Where to start this?
I could begin with the heated fight involving four letter words being flung back and forth between my husband and I before we realized what we were arguing came down to a very basic misunderstanding at the basis of our understanding of parenting styles.
Because you see, mine’s changed in the last few months.
But to explain that, I’d have to go back to Book Club a few months ago and a discussion about the novel Speak by Laura Halse Anderson that led to a revelatory conversation.
Or I could start with the fact that my twelve-year-old son Samuel (name changed) has been bullied at school so much this year that I’m going to do a mix of homeschooling/virtual school next year. Which I’m both terrified and excited about. Because homeschooling? As in, having my child around 24/7???
Or maybe I should start with the day of my son’s birth, when they handed me this little wrapped bundle after the most insane thirteen hours of my life and where I expected to feel all the things they tell you—an overwhelming soul love and the immediate, intense sense of bonding and love that will knock you over…
Well, all that kept running through my head was, “Hey little alien dude. Okay, whoa, now we’re going to try to shove my boob in your mouth. Whoa. This is insane. Oh look, he’s wrapping his tiny little hand around my finger! They actually do that!”
The moment wasn’t like anyone else had described it and it left me wondering if there was something wrong with me. I was too busy experiencing cr-aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaazy new things every moment—I’d had zero experience around children or babies before. My friend who’d just had a baby a little before us had let me change a diaper. I’d changed ONE diaper before having my own baby.
Another thing was that I had a crippling chronic illness and after giving birth, my body immediately shut down. My husband and I were living in a downstairs apartment from my parents at the time and my Mom basically took over care of the baby while my husband was at work. Samuel was colicky. I wasn’t able to breastfeed and it took us about two months to find the right formula that didn’t upset his stomach. No one was sleeping. I tried to help in what limited ways I could, i.e., I could like, be in the same room with Samuel while he was in the bouncy chair if Mom needed to run to the store or take a nap. But any of the physical stuff, which is kind of all being a mom is at the beginning, I couldn’t do. So I was feeling a lot of things—like a giant failure especially—but awesome fuzzy mommy feelings weren’t at the top of the list.
And that would be the trend for the next decade. Mom and Dad moved to a different state, then we moved away from the rest of my friends for my husband to get his PhD. My health would get a little better, then a lot worse. And there was my son, wonderful and amazing and obstinate and brilliant and so, so stubborn.
Oh, my Samuel, my sweet, sweet, stubborn as f#@k little Samuel. Oh, you didn’t know this would be a cussing blog? Oh all right, fine, I’ll try to keep my after-8-o’-clock words inside, but seriously, this kid. Someday remind me to tell you the story about the five-dollar homemade sandwich. It’s a keeper.
Anyway, we have this very stubborn child, an exhausted and constantly couchbound-if-not-bedbound mother, and an Eastern European father who is used to households where no means no, absolutely. No talking back. Mind your elders. Do what you’re instructed, the first time. Every time.
Um, did I mention my stubborn as a mule child? Who’s been this way even before he was verbal?
All this to say we fought a million time-out wars over the years. What do you get between rock (my stubborn son) and a hard place (my darling husband who also might have a tad bit of mule in him)? You get me, trying–and failing–to keep from the peace from the sidelines of the couch. Oh, and you get lots and lots of ear-splitting screaming from my son throughout the years.
All of this never left me feeling like Mother of the Year. All involved were generally in a constant state of frustration. Well my husband and I were. I have no idea what my son was thinking.
Did you catch that last part?
I had no idea what my son was thinking.
That’s because it was hard to know a kid when there was this constant feel of warfare to the house. The us vs. him and the mini-skirmishes and the escalated battles in the long-term war to get him to obey.
But what happens when you change the GOAL?
What if it’s not about gaining his perfect obedience? What if instead I define this whole motherhood gig by the relationship I’m building with my son INSTEAD of his obedience? That was the insight I had at book club three months ago.
How the crap does that work? And what, am I just throwing obedience out the window? Am I going to start being one of those crazy parents who doesn’t say the word ‘no’ to her kid or something? Isn’t your kid just going to start running all over you?????
Funny you should mention that, as these are the exact questions my husband threw at me this morning 🙂 But more on that in my next post. Quick preview, lol, no to all of those questions, and I’ll explain to you what I told him where all this is going and why three months ago quietly I committed to my experimentally trying to Be a Good Mom For a Year. Because who are we kidding, I can only commit to this for a year, and even then, I was thinking of calling this Be a Good Mom For a Summer. Because the thought of actually really trying to be a new sort of mom? You know, a really good, actively engaged sort of mom who spends not just time with her kid watching TV, but DOES STUFF with him and helps homeschool him?? And for a whole year? *freaks out on the inside* *and then freaks out on the outside*
So that’s embarrassing to say. I feel like all the ACTUAL good moms out there are shaking their heads and making judgy eyes at me.
Work in progress over here.
Side note, after 15 years of being so ill, after some new meds and moving to a different climate, I’ve experienced remission for almost 9 months now—like I can walk for blocks and run and go to the gym and swim and all of the sudden have a LIFE again and oh my God, you don’t even understand how insane that is and I can be a good mom too with all this regular human energy!!!