When you have kids, it's like giving birth to your very own private fan club. The more babies, the more members of the club. As soon as they can focus their eyes, they worship you. You are the provider of their nourishment, the soft warm human easy chair they can settle into at any given time, the keeper of their days and nights.
And it's a two-way street, this love affair. You spend hours just gazing at their little faces, their tiny toes, their teensy squishy butts, their perfect little fingernails. Every strand of hair on their head is a blessed miracle.
For a long while, you are their commander in chief. You are the person they cry out for in the middle of the night, you are the one who knows exactly which cup they want for their milk, you are the one they want to please. It's you they create all of those drippy finger-painted masterpieces for, it's you they cling to when they're feeling overwhelmed with this big huge world.
You are the key master to their gate keepers. Yin and yang, you are.
Then one day they surprise you.
They start acting like turds. They'll snarl at you, glare at you, tell you that you are the Meanest Mommy in The Whole Wide World. You may even get an "I hate you". They'll stick their tongues out at you, tell you that your toast doesn't taste good. They'll fold their little arms and turn their heads when you reach out to scoop them up.
I'll be honest with you. When it first happened, I was crushed. I thought that I had failed as a parent, thought that my child had seen through this maternal facade I had built over the old me.
By the time my fourth child did the arm-folding, head-turned "harumph" thing, though...I was pretty much over it. Poor William, and all those other last-children: they never really get to feel that power. I remember saying to William, "Believe me, mister, whatever ya got, I've seen it before." Of course, that was before he was playing horsey on the back of our old massive couch, fell off and bent his forearm in half. That was a new one.
But as far as hurting your feelings, the first kid gets the honor of breaking you in. Unless you have one of those rare angel kids...I've heard they exist but have never actually seen one in real life. Those are the kids who are picking up trash at the park and recycling it before they are potty trained. The kids who look at the other, more "earthy" kids in school with morbid curiosity and a bit of disdain. No offense if you have one of these kids, really. I'm super happy for you.
My kids are perfect in their own ways. I love them, love them with every single fiber, every single cell of my being. But each one of them has a nice sharp set of horns. Believe me, they're there. Some of them got their horns early, in the name of kindness I won't say who got theirs first or which ones were the sharpest or which angels started rutting me the soonest. Each one has a set, and each one has used them.
As your kids get older, and your skin gets thicker, they come up with new ways to shock you. You may hear some swearing and/or other inappropriate phrases. I'll admit it: there are days I want to tell the neighbors to not worry, that my kids are simply rehearsing for a live theater production of South Park. I sometimes feel like I've stumbled into a drunken longshoreman convention or a seedy truck stop when I hear the filth that my kids have sputtered. I'm not proud of this, and have tried just about everything to quell it, but there you have it. Sometimes my kids swear.
And sometimes, they swear at me. I've heard pretty much everything, been called just about every name in the book. It hurts. It hurts my feelings, it embarrasses me, it fills me up with a cocktail of guilt, shame and anger. It has taken me a long time to build up my defenses when this particular barrage of sewage is thrown at me. I now simply say, over and over again, "You may not swear in my house." Sometimes they listen, and stop. Other times they'll retort with more verbal abuse (which may sound dramatic, but really, that's what it is). When it gets to be too much, sometimes I snap. I'll yell back, I'll start one of my rants (the ones where I walk through the house, picking up, putting things away and mutter about my choices in life), I've even sworn back at them. I'm not proud of that, but I'm human and it's happened.
I'm sure Dr. Phil or Super Nanny or even freaking Cesar the Dog Whisperer would have plenty to say to me about it, about what I've done wrong or what I should be doing. I've brought it up at their well-child exams ("tell them to stop" was the advice), mentioned it to school counselors and spent a lot of my "me" time in therapy waxing on and on about it. I've received lots of good tips, lots of commiseration and yes, a bit of judgmental reprimanding.
This is one of those times that I feel those cooled off embers of resentment towards Big Daddy start glowing again. I think to myself how nice it would be to have a loud male voice in my house, someone to defend me, someone to put a little fear into these kids. "DON'T TALK TO YOUR MOTHER THAT WAY". Isn't that something we all heard from our dads at one point or another? I don't have that. In fact, my kids hear their father saying some pretty awful things about me, things that I'm sure have stuck in their memories like gravel in the treads of your shoes. And yes, I have said my share of not-so-nice things about him. But I stopped that, a long time ago. When my kids say something like "I hate him" or "I wish we never had to see him" I defend him (imagine that...I really do). I tell the kids that he's their dad and they have to respect him. That he loves them and that they love him too. I save my venom for brief rants with my friends, or else here under the cloak of anonymity.
I wish I had someone to defend me. That's when I get mad, when I start to think about how unfair it is that I'm doing this seemingly impossible job all by my lonesome. I start to think that I'm doing my children a grave disservice by not having a man in the house, that maybe I need to go and aggressively seek out a guy just to get that male voice.
And then things calm down. The kid who swore will apologize, we'll have the same talk we have over and over again, about respect and love and kindness. Things will be better and the embers of anger cool down again, in all of us. And I realize that my kids, while not perfect angels, are simply trying to work things out. It's not always pretty, this growing up thing, especially when there are so many ugly circumstances and painful situations to deal with. That doesn't excuse their behavior, of course, I'm not going to backpedal now and say "It's ok". It's not ok, and it's something that I'm going to have to work on. If I do happen to find that man with the booming voice, my defender, my knight in shining armor, so be it. But I'm not going to wait for that to happen. I need to figure this one out in the same way I've handled all of the other parenting issues that have come up over the past 6 years: on my own.
I mentioned laughs in the title of this post, didn't I? We get those here, too. Sometimes those horns be funny. William and I went skiing with his class for a fabulous all-day field trip last month. It was the first time on skis for me, and only the second or third time for William. He had a blast. All of the kids had a good time, it seemed.
On the bus ride back, a group of kids had apparently decided that since they still had their "All Day" passes, it made perfect sense to come back after school let out. William started begging me as we drove home from school. "Please oh please oh please mom". He went on and on and on. The answer was no. I couldn't. In a perfect world, I would have. But I had to get Charlie to work, I was running low on gas, I didn't really have the extra money it would take.
William was furious. I should mention that William, he with the littlest of horns, has never sworn at me. In fact, I don't think I've ever heard him swear. But William wields his own weapon of anger: the grudge. He stews in it. He soaks it up. And he is a stubborn little boy...his grudges can last days. So, Angry William holed himself up in my office while I made dinner, got Charlie to work and did the other 1,000 things we all have to do every night. William was busy too.
A little bit later I walked into my office, and was greeted with the following sight: about 100 or so index cards spread out all over, like rose petals strewn about by a lover. Each index card had the same thing written on it, in pissed off 5th grade handwriting: I HATE MY MOM. Everywhere...on the computer keyboard, on the desk, on the chair, the floor. He worked hard on this one.
And it made me laugh. I didn't laugh in front of him, of course. You don't do that to the Grudge holders. But I did tell him to pick up the cards. Which he did, and when he was done he came up to me, snuggled in and said, "I'm sorry."
The good thing about the horns on my kids? They're retractable.