Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Faulted, Flailing, Failing, and Forgiveness (at Forty)

How's that for an alliterative title?

Last night, something, or should I say, someone happened to me. But I have to say something first before I actually write about what that was and who it was. (Okay, it was Eight).

I've never had great confidence in myself, but over the years I've come to accept the things I will never be and the things I probably won't ever have. But, I have also finally decided that there's something that I actually like about myself: I am comfortable with my outgoing personality, my ability to be silly and have fun, and sometimes even my verbosity. I highly believe in the powers of the written and spoken word and encourage people to communicate whenever and however they can, be it by letter, email, face-to-face - whatever.

I noticed from the time Eight was a mere One and A-Half that she was a talker. Her vocabulary was astounding for her age and she amazed her pre-school teachers when, at barely Two, they said she could probably run their class. (Swear to Thirteen Billion, they said that.) And yes, I wrote only days ago how her chatterbox ways were grating on me and yes, I still mean it (although not as emphatically). Over the years, though, it has been becoming my happy realization that Eight is like me in the one way in which it's okay with me that she is: she, like me, is silly and fun, but mostly I'm thrilled that she uses her words. And last night, I found out just how articulately and thoroughly she knows how to express her small self with those words.

We sat together until midnight, the two of us holding hands, the two of us crying. First, she stared at me with her huge, blue eyes and cried while she spewed her innermost feelings about her troubles with school and how she's already worried that she's not smart enough for third grade and will never be smart enough for college because she's struggling with math (for the record, she is quite bright). She confessed to using a calculator when she was struggling. She told me about the mean children at school and her feelings about not having a younger sibling (because as she told me, she would know just how to be the perfect older sister and take wonderful, loving care of a brother or sister); she explained how it makes her feel sad when I am on the phone and how I shoo her away; how she hates herself because she annoys everyone and how nobody calls her first for play-dates and how she's always the one asking. Suddenly her age-appropriate clothing is now ugly, she feels incapable of everything and anything, and she thinks I don't want to spend time with her. She doesn't understand why I do things that she can't do with me and why I get upset with her when she asks me where the ice cream is. She wanted to know why I yell at her all the time.

I looked at my Eight in disbelief.

In my own defense, she gets a disproportionate amount of attention in comparison to Twelve and I most certainly do spend time with her and I have gone above and beyond for her as a class parent and even when I wasn't the class parent. And because she's a child, she seems to need me most when 1) the phone rings (it's always the best time to tell me that she has a hole in her sock or that she can't find her Polly Pockets), 2) we are watching a movie we've seen 18 times and after only getting three hours sleep the night before, I doze a bit, 3) she is fully involved in a movie or a game and I decide to write or check my email because, well... I fucking enjoy doing it , or 4) I go out once every two months and she can't bear to be without me even though she's going to sleep anyway.

Anyone that's a parent can relate to these things, I'm sure. It's quite frustrating to never be able to close the bathroom door to pee without someone trying to break in or tell you a really loooong dream she had through the door. We all know it's impossible to have an uninterrupted adult conversation because even when we walk into another room for privacy, there are always footsteps not far behind. I've tried to talk to Eight about how I need grown-up time and privacy, just like she needs her private time with her little friends. I've tried to let her know that sometimes I need to be able to think a complete thought without it being interrupted. It's not mean, it's just... true. I've also tried to explain to her that she needs to be respectful of me and the very few things I ask of her (and her brother) and to be a good listener. Shit, my kids really have it easy here - too easy. So when I ask either of then to brush their teeth at least once a fucking day, they can comply to the request without an argument. Right?

