When Mommy Isn't a Good Listener
I was an epic failure of a mother today. And my kid was a pain in the butt.
“Max, I need you to be a good listener in the bookstore. You can play in the playhouse, or at the train table. If you start to run around the store, that tells me you’re ready to leave.”
I ended up grabbing him by the arm, somewhere between the monkey books and the robot toys. He was running through the maze of aisles. He wouldn’t walk to the bathroom. He wanted to wash his hands before and after he went potty, but he wanted to cover the faucet with his palm so that the water sprayed everywhere. He threw his paper towels on the floor. He tried to open the door while 7 months pregnant Mommy was still peeing. “Max, please stop,” turned into “Please listen to Mommy,” turned into “You’re DONE washing hands,” turned into “STOP it Max. I need you to use your listening ears. That’s ENOUGH water,” turned into “That’s IT. We’re LEAVING.”
I asked Sean if the other moms could hear me yelling at Max in the bathroom. I was the one struggling not to drop my screaming 3-year-old as I left the store. I was the one with red cheeks, and a little boy bouncing off of my pregnant belly as he tried to wriggle away.
"I WILL be a listener Mommy! I WILL!” he screamed. Tears and snot covering his face in an angry rushing river.
He sat between Sean and I on a bench outside. I was hoping that the cool spring air would cool our tempers. He kept screaming. Kicking. Trying to run away, back to the bookstore. “You can sit here and calm your body down, or we can go back to the car,” I snarled, as I grabbed his shoulders in a way that I’m not proud of -- ss I wiped tears from behind my round sunglasses.
7 months pregnant me and Sean -- with a broken wrist -- trying to calm him down and keep him from tearing into the street.
“Don’t worry, at some point they grow up!” an older mother shouted cheerfully from across the sidewalk. Really? Mid-tantrum, lady? Shut the fuck up.
I’m angry with him over and over throughout the day. I’m angry with myself. I feel like I’ve let him down, because I am rarely the calm, collected, understanding mother that I want to be. I know how to do this. I mean, I’ve taught parenting workshops for gods sakes. I’ve worked with kids who have certified, diagnosed behavior disorders. I’ve worked with criminals in the fucking police department. I give compassionate, educated, attachment-based support to other moms in real life and on the Internet. And yet I’m completely losing my shit with my three-year-old?
But I also wonder if some of my methods have backfired. We haven’t raised our voices at Max (until now). We haven’t set strict limits (until now). We believe that a child’s behavior is a reflection of their environment, and that they are too young to have great self-regulation of their emotions. Kids act out when they’re hungry, or tired, or scared, or feel like no one is listening to them. I know this. I know this, in my heart.
In my heart, I know that maybe I am the one who isn’t being a good listener.
I am tired. I am frustrated. According to the bitch who rang up my groceries today, I look like I am “due any day now,” though I actually have 12 weeks to go.
We just moved. I am limited with what I can do with Max (and for Max) because of the baby that I am growing in my belly… a baby that will create even more chaos in Max’s life, and change the dynamic of our family forever. I am trying to get through every day with fewer contractions, fewer times of getting up from the floor, fewer moments of frustration between me and the sweet, beautiful boy who my world revolves around.
But holy hell, I am so tired. And three-years-old is so hard.
We need to say “yes” more. Like today, when we looked up from an afternoon movie to see that two ducks had landed on our pool cover. “Let’s go out and say hi to them!” I offered. And Max’s eyes lit up. “Let’s give them names!” Sean said, and Max’s smile got wider. We fed them bread, and Max yelled some welcoming words. Like “Eat my bread, ducks!” and “Come HERE!” It felt good to say yes. It felt good to let go. It felt good to know that even though these damn ducks would probably return and poop in our pool all summer, it was worth it, for this beautiful moment of playfulness and calm.
When Max is calm, I memorize the shadow that his eyelashes make against his cheek. I run my hands through his soft hair and cup his little boy feet in my palms. I kiss his ears, and his eyes, and silently apologize to him, over and over, as his tiny hand finds mine.
Tomorrow will be better. Tomorrow, I will be a better listener. Tomorrow, I will play more. Tomorrow, I will try harder. Tomorrow, I will sing you a song about brushing your teeth, instead of yelling a stern “1, 2, 3… you’re done” when you suck all of the toothpaste off of the brush and then try to run out of the bathroom.
You are three. But you are only three. You are testing, and trying, and fighting, and questioning. You are Batman, and Buzz Lightyear, and a friend of the ducks.
You are ours, and you are perfect, and you are maddening, all at the same time. This morning you crept into our room with a smile on your face, your cheek red and warm from where you had been snuggling against your blankets. You walked down the hallway and into our room, carrying your pillow, and you climbed into our bed and nestled between us. It was perfect. You are the best part of every day.
And now, finally, you are sleeping. And tomorrow we begin again.