My husband fought with his siblings. I fought with mine.
With three kids in our house, there are many, many opportunities for fights. The kids get to live out jealousy and sharing and retribution and forgiveness every-day-all-the-time. We live in this emotions lab where the full-contact work they’re putting in now will hopefully have some benefit in the future.
But how do I survive it?
A good friend and parenting mentor of mine who has three kids older than ours told me, “We discovered that when all three are together, fights are constant. When you remove one child—and it doesn’t matter which one—things calm down.”
Oh Pythia. Oh Oracle! Why did you move away when I still need to suck up more wisdom?
But even with just two kids sometimes a full day of school—or maybe the first five days of the school year with new teachers and new friends—will set the boys into a tornado of emotional destruction that sucks me in and blows away anything in its path.
I don’t remember getting explosively angry on a regular basis at any point in my life until K-Pants turned two and Boy Woww was born. I will have weathered insults, whining, sassiness, complaining about household jobs, and general background bickering—and then when that next sassy comment hits, my internal thermometer goes into WARNING mode and starts shaking. And one last thing will make all the chips fall.
We were on our way to the Oregon State Fair on Friday. We had passes they earned from a summer reading program (our au pair did the program with them—I hadn’t been able to get it together any other summer, so either feel good about yourself or solidarity about your imperfections). It was just me and the two boys in the car. They really, really wanted to go. Friday was the only time. If I could do it over again I still would have picked Friday–even though it was Labor Day weekend and I-5 South would be packed and the boys would be exhausted. They earned these passes and we were all bought in and it was the only feasible time.
I told them in the morning as we waited for the bus that we would go to see the animals. “We want to do the rides!” they said. “We’ll use our own money!” I hate carnival rides, but okay. I prepped a picnic dinner, picked the boys up from the bus and they got in the car.
There was traffic. There was sassiness. There was disrespect. First we dropped a pre-made dinner at friend’s who broke her leg.
K-Pants, irritated: Why do we have to bring food to people?
Me: Because it’s nice and when something happens to us, people will help us, too.
Boy Woww: I’m hungry.
Me: Eat the food I packed for you.
Boy Woww: I can’t reach it. I don’t want it.
Me: I made potato chips.
K-Pants: You can’t just put potatoes in the oven and call it potato chips.
Boy Woww, whining: I HATE traffic. Why do we have to sit in traffic?!?
Me: YOU KNOW WHO DOESN’T LIKE TRAFFIC? ME!!!!! I DON’T LIKE TRAFFIC. AND I’M DRIVING IN IT AND I PACKED YOU FOOD AND ALL YOU’VE DONE IS BE DISRESPECTFUL AND WHINY THIS WHOLE TIME!!! I’M TURNING THE CAR AROUND RIGHT. NOW. AND WE’RE GOING HOME.
Yes. I did that thing. That thing where you turn the car around and go back home.
As you can imagine things went really well emotionally for all of us in the ensuing drive home.
K-Pants’ chants of “I hate Mom!” were soft on the ears. My screaming gave me a headache and made them cry. Later, in that eerie calm after the storm, K-Pants said, “Can we make it up to you? I don’t understand what it’s like to be a parent.” And Boy Woww said, “You know why I’m really sad? I told all the people at school I was going to the fair.” I almost wanted to turn around, but it was too late. We’d all been too horrible to each other for too long. And we were wiped out.
Would I have done anything differently? I honestly don’t know. It’s kind of nice to have a big reset moment where the kids go, “Whoa. She’s serious.” And it set us up for a weekend of doing chores in which K-Pants learned how to scrub pans and start the dishwasher. It also came to light that Boy Woww enjoys sweeping.
And although I hate getting that angry because it’s bad for me and my body and my emotional wellbeing and it’s not awesome for the kids, I’m not perfect. And anger is normal. And the kids’ fighting and sassiness is going to continue to scratch on my brain chalkboard with fingernails.
I will continue to try new strategies, because being a parent is something I love deeply and defines much of who I am. I want to get better at it and accept its challenges because that’s the only way I will grow.
But my biggest goal this school year is to be radically kind to myself in the midst of my imperfections not in spite of them. We’re always comparing ourselves to some idealized version of ourselves and others. Honestly that comparison tool worked out really well for me for some of my adulthood, but it’s not a great core to build on.
So here we are.
And here’s to the new school year.