It’s great to be a mom, truly it is.
There are so many amazing moments when I stop and look around me, see the drawings my son made hung proudly on the refrigerator, feel him snuggle in my arms, and hear him say he loves me, unprompted. In those moments I think, yes, this is why I became a mom. This is what Heaven on Earth must feel like. I take a deep breath, breathe it in so I don’t forget it...and then... the moment passes. In the blink of an eye because literally a moment later he jumps down and starts screaming for no apparent reason at all. “Do we have any more cookies? No? No? Nooooo!!!!!! I WANT MORE COOKIES!!!!”
It feels like there are moments when angels are singing in my son’s head…but the other 364 days in the year I swear that little man with red horns has overtaken him. He is 3 years old and I thought since I got through 2’s without ever saying, or even thinking about the “terrible twos,” that I was in the clear. All those peaceful parenting classes I have been taking are clearly working, I thought, because my son is wonderful. He says please and thank you. He is nice. He is funny. He likes to play with other kids. He loves adventures. He does not need routine. He talks about his feelings. I actually like him. Sure he didn’t sleep well for a while, but that’s not a big deal. Who needs sleep? Every morning I wake up, I look in the mirror, and I tell myself “You got this Momma.” And for the first few years of my son’s life, I was sure I did have it. Then he turned 3...
Now I am not the type of mom who is going to believe the “threenager” year is something to dread and just chalk this year of failure as a mom up to that. I am not going to just let his random screaming fits, his expanded vocabulary that now includes phrases like “shut up,” and his refusal to clean up anything he has destroyed stop me from still believing “I got this!” I tell myself everyday I can do this. And I believe it...for the first 3 seconds before my sweet angel chucks something across the room and misses my head by a quarter of an inch. No, I won’t believe this whole year I will fail. So I decided I am no longer going to do everything for him. I am no longer going to be the mom who rephrases her “no” so it is actually a “yes”. But before you judge me, I must say I didn’t realize I was doing basically everything for him until he turned 3 yo and he opened his mouth one day to tell me. When I asked him to put his shorts on and he so clearly just told me “you do it for me mommy, you ALWAYS do it for me.” Oh no. Oh hell no. Not any more.
We’re doing this. NOW.
If you know me at all, you know once I decide something, I start immediately. So yesterday was the day things were going to change. Things had to change or I was going to go insane. Yesterday was Sunday so I figured I had the time to try and teach him something while remaining patient because I had nothing to do and nowhere to go. I decided I would do what the ever so wise Present Play leader, Avital, has taught so many parents. It is not your job to play with your kids... you do not have to play with them if you don’t enjoy it. Which to me means I also don’t have to pick up after him, pack everything for a trip he wants to take, put his clothes on, take his clothes off, put his shoes on, take his shoes off, let him spray me with a hose I did not want him to play with, and respond to his every request. He literally knows how to dress himself, his hands and feet work just fine, so I also know he can clean up after himself with a little guidance. And as happy as I am to see him do imaginative play for hours, I do not enjoy this type of play. At all.
It’s like my son thinks I can’t hear him.
In the two minutes I just typed that last sentence, he literally crawled up next me on the couch, leaned in an inch from my ear, and screamed “Mooooooommmmm!!!!” as loud as he could because I did not immediately react to his request for me to look at the television. If I could explain the energy it is taking to keep his hands off of my keyboard right now as I type, and remain calm, you’d be just as exhausted as I am. Deep breaths are my saving grace these days. Do you ever remember seeing your mom take a deep breath when you were young? I do. And I remember being a teenager and saying things like “Really mom? Am I that difficult right now you have to close your eyes and take deep breaths?!” In the brattiest voice I could muster. And now I know if I was in her head, she would likely also be thinking “Yes, yes you are. You are way more difficult than you think and deep breaths are what stop me from swearing at you and leaving you here for someone else to take home, sweetheart.” So just as karma would have it, I now get to hear from my threenager say “I don’t like you breathing mom. Are you done breathing now?” I mean ok. Fair enough. I know he doesn’t actually want me to stop breathing and die, but what he does want is me to stop taking deep breaths because he knows I am either mad or frustrated.
