Monday, February 4, 2013

I've met my match, but I will win

The miracle of life....a few years into it...

I have always loved children. From a very early age, I knew that I was going to grow up and be a mom. I was drawn to children, even while I was still a child (in hindsight) myself. After years and years of babysitting and caring for other peoples' children, I kind of had a vision of how I wanted to raise my own kids eventually. Mine was not the romantic vision of perfectly swaddled, sleeping babies and fancy clothes and cute little voices saying, 'I love you' {but, let's admit, who doesn't long for the day when they first hear that, right?}. No, my vision was well seeded in the reality of baby bottles, puke, poop, late nights, and food smeared everywhere but in their mouths.

As a caregiver, it's easy to have all the answers. Even when I worked in the child care industry, it was easy to judge from my $6.75/hour administrative pedestal and wonder how some parents got out of bed every day, let alone how they kept a small human alive from day to day. The truth is, just like pregnancy and child birth, there are secrets that other parents know that they aren't going to tell you. It's the only way the human race can continue, because if you knew what you were in for before you 'took the job', the end of humankind would be upon us faster than Taylor Swift can write another breakup song. When you're single and the only thing that depends on you shits in a box and only looks at you when they want to, it's hard to understand the gravity of what having a child really does to you.

Looking back, that spinal block and morphene drip in the delivery room were a cake walk compared to having to guide a child through the murky waters of childhood. And what I wouldn't give for that drip almost every other day.The warning nobody issues to future or even new parents - that thing is going to learn to talk someday.

Once you become a parent, you kind of get this false sense of having your act together. Heck, you might have your own place, a job, a car, and you and your partner figure you want to do your part to show parents everywhere how it's done and become parents yourselves. You get cocky. Good for you. Little do we know, when we reach that point, that we are soon to become the dumbest people on the planet. At least according to the little creatures we bring into the world.

I have a hot temper. Over the years, I've developed coping mechanisms to deal with it, and overall, I think the fact that I haven't murdered anyone is pretty good testament to my anger management skills. I don't support cannibalism, nor do I much like the mere thought of anything raw, but one thing that parenting has taught me - I fully understand why in some species, mothers eat their young. Fully. 100%. I get it.

After going through it twice, I can handle the trials and tribulations that come with the toddler stage. It's a stage, it passes, and if you're lucky, the kid still wants a hug and a kiss at bed time. If you're even luckier, they will eat their vegetables.

I enjoy watching the human baby grow and develop. From learning to breathe air outside the womb, to holding their head up, to recognizing their name, to self feeding, to walking and talking, I am all about those early years. For me, there's something so cool about being there to be part of this awesome thing called human development. Things start to go south for me, though, once autonomy begins to play a larger role. Don't get me wrong, I'm equally mystified by the human child expanding their world and learning about letters, numbers, shapes, and animals. That first recitation of the alphabet is like magic. The first time. By the 3,289th recitation, you start to count the minutes until bed time.

Being the adult, you also figure you've got the upper hand and you know more than the human child that sits next to you at the dinner table. Of course you do. With decades of life experience and years of education behind you, you've got it covered and you can't wait to share what you know with your little dumpling. Suddenly, though, you start to make simple mistakes. You're calling things by the wrong name. You're forgetting promises you made minutes before. You start to think that perhaps you haven't actually caught up on all that lost sleep from those first few colicky months, or that you shouldn't have had that last beer the night before because it's fogging your ability to recall or think clearly.

Then it dawns on you.

I'm arguing over snack choices with a seven year old. And I'm losing.

You can remember all 7,329 passwords you have at work, and the other 2,437 you have at home, but you somehow forgot that you told that little girl she could have a chocolate chip cookie when she came home from school, and you mistakenly offered her crackers. You are a horrible human being. You are hurting people.

The next thing you know, you're referring to a piece of paper that is NOT A WORKSHEEET, IT'S HOMEWORK! And before you know it, you slip off the edge and you're asking about today's gym class and WE' DIDN'T HAVE GYM TODAY!!!! What the hell is wrong with you????

