This may be true when it comes to the enforcing of rules, but I suspect she’s also referring to my tendency towards impatience and volatility. When I read her words, I got a heartsick dropping feeling, like discovering your best friend passing critical notes about you in seventh-grade.
Not that A’s my best friend, nor I hers, but at times I still yearn to be everything to my first child, the way I was during our sweet, early months of nursing. Back then we were a dyad, enmeshed body and even soul. I was fragile with exhaustion, but I understood my role. Life in the Cave was distilled to our most basic needs: getting sleep was my prime struggle, not navigating conflict and setting boundaries.
Last night A turned to me in a tearful huff:
“Mommy, you think there are no problems with you, and only problems with me, but you’re wrong!”
“Hmmm,” I mused. “Like what problems, honey?”
“You yell at us sometimes. And you always make me do things I don’t want to do!”
“Like stop doing flips on the bed and go take a bath!” She stared at me with palpable outrage, nostrils flaring like a filly.
I took a breath before reacting, swallowing the inclination to deliver a lecture about the health value of good sleep and the importance of sticking to a soothing evening routine. I didn’t reveal my nighttime intolerance for stalling children, how I’m ready to clock out of active mom duty at 8 pm– how I literally hate having to wrangle my feral kids into bath and bed.
“Well, what do you think I should do instead?” I asked her.
“Just let me play and do flips until I get tired and I’m ready to stop!”
“But what about bedtime?”
“WHO CARES ABOUT BEDTIME?!!”
Exactly. Who cares about bedtime and dinnertime and after-school snack time and all the confining structures of our orderly days? If I’m the hard one, it’s because I tow the straight line, rarely softening to allow spontaneity and delight. The guilt about my insufficient mothering prevents me from trusting my own instincts, makes me compare myself to other mothers, pit our family against other families, sends me in confusion to parenting blogs and advice books searching for concrete answers.
But last Sunday evening, the girls and I went out to the back yard together. Daddy was away on a trip and I found myself absorbed pulling tiny weeds from the arugula bed while A and C played an elaborate game in Sumac City, their secret fort where no grown-ups are allowed. We were busy and happy, happy and busy. The evening air pulsed greenly around us, and the May light lingered on… past 7:00, then 7:15, past bath time and kitchen clean-up time.
A mourning dove cooed sweetly and the peepers trilled background music. Eventually we all walked the stone wall and inspected the perennial gardens, where the girls pointed out the tight peony buds, their frill of pink poised to unfurl.
I didn’t want to go inside. I couldn’t bear to submit to the routine, nag them to floss and brush and stop leaping on each other like spider monkeys.
“We’re going for a walk,” I announced.
I loaded them into the faithful old double stroller, that dusty relic from the Baby Cave, and headed up the hill, walking away from domesticity, from the house and the rules that bind us, walking into the sultry spring evening, past the bred cows lazing in buttercups, past the apple orchard and the tunnel of locust trees.
I’m jogging now, pushing them ahead of me, letting go of the stroller so it rolls downhill of its own momentum, and C is screaming with joy, raising both arms like she’s on the front seat of a roller coaster and I race along behind them as they roll free. Then I sprint hard until I finally catch up and pull back on the handle. We all gasp, laughing, and they beg me to do it again.