Almost every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday from 12-12:15pm, I experience the longest drive of my life.
On these days, I pick up my daughter from preschool where her teachers usually gush over how well behaved she was for the few hours she is there. They talk about how funny she is, how calm she is, how good she is with the other kids and with them.
Apparently she waits to hear that approval before she decides to let her crazy out on the way home.
Today, it was the norm. She is great on the walk to the car, and within three minutes of driving she is a completely insane, unruly, defiant child. She kicks the passenger seat. She screams at me. She throws things. She unbuckles the safety belt on her carseat. She screams some more. She pulls out all the tricks until I’m losing my mind, yelling back at her, pulling the car over repeatedly to buckle her safety belt back up and tell her what privileges I’m taking away this time. She is, undeniably, a strong-willed child, and it comes out every single day in different ways, good and bad. Today it wasn’t the good parts showing through.
I’m embarrassed by how quickly my patience went out the window and I responded to her in a way I don’t even want to discuss, but for the sake of being real, let’s go over it:
I screamed back. Loud. Loud enough that it made Leo cry. I pulled over, smacked her leg, and demanded that she buckle her safety belt back up or she would get hurt and that it would hurt worse than her leg being smacked. I pulled over again at a different time. I apologized. I yelled again. I unleashed my crazy–the one I try to hide and control 95% of the time.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
I actually went so far as to tell her I didn’t like her right now. Talk about feeling like pure shit as a mother. A failure.
When we got home Leo had fallen asleep and I sat in the car with them in the garage in silence for a few minutes. I went over everything that had just happened, feeling like crap, and then Isla, out of the silence, said, “Mama? I’m sorry.”
And there’s me, blinking repeatedly at this moment in an effort to hold back tears.
I told her I was sorry too. I got her out of the car and gave her a long hug. We talked about what happened. I gave her a hug, I told her I loved her, and I told her I was sorry I was mean. I took her inside, asked her to sit on the bench until I got Leo, and I went back in the garage.
And then she got off the bench, shut the door to the garage, and locked me out.
Patience = gone. Absolutely gone. Out the window, once again.
I put her in her room, I gave her a long time out, and I got Leo ready for his nap. Eventually, I went in, and I think that’s when it finally clicked for both of us that we needed to relax. I needed to control my temper. I’m an adult. I need to be patient. I need to be kind. I need to teach her the kind of behavior through my actions that I want her to display.
But God, I’m only human.
Some of my friends sometimes act as though I’m crazy when I describe how Isla can, at times, behave. Maybe their children are perfect and perfectly well behaved, and if so, lucky them. Maybe they don’t see in Isla the same things that drive a parent crazy, and that’s likely because she isn’t their child. Maybe Isla tests the limits a little more than most. Maybe I’m the most impatient person on earth and a terrible mother. Maybe I’m just paying for years and years of being a terrible toddler, child, teenager… Either way, it sucks. It’s hard. It’s depressing. I feel like I do my best, but lord, there it is again: strong-willed child. She is 1,000% her own person, and she doesn’t let you forget it.
It makes me think of “Gold Digger” by Kanye. Eighteen years, eighteen years… She got one of your kids, got you for eighteen years.
She has me for eighteen more freaking years. I have long, exhausting, argumentative rides in the car for EIGHTEEN years.
It’s actually more like 15 and a half, but whatever. Who’s counting?
This whole situation made me text my husband and say something along the lines of, “Isla was terrible. I wanted to remove her from the car. I’m fucking pissed. I don’t like her right now.”
It was probably with more unpleasant words. And then I asked him to please bring home a bottle of wine. Gotta drown my sorrows somehow.
I’m kidding, Grandma…sort of.
SEEING THE BEST IN YOUR STRONG-WILLED CHILD
I guess I don’t really know where I’m going with this or how to end it, other than to say this:
Being a mom is hard. Being a mom to newborns, to infants, to babies, to toddlers, to children, to teenagers–it’s all hard. Even when they are adults, it will be hard. It’s exhausting. It tests our patience, shows us terrible sides of ourselves, and (at times) shows our children terrible sides of us. If I can whine for a second, I feel like it can be even harder when raising a strong-willed child. It’s hard when they are constantly testing us, pushing us, tiptoeing the thin line between what is and isn’t okay. Isla usually reaches that toe across the line, waits for my reaction, and throws her whole body over, flames blazing. And I’m on that side of the line, waiting to show her that behind every strong-willed child is a stronger-willed mother.
But for all the bad days–the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days–there are twice as many good ones. There is the chance to teach your kids right and wrong, to show them how to react positively to negative situations, and to share more love with them than they can handle. To know how to love themselves and others. To dust off the bad, to honor the wonderful. To know when to say you’re sorry, and to also know that saying sorry doesn’t fix everything. To show your strong-willed child how good it is, but also the ways to channel that strength.
And if all else fails on those days we’d rather forget, there are friends and husbands and people who understand. Honorable mention to my friend Leah, beautiful inside and out, who said this to me today:
Give yourself some grace. We all explode. It’s impossible to be the sweet and gentle mom 100% of the time when you’re with them allofthefreakingtime. She knows you love her, just restart today now. It’s hard and you’re doing better than you think. Just kiss her and say mommies have hard days too and you love her.
Moral of the story? Follow Leah’s advice. Be sure to give yourself some grace just like I am doing for myself today. Tomorrow is a new day. Tomorrow we get to hit “restart.”
But tonight, we whine. I mean wine.