Faced with tears, angry scowls, and accusations that you are mean and "don't love me", you grovel and beg for forgiveness, apologize and make more promises that you'll surely forget, and do anything you can to make this better - and stop the tears. Oh stop the tears. They get me every time.

Do you need to go back to your therapist and get tips for sharpening the mind? More ginko biloba in your diet? Leave yourself notes? Switch to decaf? Maybe more caff?

Children have a knack for beating parents into submission, and parents have an uncanny ability to submit to this treatment. Looking back at my days working in day care, I wish I'd understood why parents were all but kicking their kids out in the parking lot in the morning, or why they were barely saying to good bye to me after leaving pizza money on the counter when I babysat on Friday nights. They needed relief. They needed the reassurance of other adults that they were not, indeed, losing their minds. Well, they may have been, but, they needed to know they weren't alone. All parents are losing their minds.

I am lucky to be surrounded by a wonderful community of mothers, and we all share our stories and advice and successes and failures. It's the only thing that's kept me off the heavy meds, out of the ward, and out of the social service system. Honestly, I never imagined that having a second grader would drive me to truly question my own sanity.

I am about as stubborn as they come. Deep down, I'm open and honest and as I've gotten older, I've learned to keep an open mind and to keep my cool when I want most to rip someone's head off. Still, I will be the first to flip to devil's advocate without warning, and heaven forbid you try to tell me what I like, want, or "have to" do.

My daughter, as my mother always wished, is so much like me. She's emotional, warm, caring, and sweeter than honey, but if you ever call that paper in her backpack a 'worksheet', you'd better hope your life insurance is paid in full.

This is not to say that I haven't passed this important life skill on to my son. Fred is passionate, funny, and determined, and he's a boy who knows what he wants, and knows what he hears. I'm still trying to determine if there are other voices he's hearing, or if perhaps I frequently speak in tongues, because he tends to hear things that I am fairly certain aren't being spoken. Who am I to say, though, I'm just a parent, and am learning that I am not the smartest one in the home.

Every generation looks back and thinks, "If I ever spoke to my parents the way children speak today...", and "We couldn't even use a calculator in school", and the most famous of all, "I had to walk to and from school every day....". But who ever imagines that they're going to be the parent in that successive generation where their kids do talk that way, or do use a calculator in school, or {insert shudder} get a ride to school when it snows?

In recent years I've picked up running. I've never before seen this competitive side of myself which comes out through my running. It has spilled over into my parenting in many ways. I'm the competi-mom, and I see that pouring out of my kids. Ethel took AR tests in kindergarten like it was a paying job, trying to beat her BFF and her brother. Fred tries to keep up with his sister, and then surpass her in everything from how quickly to scarf down a bowl of cereal to getting to the top of the stairs first (and usually at any cost).

Now, I am finding myself going head-to-head with my children. They think they are smarter than I, they think they can break me. They think I will submit. Oh, how sadly wrong they are. I will call that piece of paper a worksheet. I will offer whatever the hell I want to for a snack. I'm stubborn like that.

In the last few months I have come to realize that I've become the putty my children are trying to mold me into. Rather than standing my ground and demanding certain things, I have fallen victim to years of sleep deprivation, nonsense words, big brown and blue eyes, and sweet hugs and kisses, and I'm losing ground. I am coming back, though, I recognize my enemy(ies), and I see the light at the end of the tunnel. I am the mom. I am stubborn.

I have decided to fight the good fight and take my children along the path that I so carefully laid out in the years before they came into my life. Well, it's more of the frontage road to the path, there are some u-turns, it's kind of bumpy, and the lines need to be repainted, but I'm taking them on it.

Some days are better than others. Some days require more wine than others. Then more coffee. And in the end, a good run always helps me clear my mind and regain the knowledge that I lose when losing the battle of wills over worksheets, gym class, and what I will serve for a snack.