Tonight my kids assploded into an absolute four-alarm no-holds-barred dual emotional meltdown. After Sophie’s swim team practice we let them play Mario Kart at the YMCA as long as we could – Ralph and I whiling away the time with a few Rock Band competitions, which were incredibly fun – but, finally, we had to go. The kids started crying. Nels threw the YMCA’s Wii controller (this really sucks; he didn’t damage it though). But ah, the Hogachitlens, they were not done. More was to come – we’re talking crying and sobbing as we took them out of the Y (Sophie walked while she cried, Nels – unfortunately, as we’re trying not to do this anymore – had to be carried) and – in Grays Harbor, where honestly it feels like people are pretty much cool with you parenting however you need to – we got lots of stares. Once in the car it increased. I’m talking dual, intense screaming which included, “I’m going to kill you!” and “Fuck you. FUCK YOU.” (hey, this was all from the kids, not us). It was so bad that Ralph and I passed through the angry stage and the shocked stage and just started laughing. I mean we tried to stop laughing, because it wasn’t funny for the kids at all. It was just, that over the top. I wish I would have recorded it.
Oh, don’t worry. I had all the obligatory Bad Mom thoughts. Here are some as follows: our kids are “so crazy” because they are weirdly isolated in some way that Normal Kids aren’t, maybe because we don’t have video games at home or don’t let them do something enough, or we make them do something else too much, or maybe we feed them wrong or something. And we should have video games, clearly it’s not normal for kids to flip out like this, the cussing and screaming and death-threats, so that’s All My Fault there because no one else’s kids do that, ever. We seriously have screwed up so very bad in some way that up until this moment I’d only guessed at and even now I’m not sure what it is and of course I have no idea how to correct it.
And while I’m on the subject, what is up with these Bad Mom thoughts? Because when I feel like a Bad Mom I sometimes ask myself – well okay, I’m a Bad Mom, sure, but am I a Bad Parent? and I find the standards are so much more flexible, and have a long-term view, and show so much more compassion to myself and my family. When I ask myself if I’m a Bad Parent I find I don’t expect myself to be able to solve things this second (like I do when I’m being a Mom). I find myself able to experience a rather horrid experience (like the one in the car tonight) with humor and acceptance. Yeah, that’s what my kids are doing right now. I don’t have to like it but it’s just Life. And we’ll figure it out.
And you know… I think the escalation into hysterical death-threats and language that would make Quentin Tarantino blush had to do with my kids’ sense of Justice more than anything else. Pretty early on in their crying and carrying on as we left the Y the kids knew they weren’t handling it well and they were very upset (angry, hurt, embarassed) that they’d blown it. And after they’d ramped it down a notch, as we drove home, that knowledge of their fears illumniated me further. Was I going to take away the YMCA video games for weeks, or for forever, or give them a stern lecture and consequences (on the drive home Sophie was sobbing, “I know I’m grounded for three weeks!” – although she’s never been grounded). My kids were clearly full of remorse and knew precisely they’d done wrong by refusing to leave and regretted their spiral into violent language. As I sat in the car and blew into my winter-frosted hands I was torn on the course of action I might suggest to my husband.
Sophie fell asleep immediately after we arrived home, and when she woke an hour later she was calm. At the dinner table – pan cubano, frijoles refritos, huevos rancheros with a homemade salsa – the kids apologized and confessed they were worried I wouldn’t snuggle them that night. Their bright, sad little eyes were on me and Nels’ little body was very still in his chair. I said, “I will cuddle you. I’m not even mad. It was wrong to say all those things, but I understand how upset you were.” Ralph and I told the kids we understood now how very, very much they like playing video games at the Y (boy, we had not understood fully until then!). Nels, grateful, melted around the table and curled into my lap. I said, “It seems like you’re worried I’m angry with you and don’t like you,” and both kids nodded. And I said to Nels, “If I said Fuck You and yelled at you, would you still love me?” He said, “Yes, but… not that second, not right when you said it.”
And the episode drew to a close.
Okay, so I feel badly, but I totally cracked up when you talked about the stages you went through before just collapsing into laughter at the insanity of your children going ape-shit bananas. Sure, kids lose it from time to time, but telling them that you love them no matter what? That’s just gold. You ARE a good parent. AND a good mom. The inner monologue is what limits you and I’m glad you question in.
I LOVE the differentiation between Bad Mom and Bad Parent. I’ve been on a Bad Mom kick lately even though my l’il bit hasn’t yet reached the stage where she can say “fuck you” (but lo, it will happen, oh yes it will). Reading this is good for me. I’m bracing myself for the inevitable. (P.S. Can we both be good moms even if our kids cuss at us? I think so, yeah?)
K8, yeah, my kids know I love them but in our worst moments our fights feel as bad as, well, anything. Most people who grew up in a family know that bad feeling!
JJ, Bea may never say, “fuck you”. And I hope she doesn’t. I have one child who does not cuss, ever, no matter how upset she is; she has a certain mastery over her actions and language even when she is very, very upset. I have another child who’s physicality reflects him in the fullest when he is angry – including hitting or cussing. So you know, having the two kids, I can feel LESS bad because I see that people have their own personalities.
Methinks if a mom feels wretchedly bad if her kid CUSSES or some such thing, she’s either headed for a world of pain (remember how kids grow up and do Other, Bigger, Stuff?) or risks raising a child who believes the love of his/her mother (and father) is conditional and behavior-based. I’m far, far more concerned about the latter than any “fuck” Nels might throw down.
Oh and also: many, many children in the rest of the world don’t have running water or TLC and risk very severe effects of poverty and abuse. So. I try not to sweat the small stuff. In this I feel I am engaging in a radical act for my little world; I live and breathe in a fishbowl of, “OMG make sure to NOT use fluoride / OMG you are a CHILD ABUSER if you don’t use fluoride / OMG what SCHOOL will your child go to / OMG OMG little shit blah blah priviledge blah blah”.
So I try. TRY. Not to sweat the small stuff. But it’s hard. And I like to write it all out here for anyone else to see, benefit from, judge me and feel better about themselves, or say, “Thank you I’ve gone through this!” or whatever.
Ladies, thanks for your comments; very much.