It’s no surprise to those closest to me that I sometimes get depressed. And angry. And overwhelmed. And anxious. Irritable and distant and lethargic and apathetic. Short-tempered and impatient. Not just when I haven’t had coffee. Not just if I’m PMSing. Sometimes for no reason at all. I think we all do from time to time.
When I’m feeling that special kind of crappy and the kids are around there’s a whole new layer in this delightful cake called guilt. Because then I am such a mean, boring, awful mom. I am so annoyed at every sound they make and every thing they do. I feel tremendously inconvenienced by them, as though they were interrupting some very very important work, which in fact is usually just mindless phone or computer drivel. I completely tune them out, grunting non responses to their questions and comments. I give super inane excuses when they ask me to play with them; too often I say "not right now", but sometimes I'm too lazy to even make up a lie so I just say no. I snap at them. I am even annoyed when they get hurt. And finally when conflict inevitably erupts between them or they misbehave in any way, I blow up and go absolutely crazy.
The worst part is I am aware of how shitty I am being while it’s happening. I fully understand how terrible I am when I am checked out and ignoring them, but I am unable to flip a switch and engage. Even while I’m yelling I can acknowledge mentally that I’m overreacting and being a little bit of a psycho b-word. Does that stop me? No. I can’t not be terrible when I’m in my special crapzone. And I feel so overwhelmingly guilty the whole time.
But then a flip switches, inexplicably, and suddenly I want to play with them. I want to wrestle them and chase them and tickle them and squeeze them and kiss them until they pop. I am overwhelmed by my love for them and I can’t get enough. And it is so much fun and I am so happy and they are so happy and there is so much love and joy and I wonder how I could ever possibly not want this. It's as though the bad time never happened.
And then we sit down to watch TV after eating a hastily prepared leftover medley for dinner, and they both want to cuddle. My 54-pound six-year-old boy on one side and my 31-pound four-year-old girl on the other, smushed together on top of me, melted into the corner of the couch together; nobody is arguing and everybody is content.
I ask them abruptly, “Do you guys think I’m nice more or mean more?”
Surprised by my question, they don’t answer immediately. This shows me that they are really thinking about it and not just telling me what they think I want to hear. But then they each, in turn, tell me I am nice more.
“You’re the nicest, prettiest mama in the whole world!” says my sweet little girl, touching my face with her tiny, perfect fingers. “I love you so much, even when you’re mean!”
I then relate to them, after swallowing the knot in my throat, how I feel sometimes when I am acting grumpy, and how that makes me feel bad and how sorry I am. It’s not the first time I’ve apologized to them for losing my temper, but maybe the first time I’ve talked about my feelings in more drawn out detail, almost the way you would talk to an adult.
My sweet little boy squeezes my arm against him and smiles hugely. “I’m gonna cry,” he giggles, seemingly overcome with emotion, and maybe a little embarrassed. “Can you see any tears?”
Tearing up behind my own smile, next I ask, "Do you think I am a fun mom?"
The response to this one takes a little longer because I am the put-on-your-coat-eat-your-dinner-do-your-homework-that’s-not-polite-wash-your-hands-brush-your-teeth-watch-your-attitude parent, every day. They conclude that yes, as a matter of fact, I am a fun mom. I remind them, and myself, that every day does not have to be a science experiment day or a zoo day or a beach day. And I can't always be a fun mom. And that’s okay. They accept that.
They seem very pleased to be asked these questions. Honored, even, for their thoughts and feelings to be valued in this context, to be given such power and importance. I was impressed by their thoughtful answers and their enthusiasm on the matter. They were so open-minded, loving, accepting and forgiving. So compassionate and eager to help. Seriously such sweet hearts—not “sweethearts”, even though they are, but “sweet hearts”, because it’s really what they have. At the risk of sounding overly metaphysical, they are such pure souls.
Yes kids are complete jerks a lot of the time, and so are parents, but the unconditional love is reciprocal. Even with the little ones. I still want to be my better self for them more often, but when I get crappy I need to avoid the spiral of guilt.
I recently read a quote that stuck with me: “Be the mom you want them to remember”. I feel like this is a very valid sentiment (in fact I had it twice on Pinterest), but also puts a lot of undue pressure on parents. I think kids will remember your heart, because I think they get it—if you open it up to them. We don't give them enough credit. My boy doesn’t fixate on the time I came completely unglued on him when he wouldn’t put his shoes on; he remembers that one time, over a year ago, that we went on a “date” to the cookie shop. My girl doesn’t remind me about how I screamed at her when she wouldn’t pick up her room; she talks about that time we played mermaids at the hotel swimming pool. They don’t remember nagging and yelling and ignoring; they remember mud and paint and pillow fights and camping.
I am marveling at how we can go from a chaotic afternoon of yelling, arguing, and crying to such a blissful evening, and trying to puzzle out the magic spell. I am marveling at what amazing little people I have, and trying to forgive myself for not always being my best for them. I am moved and humbled by the fact that they—my babies—understand. And they forgive me. And they love me.