“Mom, are you mad or frustrated?”
The extent of emotions my son is familiar with right now are sad, mad, scared, frustrated, and happy. Of which it is only ever ok if you are happy. Everyone must be happy at all times in his world...except him I guess? We are working through this. I am trying the best I can to let every emotion be ok and teach him it is not the emotion itself that is “bad,” it is how we choose to respond to that emotion. So part of my decision to stop doing everything for him, was also to make sure my behavior stayed in check even when I feel like throwing everything he owns out the window. So there we were, deciding at breakfast what we wanted to do, and my son said “let’s go to the splash pad!” Perfect, I thought! He can help make a list (I’ll write it and he’ll get a reading lesson at the same time!), pack his bag, get dressed, go to the bathroom and out the door! How hard can this be? And bonus, I can bring my camera I am trying to learn to use to capture these wonderful outdoor adventures! Bring it on!
The plan is implemented.
Two hours later, we haven’t left. In that time I have calmly gotten out a post it note and a pen. Together we start making a list of what we need:
Why didn’t I just do it?
Now, let me start by saying I know this is not a challenging list. In fact, all of our swim stuff is already packed in a beach bag (which I did bring out and set next to him). I could have packed this all, got him dressed, and we would have been in the car within 5 minutes. But I decided I’m not going to do it anymore. I decided that if I keep doing the mental and physical work for my child, even at 3 yo, he will continue to feel everything should be done for him. The words “I can’t” will be heard by me more and more and I do not like those words. The understanding of what it takes to actually leave the house and get where he wants to go will never be understood. There are a few quotes that have stuck with me ever since becoming a mom, and I need to get back to using them daily. “Teach me to do it by myself,” for example. I like this one because I can offer only the amount of help he developmentally needs and let him do the rest. No words. Just actions. And day by day he can do more steps. Sounds simple...if you’re not a parent. Because if you are, you know in the middle of being trying to be patient after you carefully lay his clothes out, or if you’re patient enough to let him pick his own clothes out in the first place, you sit on the floor as he runs around the house naked, throws the clothes on your head, laughs, and then eventually picks up his underwear just to put it on his head.
Parenting can be humorous…
Some of you reading this may think that is funny or cute or tell me to savor these moments. And I would agree to some extent. I definitely find him shaking his booty in my face funny...for about 0.5 seconds. But if I laugh, or even just smile, it will go on and on and on and on, and nothing we are actually trying to do will get done. So as we are on item 1 of 10, I make sure to not even smirk, but somehow make sure he knows I am not mad at him, so I grab a book and start reading. I decide in the middle of these moments when I’m trying to teach him something and I am not in a rush, nor do I care if we ever actually make it to the splash pad (with too many kids in the middle of a pandemic where no one is actually wearing face masks), that I must busy myself. I must show my son, “Oh honey no. I’m not mad at all. I am so happy to be reading this book. I’d love to read it all day! But if you’d like to go to the splash pad, you have to get dressed first and pack all the items on our list before we actually go. I love you.” Sure I want to laugh, I want to believe parenting is all fun and games, but let’s be real. That is simply not true.
My son is actually still amazing, and so is yours!
Even as I write this and my son is literally crawling on the top of my computer. I know my son is amazing. I know he is amazing because he is a miracle and he is mine and I love him. I know I will capture all the wonderful moments on camera that will be his visual memory of what an amazing childhood he had. I will not post pictures of him screaming at me, throwing things at me, breaking things, crying, telling me to “shut up,” or refusing to get dressed or go to the bathroom. But I will write about them. I will write about them because one day these pages will be the behind the scenes footage of what actually happened during his amazing childhood where my sole intent was to not scar him for life. And my hope is that you moms, dads, and caregivers out there will read these pages and realize you are not alone. In those moments when you are taking deep breaths to save your child from whatever else you may actually want to do and your child asks you if you are done breathing yet, I hope you can visualize myself, and all the other parents out there, breathing with you as you witness your perfect angel screaming “STOP BREATHING!!!!!” a quarter of an inch from your face. Remember, you got this Momma! It's all about the journey, not the destination.
Kathryn Kraft, MPT
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