Writer’s need to write the way water needs to flow. But what about the other parts of my life, that don’t come quite as…spontaneously? Like, occasionally, parenting?
Here’s a story I wish I didn’t have to tell.
GETTING IN THE MIDDLE
My son’s screams reach through time, distance, and walls, into the most vulnerable corner of my brainstem, and instantly make me feel that horror worse than any horror:
I am the worst mother in the entire world.
His screams could wake the narcoleptic dead, and have since the night we brought him home from the hospital. (The first two days, he slept like the baby he proverbially and actually was.) So when I hear them, I no longer think, “Oh god, his sister tore his arm off,” or, “What nightmare from the ninth circle of Hell is tormenting his poor, sweet soul?”
I occasionally take deep breaths before checking on him. Sometimes I finish an email or two. Often, there is a lost Lego involved. Or a sister who wouldn’t let him have a turn on the computer. I have been known to roll my eyes.
I used to worry that his over-reactive “alarm” was due to my inadequate parenting. I tried to convince myself that couldn’t be the case, and learned not to over-react. But how much hands-off is too much? Sometimes, I really am that mom.
That, “It’s your problem, I don’t want to hear it unless you’re bleeding, on fire, choking, or dying* mom.”
Now, to be fair, that mom isn’t all bad, by any means. I grew up that way, I should know. My brother and I were only 15 months apart. During our very close childhood, there were many, many occasions when we couldn’t be in the same room without trying to kill each other. No wonder my mother never wanted to get in the middle. Cross that line at your peril. Flesh may fly.
The problem is when “hands off” becomes not just a coping skill for letting kids sort out their own problems, but an escape from my own.
Yesterday, with my own kids, I heard that cry. I wanted nothing more than to stay in my office and keep writing. But something made me cross that line.
Maybe it was realizing that being a Hands-off Mama is sometimes the opposite of being a Hands-Free Mama. (See this wonderful site for an explanation of what it means to be a Hands-Free Mama. I’m still trying.) Maybe it was the fact that my 6-year old daughter had brought my 8-year old son to tears, again, and my OWN MOTHER was standing there watching, perilously on the verge of GETTING IN THE MIDDLE. Yikes. If SHE was getting involved, then maybe it was time I stood up and did something.
Because I knew all too well what it took to get HER attention.
So I dove right in. Gloves off, full bore, in your face, down and dirty mediation.
THIS is how its gonna be, I said. You’re gonna LISTEN. You’re gonna listen to each OTHER. And you’re gonna SHARE. WITH. EACH. OTHER.
It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t easy. There were more tears, all around.
But believe it or not, it worked.
At one point, Son broke down in tears, slumped against a tree, and cried, “But I HAD to give her that stuffed cat. It wouldn’t have been fair if I got TWO.” (We had bought him two Webkinz, to balance another purchase on behalf of Daughter’s sake. But when the Webkinz arrived, he spontaneously–unbeknownst to us–redistributed.)
And Daughter, upon hearing that, left the driver seat of her hot pink, electric car (which she had been, quite frankly, hogging), and pushed the vehicle UP HILL to her brother.
He even said thank you.
Sometimes, I’m not the worst mom.
I had a great mom to learn from.
(And I’ve got the best kids.)
*(I know a mom who uses that line, and I completely stole it from her. I use it all the time on my own kids, shamelessly, and with pride.)
P.S. Lest you think my children do nothing but play with STUFF, they are, at the moment, outside, climbing trees.
P.P.S. That’s because there is no room in the house, thanks to all their toys.
Image courtesy of Liz Noffsinger/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net.