But she was right on some levels and man, to see my faults and possible misguidances through the eyes and mouth of my Mini-Articulate-Me threw me. Maybe all these years that I thought I had my parenting skills down pretty pat, I didn't. I had always thought since the time my kids were able to move around as infants that it was best to speak to them as small people rather than speaking to them all goofy and babyish all the time, as they would learn better communication skills that way. I was right, too, since my kids both were exceptional speakers and were always able to communicate clearly as soon as they learned their first words. But maybe I went too far. Maybe by trying to reason with them all the time and by me trying to be honest and explain things to them was the wrong way to go. Maybe although bright and communicative, Eight just still wasn't understanding my explanations. How could she not understand that it's rude to interrupt a conversation just because she feels the need to tell people she saw a caterpillar or the dog farted? How could she not understand that if after the tenth, "please brush your teeth" they still weren't brushed, that my yelling isn't because I'm mean, but because I'm frustrated?

But those aren't the real questions. They're: How the hell don't I - Ol'Forty - understand that she is just eight; my Eight? How is it that even though it all sounds reasonable to me, a supposedly reasonable, intelligent adult, that it might be completely unreasonable gibberish to her? How is it that she sat there, so maturely, yet so gripped by her sadness that she just couldn't stop sobbing and saying horribly awful things, that I never realized just how small and vulnerable she truly is?

All I could do was cry with her, apologizing.

Forty-Four came down to see what the commotion was about and just stood over us, glaring down at me. He later chastised me for crying in front of Eight, standing by his belief that it's too scary for kids to see their parents cry. He said she was just in a mood and the gist of the rest of that "conversation" was that I shouldn't have indulged in her alleged "mood."

Maybe I've expected my children to understand too many things that were far beyond their comprehension. Maybe I've been a little harsh here and there because my own private, non-child-related things are pressing on me.

But even if I screwed up in some ways with my kids, I stand by my own belief that they can know their parents are humans and as humans, we are imperfect. Parents make mistakes and should always apologize when they do. There is absolutely nothing wrong with showing emotion to those you love, whether big or small, or with asking for forgiveness, no matter who you are.

I learned a lot in my almost-two weeks of being Ol' Forty. A friend recently told me there's always room for improvement with everything and I applied that to this situation. Certainly, I can always improve my parenting skills and with Eight's confessions and insights about how she feels about things in her life and how she feels about me at times really opened my big, green orbs. I learned that even my child can humble me and that she can also be quite profound. I learned that I have a lot to learn.

That scene will play in my head forever, I am sure. It will serve as a reminder of many things:

- My kids can be exceptionally deep and thoughtful. And everything they say should be considered.
- While they need to be loved and entertained, I still stand by my children needing to learn and respect adult/child boundaries.
- Even if my kids are frustrating the shit out of me, I need to step back and make sure my responses are appropriate and based on their actions and behaviors - not based on anything else.
- The unconditional love we give them is fully reciprocated. Eight told me I was the best mother and how I am never, ever wrong.

But in the end, even if have a wonderfully articulate child, even if I have tried to explain the unexplainable to her in the past and have to learn not to anymore as she is still just a little kid, I still had to make sure she knew and understood that I am human and fallible (of course, in smaller words).

"Mommy was wrong," I told her. "Please forgive me."

And she took my face in her little hands and did.


  1. Jill,I am loving your blog .I can certainly relate, and that's what is awesome.I like how u r keeping it real,and not just writing about all the happy happy momnet's with ur children.I appreciate that.Thank you for sharing.I will continue to pass along your messages,and experiences to others.Just wanted to let u know from a little corner of the world,that someone is actually reading ,and loving the shit out of ur blog!So proud of u.And just for listening to 8,the way you do,You are an outstanding mother and example.NONE of us are perfect,and I have found with 3 kids,sometimes making mistakes in parenting,helps you all to grow a little more.xoxoxoxo-Gail

  2. Gail...
    Thank you so much for sharing your own thoughts and for taking time out of your life to read mine.
    Yes... I write about both happy and sad moments and experiences as life is full of them.
    And thank you for the compliments and your opinions - I am grateful for all.

  3. Jill, You are one amazing lady -- If I haven't told you that before then I am telling you now. You are a truly gifted person-- Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences- You are helping me in ways that you could never imagine!!!
    JoAnna ***