Self-emptying

Funny how you won’t hear words for a long time…and then twice in one day. Funny how the concept of “self-emptying” seems to be synonymous with parenting. The IMG_5152preacher used it in an example yesterday morning and then my friend who has 4 boys of similar ages of mine used it as we rested on blankets at Raccoon Creek State Park while the boys splashed in ice-cold fall water (good for you, knuckle heads!).

You know how you watch your red needle slide past the “E” on your car and you calculate based on prior experience that you have 20-30 more miles to go? Running on fumes and yet you’re still running?

That’s what I was doing last week – running on fumes….after I thought I was already at Empty. I went way past Empty on Tuesday when the third or fourth email arrived about how “difficult” my boys were being in their nice private Christian school. When the kindergarten teacher called to see if we could have a conference with the principal because Mr. Ornery was in fact being….well, Ornery. When the poor 5-year-old boy had landed on Red on the Traffic Light system (and the floodgates seemed to have opened up). Well, I lay into him as soon as he popped “innocently” into the van in the carpool line:

  • “What do you mean you were on red?!?”
  • “What do you mean you’re not listening to your teacher?!?”
  • “What do you mean you’re refusing to do your work?!?”
  • “How could you stand in front of the class being a goof pretending you’re writing Dunceon the board in marker instead of chalk?! And then you’re going to make the chalk screech?!?”
  • “And you pulled down your pants?!?”
  • “By golly, BOY – you gonna be on RED at school, you’re gonna be HURTING at home!”

By the time we got home….and the typically bouncing boy sobbed as he slunk into time out (while I was still on the phone with his teacher, mind you)….he probably thought his world had ended right then and there.

Well, mine had. We picked up the second-grader from chess club an hour later and I laid into him too. “What are you so mad at me for?” he asks.

Could it possibly be because:

  • “STG had a very difficult day today”
  • “STG was defiant and disruptive in class.”
  • “STG put his head down and flatly refused to work.”
  • “STG should NOT have any gaming time. It’s very important to be firm and consistent.”
  • “Anger seems to be STG’s most authentic mood.”
  • “STG almost constantly makes noises like a whale song in the back of the room, which do not seem to be intentional.”
  • “I really do need you to have a conversation with STG about his behavior. He needs to understand rules and consequences.”

By this point, I was banging kitchen cabinets to check to make sure that they will in fact break if you give it just the right slam! I had sent both boys to time-out and gratefully let my sister “talk” to them about why Mommy might be so angry. I had very few tears left to burn down my face. I headed out of the door to take one of those “I completely give up and I am not your mother” walks when my mom arrived with my youngest….and I sucked in a big breath and welcomed him home. Self-emptying.

I wasn’t mad at the boys. I was mad at myself…..for possibly picking a school for them…that might not actually be right for them. I was mad at myself for possibly making a mistake. I was mad at myself for not knowing the “right answer.” I was mad at myself for being mad at them and at myself.

I was Empty.

I was exhausted.

I had done the week of guilt. I no longer could process the constant emails interrupting my office work to inform me that my boys were “not listening to the instructions the first time.”

I couldn’t figure out how to advise the sweet young kindergarten teacher how to draw the line for Mr. Ornery and change her “reward” system so she didn’t keep rewarding his obnoxious class clown behavior.

I couldn’t figure out how to handle Super Tall Guy’s teacher’s sharp tone of annoyance in her emails.

I wanted to know that these teachers and school were going to come alongside me and partner in this journey of growing healthy boys (not just compliant boys). I wanted to know if they actually had a sense of developmentally appropriate expectations. I wanted to know if they actually loved the boys. I don’t have peace about any of that yet.

So, I need someone to open a “boys’ school” in this area. And I need it Pretty Darn Quick! Let me know when you have it ready!

 

 

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Hitting the inevitable wall of failure along the journey of parenting …

A week of “heavy boots” for me. Both boys are apparently struggling at school. Super Tall Guy seems to be having a particularly severe time….and after a string of emails and phone calls from teachers, I hit the wall.

Sometimes as a mother you struggle just to breathe.

Oh…it happens quite a bit, actually. I didn’t know that. Before. Now I do.

