Even with all the lights and the holiday fun- the Argosy Christmas Ship, the Bellevue Botanical Garden d’Lights, and the 1st graders holiday concert that had me tearing up every two minutes, it wasn’t enough to keep the Grinch at bay. I’m still a horrible Grinch- or at least I have one lurking inside my imperfect heart.
Maybe it’s just inevitable at this time of year, but he poked his ugly green head out and made himself at home at our dinner table yesterday. Let me explain.
As I have shared before, we do a “gratitude practice” at dinner, where each person says one thing they are grateful for from the day. So last evening, Sofia started us off. “Trees.” she said. Okay, not a great answer and kind of generic, but okay. Now, it was my turn. I was feeling worn out from a day of holiday cheer (see aforementioned Christmas Ships), and feeling somewhat bitter and grouchy about the general lack of gratitude and appreciation that seems to be rampant among our children at the moment, and so I said, “I’m grateful you kids have camp tomorrow.” Yes, I said that. DURING our gratitude practice.
Well, kids aren’t stupid. They knew that my “gratitude” was actually a thinly veiled dig at them. Sofia looked at me with big eyes and said, “Why are you grateful for that?” I’d been caught. Ugh. Bad mommy. BAD. MOMMY. I mumbled something lame about how I had to work the next day, so I was glad they’d have something fun to do. But that wasn’t really why I said it. I’d said it because I was tired of the whining, the grousing, the total lack (at least to my Grinchy-self) of appreciation from the kids. My husband’s look from across the table was one of grave disappointment. I stared back defiantly. What, this massive hole that I’m in? I like it here, in my dark, grinchy place. Thank you very much.
Audrey was next. Whether because she has truly the sweetest soul or because she is a guilt-trip mastermind (I suspect the former but wouldn’t put the latter past her- she’s wicked smart), she said, “I’m glad it’s winter break, so that I get to spend more time with you, Mommy.”
Yes- she went there. I felt about one inch tall and shrinking fast. I think I may have actually transformed into a heel, like you see in cartoons, for a moment. Here I am saying snarky things about shipping the kids off to camp for Winter Break (To be clear: this was NOT the intent when I booked Drama camp as a special treat months ago.), and here is my lovely daughter talking about how all she wants to do is spend time with me. It wasn’t like a knife to the heart, it was like a chainsaw.
I wish I could tell you that my mood immediately lifted and that for the rest of the evening we snuggled, and read Christmas stories, and ate Christmas cookies, but that’s not real life. I did have enough grace to at least look further ashamed of my comment and I thanked her softly.
After dinner, I needed to run to the store quickly, so I popped my head in their bedroom to say bye before heading out. The girls were all tangled in heap on the floor, like a couple of sour tomcats, hissing and kicking over whatever inconsequential thing they could come up with to fight over. This fighting has taken a significant uptick in the last couple weeks. I shook my head and went to the store. We all are infected by the Grinch.
My takeaway from my complete failure during our gratitude practice and from the month of December is that the holidays are hard and stress everyone out. Parents have high expectations, kids have high expectations, and those expectations are just plain unrealistic.
When we strive for that ideal of sailing through the holidays without tears or complaint or well-laid plans gone awry- we set ourselves up for disappointment. Disappointment may be the present not received, the smile not gotten in the Santa photo, the special holiday dress that doesn’t get worn, the relative that can’t come or does come home for Christmas. It can take a million forms, and inevitably you find your emotions and expectations tossed around like a tiny ship in a hurricane.
This morning when my husband got up, I said, “I’m sorry for being such a grouch with you and the kids.” He said, “Me too. Good thing today is a new day.” The hurricane had passed, at least for the moment. We hugged and promised to try again today to keep the Grinches away. Then I went and did the same with the kids.
Even over the holidays, we are still human and flawed and messy. In fact, we’re worse. The highs can be higher, but the lows are lower. Even with the Christmas lights, and carols, and all the effort we put into smothering that Grinch.
So, be kind to yourself and your family, and when you aren’t- forgive quickly. Forgive yourself. Forgive your spouse. Forgive your relatives and friends. And most of all, forgive your kids. They are just learning how to navigate the high seas of the holidays and if we don’t have it right yet, how can they?
Tonight I became completely unglued at my kids. I mean completely. COMPLETELY. I yelled, I stomped my foot. I slammed the bedroom door. I told them I couldn’t believe they could be so ungrateful. Ask for one more thing tonight, I taunted them. Go for it, I said. So yeah, I was all the things I never want to be and all the things I don’t want them to be. I was a jerk and I was mean. But you know, it was legitimate- there was laundry. On. The Floor. Two days worth. So it makes sense, right? No.
No, of course it doesn’t. Whatever it might have been, it wasn’t justified. After I was done with my audition for Mommy Dearest, I went and sat in the backyard for ten minutes, just staring off. What the hell was that? Who the hell am I? I could still hear one of my daughter’s crying upstairs. Yeah, I’d be crying too- how did she get stuck with this fuck-up as a parent?
So, I texted a friend- Do you have a minute to talk? Thank goodness she did. She listened and commiserated and made me feel just a tiny bit less shitty and alone and that was enough. I took a few deep breaths and went up and apologized- to the one that was still crying and to the one that had fallen asleep. I apologized and totally owned my anger (rage, really)- I said it was wrong of me to take it out on them. I said I was mean and unfair and that I was sorry.
I don’t know if that’s enough. I don’t know if putting this confession up on a blog helps. Does it help to “own” it or does it just mean that I can quickly justify my behavior? I get scared that I am not normal- that my moments of fury are different or more frequent than others. I *think* they are infrequent but don’t really know. I don’t know because it’s one of those things we rarely discuss as a community of parents. At least amongst my friends.
Sometimes, a mom or dad will refer to getting angry, but it’s always vague- I guess because it’s so shameful and ugly, and it shows how horrible we can be at times.
The joy of being a parent often takes my breath away for all the right reasons, and I am often filled with so much gratitude for this gift that I have been given. But other times, I am reminded that I am human and human beings can be ugly and cruel, even to those who are the most dear and precious to us.
I know that a lot, probably even the vast majority of the time, I am a good parent. Truly good at it. I can’t bring myself to say great, because in moments like this, I don’t know what that means. I think I just got my “great” revoked for awhile. But I am good- I think about building confidence, being kind, being forgiving, providing structure and opportunity, providing security and comfort. I really work hard, consistently to be a thoughtful, good parent. But every once in a while, this horrible part of me shows up with a rocket launcher and I look around at all the neat little things I’ve made- these carefully constructed, fragile towers of good moments, good intentions, good experiences, moments of tenderness and love- and I just blow those fuckers up like they are tissue paper. I guess that’s why we call it coming unglued- because you are going to need a lot of glue.
So, I asked my daughters to forgive me and they nodded mutely. I don’t think they know what that means exactly, but they reached out to me and hugged me. Hugged me hard, like I deserved it, which I did not. I couldn’t have felt more low and undeserving. Asking for forgiveness from your children feels like a coward’s request, but I don’t know how else to move forward. I suppose you do it by picking up all those shattered bits of glass- the good intentions and experiences, and start building again.
Then you ask yourself, how long will I build this next time? Will I be smarter and slower to anger? Will I be able to sidestep the twister of rage that out-of-nowhere picks me up like a rag doll? I don’t think so- not every time, anyway. I fervently hope that in the long run it’s enough- that I am a better builder than wrecking ball, that the ultimate balance tips in the right direction. I hope that I can be worthy of the fierce and loving hugs they gave me.
It feels like a long, long walk but I guess I am already on my way.