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Monday, January 3, 2011

the bipolar nature of parenting

On the real Christmas day (which I spent the morning at home with my mother and the afternoon  at my sister's) I found myself irritated and in short supply of patience.  I wasn't sure what to make of the day that was Christmas to everyone else and felt a lot like another day of single parenting to me.  I drove home from my sister's house in the dark December night, passing houses adorned in colorful lights, and cried most of the way.

I guess the resounding theme was this:  it sucks to be the one person responsible for making a day or event incredibly special for children.  Of course I had my family with me but I still felt a touch sorry for myself.  The pressure of knowing that they would only be 3 and 6 this one year and that I wanted so much for Christmas to be magical and memorable...but of course, this wasn't really our Christmas day.  It was made 100 times worse knowing how sad Sandi was to be in the midst of dying and tragedy all day. I don't have great memories of my childhood Christmases and, naturally, I want SO much more for my kids.  But that night, feeling the weight of such a responsibility resorted me to tears.

So really the theme under the theme is:  What if I'm not good enough at being a parent to be a good (or because I'm a high achiever, great) parent?

Before school vacation I was so fed up with getting Ella out of the house in the morning.  Three out of five mornings a week there would be yelling and usually some crying (on both our parts).  I felt so frustrated with her disinterest in getting herself ready, my having to nag and my lack of patience to handle the incredibly irritating situation.  After all, aren't I the grown-up? I thought maybe she needs to spend less time with me.  Maybe I am not good for her.  Maybe I am stomping on her spirit. Maybe I was not cut out to be a mom.

These are not the finest moments of parenting.

Yet, then we have our non-Christmas day celebration of Christmas and all is well- harmony and love and devotion abound and I wonder how any other moment of wanting to run out of the house to escape the whining of my children could ever possibly exist.

Trish got the girls a digital photo frame for their bedroom for Christmas and each night I lay in bed with them and watch their babyhood scroll before my eyes.  These are the moments that shift my perspective back into place.  I realize how fast they are growing. I realize I will never hold them as babies again. I realize that, for all the tax of this young part of their life, it will be gone in a blink of an eye.  I am more tender, more present, less interested in looking for a quick escape from bedtime so I can finally have some coveted time alone or with Sandi.  This is how I want to feel everyday- I want to always (or the majority of the time) TREASURE my children.  I want this so much that it makes me ashamed when I don't have it or feel it or express it.

We took the tree down New Year's evening, after the girls were in bed to minimize the closing of Christmas for them. I was a mess.  As I sorted their ornaments into their assigned boxes (we get them an ornament of their choosing every year and they have had many given to them) I became (somewhat irrationally) overcome with grief.  Grief as I held their little Sesame Street ornaments and their soon-to-be-lost innocence when Grover and Elmo no longer hold appeal.  Grief that someday they wouldn't be awed by the magic of Christmas, when time with their moms won't be the center of their world, when (heaven help me) they would take their boxes of ornaments to THEIR houses for THEIR trees.  Grief that next year they will be a whole year older and Maya's little voice won't sound at all the same when she sings her foreign language version of "Deck the Halls."  I kept telling myself that they were right upstairs sleeping- my grief was so profound it was like I had lost both of them for good.

Sandi wrapped me in her arms as I was, by then, sobbing.  "You're killing me,"  she said, through her own tears.  Then, trying to be helpful, "You know we still have a few years left."  But this only reinforced the inevitable end of our children's childhood and made the cut that much deeper. 

It doesn't help that I am very sentimental and have a flair for the emotional, but I swear I welcome these experiences of emotional bareness.  Like the baby photos, it is the thing that puts me where I long to be- looking through the lenses of appreciation and wonder and love at my children rather than those pesky, smudged glasses of irritation, crankiness and humorlessness.

I don't wish for babyhood back, that is for sure.  I remember what Maya was like as a finicky baby- when we couldn't go anywhere or do anything because she was a time bomb ready to howl, cry or scream at a moment's notice. I would kind of like to freeze the girls at 3 and 6 since there are so many ideal things about this age- the imaginative play, the hilarity of what they each say, their independence, their boundless affection, their curiosity, their innocence, their awe of everything.  Since I have no such capacity for age freezing, it is my most profound wish to simply be present in this moment and appreciate it.

So when we go to visit Sandi at work this afternoon and Maya is running like a banshee through the hallway of the Intensive Care Unit and through the hospital corridor yell-singing "OLD MACDONALD HAD A FARM!  FA LA LA LA LA! LA LA LA LA!", when Ella can't follow a simple direction such as "please put on your underwear" because she is busy gazing at the way her mouth twists in the mirror, when they are simultaneously complaining about and rejecting supper and begging for dessert, when Maya hugs me and nearly pokes my eye out, when they argue over a washcloth, a chair, the right to sing freely in the house and all the while the cat is eating supper off the table and the dog is peeing on the floor...I must breathe and surrender.

To the crazy, to the fun, to the moment.

Because the theme under the theme under the theme is:  these are the moments that make up my life and I want to relish them because I don't want to miss a minute of my living.

1 comment:

Trish said...

I'm not sure that there really exists a bipolar nature of aunt-ing, but I do know that I look at pictures of El, Brev, Maya, and Kenna and am so frequently overwhelmed by the strength and profundity of my emotional response that I am frequently moved to tears... along with laughter, smiles, and adoration. When I am with Ella now, I already see traces of the inevitable changes of adolescence... whence come the lack-of-centrality of family. It breaks my heart a little, too.

Rest assured: Your girls are evidence of growing up with parents who know how to parent... not perfectly, but authentically.

I love you all.
PS There's no way you're actually OVER the fear of taking Maya out into public because you just never know what's gonna happen... that would make you entirely irrational. She's a lovely nutjob.

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