The tears burn hot in the eyes and threaten to escape onto the apex of the cheeks.

The heart aches as it wordlessly pumps life-giving energy into a body temporarily unwilling to accept it.

The brain screams “failure” from deep caverns within.

Failure…

Failure…

And you sit

Washed in emotion

Lost in contemplation

Crushed in fear

How could you be such a failure?

How could you?

The evidence seems to mount up so clear

Arguing against you

And yet….

Sometimes…. it takes a few moments to pull back

To look up

To step away

To see that all the little pieces jumbling towards failure

Pointing towards failure

All the little pieces….

Are in fact….just little pieces

And apart they are manageable and will dissipate.

Do not let them congeal and yell failure.

Do not listen.

You are mom.

You are strong.

You will rise again.

And so will they.

 

Make way for the GUILT

I know that most people dread Monday mornings….the back to work routine… the end of rest and relaxation. But I secretly don’t mind Mondays because they signal the end to harried weekends.  It’s almost impossible to have any semblance of “relaxation” on the weekend – there’s always one more fight to call truce for, one more cup of water to get (come on, 3-year-old, reach the sink already, would ya?), one more spill to wipe up. But Monday? Monday morning I get to sit down at my grown-up desk, reach for a cup of coffee (that is still warm), and think about….ah….ADULT stuff (as well as wonder if I packed the quarter for milk in the lunch box, if Super Tall Guy is behaving at school, if I remembered to pay the day care bill….fleeting, fleeting worries…back to work).

Sometimes, I even feel just a tad bit guilty for liking Monday mornings when everyone else is moaning. But that’s only because it’s clear that as a parent, you will feel guilty about almost absolutely every single decision you make and even ones that you didn’t really make.

My latest parent guilt trip took off last week. For the first time, I had to go away for a business trip (and was actually looking forward to a quiet evening alone in a hotel room!). I kept the upcoming 36 hour getaway low key early in the week and the boys said goodbye pretty easily Thursday morning (though Mr. Ornery slept through the kiss I planted on his forehead). By Thursday night, however, I was talking with Super Tall Guy at an hour past his bedtime and listening to his weeping, sobbing cries of “I need you here, Mommy?….Why did you leave me?…..There is no meeting more important than me, Mommy.”  (You know it’s a tear-jerker when it’s weeping, sobbing crying!). Of course, he was in the excellent hands of my sister and mother, and yet I felt pretty bad about leaving him and for “burdening” my family with the care of my three rambunctious temperamental boys (though I confess, the king-size bed was pretty sweet without my usual 90-pound son encroaching upon my space!).

And this came on the heels of my wallowing guilt for Super Tall’s two-weeks of nonstop saliva-spitting throat pain after his tonsillectomy. So I’m feeling a bit fragile in the parenting department right about now.

The problem with parenting is that you feel guilty no matter what. I yelled at my kids too much today. I put them in daycare rather than having Mary Poppins nanny at home. I work rather than be a stay-at-home mom (even though I’m single and have to be the bread-winner!). I fed them McDonald’s two days in a row. I put the blue lid on the green sippy cup. I forgot the water bottle for the soccer game. I rocked him to sleep. I didn’t rock him to sleep. I left the chocolate bar within reach. I told him a thousand times not to touch the hot pan – he still touched it. I snapped at the three-year-old for wetting his pants….and at the five-year-old for wetting his pants. I bought a Nerf gun. I let him sleep over at a friend’s house when he was already tired. I only read one book before bed. I thought the 32 stickers on the belly were cute…until we tried to take them off.

I missed church today….again. I didn’t have the energy to battlezoo 2014 Super Tall Guy and his argument that he’s practically at church all week by attending a Christian school. Instead we had a “quiet” morning of indoor soccer goalie practice (nothing shattered) and then headed to the zoo. It was a perfect sunny day and I sat watching them scurry through the mole rat maze. Peace. And I didn’t even play with my phone – I just rested in the moment. A mother bouncing a ten-month old sat next to me and we struck up that typical “hey, your baby is cute and boys are WAAAAY different than girls” parenting conversation. She confessed that they had also missed church despite having gotten dressed and ready….but just didn’t get there. I shared that I had also given in and decided I could be a less-stressed, more patient mother by enjoying just a bit of time with them this morning as well. Before parting, she said, “Thank you for the affirmation. Sometimes I feel so guilty.”

