K-Pants turned seven last week. He still loves pink, but he doesn’t wear his pink shoes to school. I was chatting with him before his birthday, and he told me that you don’t get teased before you start school or in college, “but the middle years are the teasing years.”
He’s smart and intuitive and thinks deeply about a lot of challenging things.
Parenting him is getting harder. I expect to say that every year on his birthday.
We fight every day. “You’re the meanest,” he says. And I counter, “It’s not my job to be nice. It’s my job to teach you to be independent and kind.”
The irony of teaching him to be kind while being the meanest person he knows does not escape me. But in his world, he would eat unlimited Twix bars and never sleep. And he would make sure everything about his life was better than his brother’s. So tough sh*t, dude.
It’s liberating to live into the title of Meanest Mom. I’m tired of trying to positive discipline and collaboratively problem-solve my way out of every situation. I have the love and the logic. But I can’t stay calm in the face of his rages and my exhaustion.
Last week we escaped to the Columbia River Gorge–the kids and me and my grandma (but remember, you don’t know she exists or gets in our car). At the beginning of our trip, we headed to Lyle, Washington. It has a rugged and stunning outcropping of rocks just above the Columbia River. I knew this spot would etch a hard line into K-Pants’s soul. When he’s in nature he sings and dances.
He had to use the bathroom when we got there, and there was no port-o-potty, which would have been a stretch for him anyhow because he likes to sit in a nice bathroom and take his time. So I taught him how to go outside.
He hated it. Then he was hot, and he didn’t want to pull his pants up. Or drink water. Or go to the river. When the rest of us started down the path, he dug in his heels.
We were there for him, and he preferred to stand next to the scorching hot car with his pants down. His brain was shutting down and he couldn’t access any executive functions. I should have kneeled down to his level and empathized.
But I was done.
It takes a lot of planning to take a seven-year-old, a four-year-old, and a baby on a magical outdoor adventure. After hours getting there, I didn’t have it in me to keep it together and empathize with him.
“Too bad: We’re going,” I said. “You can’t LEAVE ME!” he said. “YES, I CAN.”
I couldn’t see him down by the river, and I didn’t really look back. It was enough to deal with a whining four-year-old and a fussy baby, and to try to allow my eyes to take in the beauty around us rather than letting my anger at K-Pants ruin everything. But then he popped up on a hill nearby.
I left Boy Woww with my grandma (remember, she wasn’t there, but also God bless her), and I set off, with the baby in the carrier, to trail K-Pants. He would bob down into a small ravine, and then pop up again. I had to be careful not to be caught following, or he would add space. He knew that if I got too close he would lose his freedom–I would lunge him like a spirited horse, making him buck and run until he had nothing left and I could put a saddle on and guide him where I wanted him to go.
Finally, after he sat down looking out toward the river, he let me get within scratching distance.
“Do you know what I’m doing, Mama?” he said. “I’m meditating.”
On our way back home to Portland, we stopped at my sister’s tiny cabin near Mt. Hood. Our collective chaos can inflate one of those winter bubbles they put over tennis courts or pools, so shoving us into a tiny cabin with a steep staircase up to a miniscule loft with no railing—it felt like we were precariously everywhere and about to crash it all down.
My sister’s boyfriend is one of three boys.
“Did your mom survive raising you?” I asked him as I shoved people back into the car at the end of our visit. “And do you speak to her?”
“We have a great relationship–and she used to say to us, You’re sucking the life out of me!”
So K-Pants is seven. As we head toward the summer and the shock of new routines, I’m feeling free. I’m going to lure my wild horse down to the river with all my meanest mom tricks. When he gets older, we’ll see if he’s independent and kind, but my goal right now is just that I survive it all.