Like it’s my job.

That said I also lack patience for repeat offenders, so I can be a little emotionally slap-happy. I don’t tend to carry a grudge, if I can have the fight, tell people why I’m mad, and move on. I’m not going to continue to pick at it for months at a time.

Now, lest JB’s guffaws of disbelief wake the children: I don’t worry about it– never did I say I forget. If said issues become pathological problems then of course it gets stored as a behavior quirk. And yeah, if I’m not married to you, or otherwise related, then I have a saturation point. C’mon now.

That’s with my adult relationships, but my kids? Those stored moments of Failures, Guilt, and Inadequacies? Already there are a few that I consider to be a Big Deal: real ones representing the ugly, dirty truths that just are part of being a human, not to mention a parent. Those I store in a glass specimen jar– a la 9th grade biology.

The guilt I store on display isn’t the mild society and/or kid-created guilt– I let go of that really fast. Yes, I understand that it makes my children sad that they don’t live in a 4,000 square foot house, with a housekeeper, a nanny and a chef serving an endless buffet of cheese crackers, pizza-with-no-sauce, and ice cream. Suck it up, my darlings– you, at least, have each other. Oh, and y’all are having a carnival of a life– I’ve seen the digital evidence.

There are some moments that I have to admit that feeling guilty and ashamed of my behavior is actually the appropriate reaction. Those are the ones that make it into my jar. The ones that I try hard not to replicate. Once is a mistake, and children are a remarkably forgiving creatures. Continually repeated the same mistakes is deliberate.

I’ve had a few occasions of recent where I’ve had to sit down with one (or both) of the Small People woman up, and say a sincere, more appropriately phrased version of: “damn– I’m sorry. My behavior was extreme, unfair, and definitely not cool in the circle of life. I’m really, truly heart-breathtakingly sorry.” And it’s not because I’ve spanked them, or locked them in a closet.

My poor husband. Middle child of three brothers, borne to an only child mother, and a 1-of-4-brothers father. Marrying me, an only child with repressed emotional OCD? He probably could have found an easier mate, but she would have cost him more. Or that’s what I keep telling him.

I especially appreciate that his usual assessment is: “Stephanie, he’s fine; at least you apologized” or “they bring it upon themselves”. Now, whether he’s telling the truth? Only time will tell.

Life with Two Kids, Sophie’s Choice Style

Life with two kids, Sophie’s Choice Style. This one is long– it’s been a long day.

True panic moments. Those times that you blink and one (or both) of your kids have disappeared from your line of sight, and cannot be found within the 60 second no-panic window. That’s what I have for myself– about a minute of doing the full, slow turn, eyes scanning the crowd, processing and rejecting ownership of other people’s Small People until I lay eyes on my own.

It starts with curiosity (where did my kid go?), followed by concern (seriously, did he get past me?), then a more fervent fear (that’s an exit to the street, or a flight of stairs, or weird looking smelly guy– I can’t find my son), morphing swiftly into panic (ZACCHHHAARRRY? ELLLLL–I—OT? rushrushrush, where are they, OMG I lost him, he’s left the building and is going to get run over in the street. Weird smelly guy snatched him). For most of us, most of the time, it ends in the relief of finding him peacefully playing with XYZ, totally oblivious to the drama that has played out in your head.

I feel like there’s this child/parent full-circle/parenting milestone phenomenon. It seems to parallel the same emotional/developmental milestones my children achieve. Remember this post? As it would happen, it’s not just the metaphorical riding away that can make one tearful. Metaphor has nothing on the reality-based version of one of them just taking off and getting too far, too fast for you to catch them.

Which is exactly what that numb-skull and his 2 little buddies did this morning. In hindsight, there were a series of unfortunate choices. Oh hindsight, how I hate you so.
What I neglected to consider in my own danger assessment was:
1) Previous bike rides included a shit-ton of hills. Going uphill slows down the average four/five year old adventure seeker. Conversely, the return trip downhill is slightly daunting to the “I still have training wheels” bike rider. Flat, open greenway boardwalk? Pretty much an invitation for riding hell bent to the wind.
2) Of the four Small People riding, all have new, bigger bikes, and three are boys. One of whom (mine) also happens to be wearing his Captain Flame Thrower super hero cape.
3) Of the four Small People, only one listened to the screaming STOPs being yelled. That one listener also happened to be the female. Coincidence? Yeah, probably not.
4) I assumed they would stop and explore, since that’s what had happened each time the boys and I have been down this path. See above, # 2.