Sometimes we have to remember that we are being the best parent that we can be in the moment that we have. I know that so many times I want to have done better. So many times I wish there was a rewind button, even if only 5 minutes back, to have a chance to do it over and do it “right” this time. But often I have to remember that there usually isn’t a “right” way to do it. There are so many factors at play – what I’m bring to the situation, what the kid is bringing and the context that we’re in.

Sometimes, I’m a “good enough” parent. I’ll never be a perfect parent. There is no perfect person….no perfect kid. But the fact that I care enough to think about it – that I care enough to experience guilt (on a pretty regular basis) – that it matters to me….that’s what makes me a pretty good parent. The willingness to try my best despite suffering “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” of parenting – that’s what matters. There will always be guilt. There will always be a next time. May we continue to encourage each other to be the best we can be in the moment…and practice forgiveness.

When Parenting Drop-kicks your Expectations

“Parenting – the hardest job you’ll ever love.”  I don’t know, sometimes, it just doesn’t work for me. Sometimes it’s just way harder than I’d like it to be….and I’m not seeing much of the flames of love.

Most of the time, it’s hardest when it spits at and flaunts my expectations for the day. You’d think that with a cumulative “parenting age” of 16 (8 + 5 + 3), I could learn not to have expectations….but no…..I’m still a young and naïve student of erratic, nonsensical, disruptive young boy behavior.

The earliest lessons in false expectations are learned dramatically by all parents in naptime woes. You think you’ve managed to keep the little 3-month-old awake all morning and put him down at 10:00 am so you can catch the Ellen Show…but no….five minutes after you just sit down, right after her dance routine fades into commercials, and…. “waaaah.” Crushing.

You think you’re going to enjoy a nice afternoon at the Museum of Natural History, dsc_0243but you spend the entire time chasing down an escaping two-year-old, cornering him in the bathroom after he’s already wet his pants, and then staring in shock as he drops his knickers in full view to pee on the grass near Dippy the Dinosaur outside. Mind-numbing, drop-kicking parenting.

Then there’s the recent experience with the tonsillectomy where I figured about 4-5 days of ice cream, popsicles and jello and we’d be right back into routine.  But no…..two trips to the ER, return trip to the operating room and two weeks of spitting out saliva. Messy, disgusting, worrisome….and so knocking out my expectation.

Parenting…. drop-kicks every expectation, right?!?

But no, I don’t even learn the hard way. Tuesday morning….it’s my birthday….and what do I expect?  Silly of me to even think that we could possibly have a peaceful day. Super Tall wakes up beside me and wonders, “Do I get to stay home from school for your birthday?” “No, my dear,” I reply, “I don’t even get to stay home from work!” And since it was the first day back to school after a long holiday weekend, the boys sure weren’t going to work too hard on having a peaceful back-to-school moment just because it was my birthday!

But I out of work a little early to pick them up from the bus and take them out for some ice cream (my treat) …. and that was the end of the peace. Parents picked up Thai food earlier and reheated it for dinner. Boys bounced on and off chairs and screeched and babbled at the table repetitively. Every few minutes another pile of dog poop was gleefully discovered under the table and had to be cleaned up. The wine glass stood untouched. The food was cold by the time it reached my lips. The fight over who was going to blow out the candle (clearly not the birthday girl) was not surprising, of course, and the chaos before the quiet of deep sleep was only a tad more than typical. “Exhausting” is not even an adequate adjective.

My brother called around 8 pm and asked, “So – what’s your resolution for this upcoming year of your life?” Without pause I replied, “Next year – next year on my birthday, I am going to be at a nice restaurant with adult friends enjoying some peace and quiet and a very fine glass of wine!” He seemed surprised. I don’t know why.

In about 50 weeks, I’ll let you know time and location ….and I’m going to expect some good cheer, belly laughs, and a table full of peace and quiet!!

You can hold me to it.

(Of course, this expectation will be dashed by a kid who breaks his arm falling off the top of the minivan at 4:00 pm!)