My 4 year old punched me today, in a fit of rage.
Yes, we’re doing Mother’s Day weekend like that round here. It’s our style. Anyway, he had a full out screaming, sobbing, snot-bubble-blowing meltdown over…something. I don’t even know if he knows what he was upset about, truly. But his frustration exploded out of him with a fierceness, as it tends to do with this one.
After we rode the wave of fury and were able to just breathe, I got him into the tub to calm down in a bubble bath, and I knelt down beside it to talk to him.
“Sometimes it’s kinda hard to be a little person, huh?”
“It’s SO HARD. I can’t wait ’til I’m a big person so it’s all easier.”
“Can I tell you a secret? It’s hard for big people sometimes too.”
“But you always make good choices. I don’t.”
“Nope. I make some crummy choices too sometimes. I mean, I don’t haul off and punch people, since the police show up if big people pull that…”
“And then you go to jail with the robbers and the villians.”
“Yes. Right. The bank robbers. Anyway, I don’t always make great choices every day. And half the time I don’t even know if I’m making good choices, because I don’t have anyone here to tell me if I made the right choice.”
He gave me a tiny smile and then apologized for how he’d acted, and it’s in those brief, tiny, soft moments I think maybe I’m really doing something right. Where I feel a little zing in my heart that maybe they’re getting some of this.
No one tells you how hard it will be to have these conversations, these moments. To bite your tongue in the explosions where tiny people wrestle huge emotions and roar out of control. To clench your fists in frustration, grind your teeth with your own rage. (I have noticed there is also a lack of bean spilling about the actual poop involved in parenting, both the amount and the general disregard for laws of physics it seems to have, so I try to warn everyone that there is just really so, so much poop, since apparently no one else is going to warn anyone about that.) But everyone talks about the way a newborn smells, how many little outfits they go through, how you need a wipe warmer, how you don’t really need that wipe warmer, how your heart will explode with that first laugh. They tell you it all goes so fast, and to enjoy every moment.
But y’all…some of this is not enjoyable. It’s hard. It. is. HARD. Physically it’s just ridiculous at times, like trying to carry an infant in a carseat, a toddler, and a 14 lb diaper bag at the same time while crossing a parking lot, or chasing a 2 year old around a park with no fence (which shouldn’t even BE A THING), or the restraint necessary to prevent yourself from going all “Incredible Hulk” on someone in a school carpool line, or functioning on 48 minutes of sleep, or nursing kids with the stomach flu while you’ve got the same problem. But mentally and emotionally it is just an ass-kicking sometimes. The earliest years are spent worrying you’re going to physically break the baby in some way (Can they roll off that? Are they eating enough? Is this fever too high? Can we introduce peanuts?) but as we move on, I’m realizing quickly my fears are going more toward the “Have I ruined this tiny person for life? Did that just ignite a complex in them? Will they tell their future therapist about this moment with their mother?” direction. There is no answer sheet, no hotline to call, no textbook to flip open and look up if you gave the right answer when your 4 year old asked about death, or if you reacted the right way when your 9 year old daughter blushed while talking about a certain boy, or if you’ve told your child they’re “smart/pretty/cute/funny” too many times. I’m just trying to raise kind, courageous, confident people. If they turn out duds, it will be assumed by the general public that I, the mother, screwed up my opportunity, because “didn’t your mother teach you any better?” As a mama, I’m supposed to simultaneously maintain boundaries, rules, and expectations, and also be a soft place for my small people to land when the world is too much.
Hard, yet still soft.
Sums up motherhood, huh? Be tough, but…stay soft. And then the experience itself is so stinkin’ hard…but the moments within it are some of the softest moments that exist in time. The laughs, the hugs, the quiet, the loud, the smiles, the smooches. This mom gig is made up of the softest hard stuff.
To the mamas with one stronger “Mom Arm”, the mamas who hide in the bathroom for just a tiny bit longer for some peace and space, the glowing mamas-to-be who are blissfully unaware of the poop and terrifying preschooler conversations they will one day face, the mamas who can’t hold their baby’s tiny hands here on earth anymore, the mamas who desperately want to BE a mama (or a mama again) and are tired of staring at ovulation strips and negative pregnancy tests, the mamas who are mamas to other women’s babies, the mamas who are both mama and daddy, the mamas who don’t have their mama around anymore to hug on this weekend, and most especially to my own Momma…Happy Mother’s Day. I hope it’s full of the softest hard stuff.