After over a month on the road, we had just moved into our house. The weight of transition, sleeping in cheap motels, and on the couches of good friends made us all emotionally thin and ragged around the edges.
The cat tired of sleeping in the car and everyone tired of living out of suitcases.
This was not the life I’d imagined for us. Especially for my two boys, then aged 2 and 4.
So, on the first day into our very own four walls with no adjoining spaces and no one else in the house with us, we all breathed a a little easier. Crawling around in footsie pajamas and sticky faces, the boys excitedly explored their new space while I happily applied myself to unpacking boxes in the bedroom. When, slowly, I became aware that a suspicious silence had fallen over the house.
If you’ve ever had toddlers, you understand “suspicious” silences.
Calling their names, I walked into the kitchen to find the 4-year-old covered, head to toe, in coffee grounds.
Espresso grind. French Roast. Coffee grounds. Were. Everywhere.
On the floor, in his teeth, in his fine, blonde hair… Everywhere.
Folks, I still cringe, 12 years later, when I think of how I lost my ever-loving mind.
Grabbing him off the chair he was standing on so he could reach the pretty coffee maker, I slung him up on my hip, marched into the bathroom and threw him in the shower. I got louder and louder while demanding answers and responses he wasn’t remotely capable of giving.
“Why would you do this? Don’t you know we don’t have a washing machine yet? I’m going to have to hand wash all this in the bathtub!!! What in the world!? That was absolutely ridiculous!!!”
I went on and on and on… It was ugly.
He cried, he said sorry a hundred times, he cringed away from the swirling tornado of Mom-rage.
Blinded by my ugliness, I didn’t see him. I saw only myself and this burning need to vent and “correct” him.
The day progressed and, sharing the story, I laughed about how silly he looked with coffee grounds in his teeth when my husband came home.
Life moved on and I rarely thought about that one moment. In fact, I thought he had forgotten it.
Kids don’t remember this stuff, right? I hoped that was true.
Fast forward about six years…
“Mom, remember that time you made me take a shower when I ate the coffee grounds? That was really hard on me.”
I know I died, more than a little, with each syllable of that sentence.
Confession: I haven’t always been kind. I too, have been the Mean Mom. There have been seasons when I yelled a lot and sighed, when I felt like a martyr because “couldn’t the world see I was trying?” and it’s just too hard becoming the “perfect mom”.
I have to keep trying to grow beyond what is natural and normal for me. I stretch to attempt to become the kind of parent I envision myself becoming. You see, this whole family relationship isn’t about perfection. It’s about starting off as a nervous parent who is just now making the acquaintance of a tiny, wrinkle-faced, prune baby who only knows to gurgle and scream, load diapers, and smell good in rotating intervals. We can’t speak one another’s languages and find ourselves often frustrated, afraid, and resentful of the toll it takes on us.
No one can adequately prepare you for the absolutely foreign nature of loving another person who is completely incapable of meeting adult needs for love and communication.
How do I, how do you, the parent, reconcile with the broken child across the table?
I started with listening to his words, once he was capable of sharing them.
More importantly? I stopped talking.
When it was again my turn, I let him see, not just my frustration with the situation, but how I had berated myself. This wasn’t a time to offer excuses, blame it on the day, the transition, or the exhaustion. I owned my weaknesses and self-indulgences and let him look at me. With a little fear and trembling.
I thought of this sharing, not simply as a single moment of humiliation, but an opportunity to show off the feet of clay he had known about for so long.
I apologized again and we cried a little.
Honestly, I wanted to crawl under the couch and never come out.
I loved that little blond boy with giant brown eyes, smiling face, and an insatiable curiosity. In spite of that love, I was terrible to him.
How could I be That Mom? When did I give myself permission to be That Mom?
As I’m writing this, I still feel a constriction in my chest thinking of his sweet face speckled with black while helpless tears stood on his cheeks.
The first step, listening, was followed quickly with a careful, and lengthy, apology. Not just a quick un-apologetic, “Sorry, you got your feelings hurt.” Not just the passive acknowledgement of his discomfort and a reluctant mumble with just enough emotion and momentum to get us past the awkwardness of the moment.
I held his hands and, shamefacedly, laid out all the things I did, and then I asked him to forgive me for hurting him. I didn’t make promises to never do it again, although I determined in my heart, “I will be different.”
I prayed and we hugged. A kind and forgiving person, he smiled at me, and forgave me.
Oh, the sweet forgiveness of children.
He moved on, but I still remember being the Mean Mom. For the past few years, I have worked to reconcile with myself. Not for this situation only. There are plenty of Mom-Fail moments in my life. Now, I must learn to take the lesson and leave the failures behind so I am able to work on letting go of the selfish impulses that led me there.
The impulses want to chain me to the identity, Angry Mom, while whispering there is no future beyond reliving my same mistakes over and over.
How did I attempt to restore my child’s love?
Humility. Transparency. Authentic struggles. Asking for help.
It’s ok to say:
“I’m having a terrible day. This (insert behavior/choice/action here) is finding all my buttons. Can we take a time out?”
“I’m sorry I just lost my temper. It was lame. You matter more than (insert thing broken/plan changed/demanding schedule).”
We reconcile, find common ground, value each other. We restore. We rebuild. We examine foundations and look for the cracks in our own feet of clay.
Because, if you scratch the surface?
I can totally be Mean Mom.
Can I love them more?