I was eyeballing my friend T in front of me doing the yelling run/walk thing when the numb-skulls took off. I’m doing the ridiculous over push/pull with Elliot on his bike, and the other 2 moms are doing the stroller push behind me. This was the period of concern–though I knew they were ahead of me, I didn’t know how far ahead of T they were. But I knew she was going faster, which is never a good thing when you are watching someone chase runaway kids. As I came to the gazebo, the fervent fear set in. Not only were they NOT stopped, they had cleared a corner 100 yards ahead, and were now headed straight for a really busy road. A road that my kid would recognize as being on the way to his cousins’ house. It still makes my heart clench to think about what would have happened had the mom leading the Child Recovery Charge not started to chase them as early as she had. They would have been in that road. Absolutely.

I still have a slightly sprained ankle from a week ago. I didn’t wrap it this morning because I had no intention of running. Full panic sets in as I pass the gazebo and approach the bend. Now I’m full-out running, with one hand dragging Elliot by the handlebars of his little 12 inch bike. HE started freaking out about going too fast, and begins slapping at my butt, yelling for me to slow down.

Remember, I’m in full panic mode–so I scoop E off his bike, put him and my backpack on the ground and start running after Zach. The way the path turns and dips, my other friends and the strollers aren’t in my line of sight yet. I was only about 20 feet away before I turned around and ran back to Elliot. And there is my Sophie’s choice– Zach is at least 1/4 mile ahead of me, and only about 20 yards from the road. There’s no way I can run a 1/4 mile, carrying Elliot, fast enough to stop Zach from getting in the road. Maybe without a sprained ankle. Maybe. But I also couldn’t leave my 28 month old alone in the middle of a boardwalk over wetlands, without an adult. At that moment I had to trust that my 4.5 year old would stop, that T would catch up to them in time, that a group of bad-decision-making preschoolers would get a clue before something horrific happened. I was near sobbing as I stood for what felt like 15, but was actually only about 3 minutes, before I could see S and K coming around the bend, close enough for me to yell, “WATCH ELLIOT” and take off after my other escapee.

All’s well that end’s well. A kid has to see that kind of fear on his mother’s face every once in awhile to remind them of why there are rules. I don’t make them up just to be a controlling asshole, they exist to keep them safe, while allowing all of us to have a good time. And, dammit Zachary, I will yell, and cry, and tell you exactly the level of terror I felt. I will then kiss you, tell you I love you, and then drag your whining butt back home. I will explain that the rest of the day will spent in a type of probation–the kind where you do every thing I ask, without complaint or hesitation.

But I will also tell you about that time, when I was 4, that I disappeared for an hour (two hours?) on a birds’ nest hunt with the 10 year old neighbor boy. Only to nonchalantly return to a playground/housing quarters crawling with MPs (military police), a crying Mom, and a really pissed off Dad. I will tell you how they both hugged me, then both spanked me, then grounded my adventuring ass. Then I will write about it, so I can let it go, and take a nap.

Child/Parent full circle? Met.
And to my mother? Dude, I’m SO sorry.

I’ll Forget What they Said

I was thinking today about how Zach, when he was Elliot’s age, would proclaim “DAYDEN” repeatedly. It obviously meant something very important to him, but we never figured out what he was talking about. I know I have forgotten many of the other -isms that he had then–thinking I wouldn’t. The brain isn’t what it used to be…

So these are the things that I think are cute right now.


      –says “pick up me” instead of “pick me up”


      –says “I can’t know” instead of “I don’t know”


      –LOVES to eat tomatoes but hates spaghetti/pizza sauce. He and Elliot have worked out an arrangement; Elliot eats the sauce and then gives the chewed bread to Zach. Quite gross, but they are both so serious in their cooperation that I’m letting it go for now.


      –can spend a full hour engrossed with safety scissors, old magazines, and glue.


      –told me today–after riding his tricycle back and forth for 10 minutes–“Mommy, I can pedal now. I need a bike”. Then he over-corrected a turn, tipped over and then totally played it off like he meant to do it.


      –has taken it upon himself to “save” all of the Earthworms. But only if he can find the worm’s family to save at the same time. He has identified groupings of four as families.


      –just said, “Dude, c’mon. He stealed the ball from him”. Early college basketball indoctrination. We are not ashamed.


    –held a new baby chicken with more tenderness than I expected.


      –yells “MITTY” instead of Misty (our dog).


      –says “danku”- I think thank you?


      –refers to himself “Eyy-iioottt” with the same kind of sing-song voice that Zach uses when he is scolding him.


      –will climb anything that he can get a monkey-foot grip on first.


      –loves beans of any kind


      –doesn’t love bread (no idea who he got THAT from, must be a recessive gene!)


      –recently, when reading a book about cowboys, we came to the inevitable “get thrown/get back on the horse” page. After several thoughtful moments, he pointed and said “UH-OH”.


      –would spend all of his waking hours outside if he could figure out how to unlock the door.


    –has a serious thing for sheep, aka “BAAAsss”.

Not only do I love these kids, but I like them most of the time, too. It’s a nice feeling to choose to be happy. I’m going to make that choice more often.