Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Loving by Instinct

I thrived in the American school system. I enjoy pulling out a heavy textbook, lined notebook paper and my multi-colored pens and sitting down to outline a chapter and then do the questions at the end. I like taking a test to see what I've learned and mark the conclusion of that chapter as a clear success or failure. Didactic learning: it's for me.

If life were set up this didactic way I would feel more confident about ... well, a lot of things. Slowly, as I've grown older and accepted more responsibility I've picked up on the fact that it just isn't that simple. Rarely does a single measure apply and everyone sees it from a different set of experiences and dreams. What would I do to have a singular, clear directive? For example, had there been a textbook entitled "Monica's PhD" I probably would have finished the damn thing faster and with far less frustration. Had I skipped ahead to the chapter where my advisor turned out to be a cheater I might have shelved that book and done something entirely different. I found breastfeeding difficult because I couldn't quantify how much milk she was getting: the scientist in me couldn't handle the inaccuracy of "baby is satisfied" or "baby is hungry". Can I put this on a scale from one-to-ten?

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Motherhood has so many of the same elements. Yes, there are parenting books out there. Too bad I don't have a USB port in the back of my head to obtain the information within those books. These days, if I sit down with paper and pens I find myself drawing Elmo, a horsey, and a balloon on demand. It's not a bad problem to have, I'm just saying that I haven't actually finished a book since Ada was born. Not to worry, there is no shortage of feedback and unsolicited advice for parents.

Tim and I were grinding our teeth and heaving heavy sighs recently at Ada's penchant for the high-pitched scream. She's been at it since she went from a newborn to an infant. I may miss Cheerios on the floor and the constant demand for cuddling once she is grown but I won't miss the screaming. My Heart can clear a room with that ear drum-busting, headache-inducing scream of hers. When in public I find myself muttering "sorry" with my head hung down, gaze to the floor to avoid eye contact with a glaring strangers who make rude assumptions about my kid. I feel like I'm abandoning her while I cave to this social pressure to, above all else, keep my kid quiet lest she invade someone else's cool urban experience.

We've been counseled to ignore it. We've been told to say 'no'. Recently we were advised to yell at her. At the time I pointed out how counterintuitive that seemed and the conversation moved forward. Later that night it was just eating at me. Why did this suggestion bother me so much? I ran through a few self-queries before I landed on this one: yes, it will shut her up but it also steals a chunk of her spirit. The last thing I want to do as a parent is crush my child like you would break a horse. In fact, that's precisely the opposite of the mother I want to be.

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Confession time.
We all have a parenting moment that we aren't proud of. Here's mine: Two weekends ago about 48 hours after I had a "non-viable" embryo sucked out of my uterus my hormones were taking a nose-dive. Tim was studying non-stop and the stress was like a thick, impenetrable fog. Things were not good. Ada and I had to leave the playground and she was carrying on because she had to leave a toy stroller behind. I buckled into her car seat all screaming and arching her back with tears sliding down her round cheeks. She kept it at full blast over my right shoulder as I drove the car. I didn't know she had this kind of stamina!

I could feel it rising in my body, how angry and frustrated I was feeling and I knew I was close to my boiling point. What I should have done was pull the car over and just get out. Just take a break. Instead, I did something that I still regret terribly: I yelled at her. I mean, I really yelled with a hard edge to my voice and I was loud to out-scream her enormous volume. I yelled something horrible like, "Ada! Shut up! Stop crying! It was a fucking stroller!" She quieted and whimpered with her tiny chest heaving and her lower lip quivering in a way that I hadn't seen before. She balled up her fists and twisted them over her eyes, turning her head tersely to the right to shut out what had just happened; to shut ME out.

I could tell that I had crushed her - I really, really hurt my child's feelings because I couldn't keep myself together. I felt like total shit, just ashamed of myself. I couldn't take it back - I couldn't undo what I had just done and I wished so feverishly that I could. The flurry of panicked questions flooded me: What mother behaves that way? Had God take my second child because I don't deserve one? I pulled the car over and sobbed with regret. I vowed it would NEVER again act out of anger and frustration. I promised her out loud I wouldn't.

Strategically spoken words carry as much sting and all the destruction of the back of a hand on a cheek. She will never have a reason to think she has lost my love even for a moment. For as long as I possibly can I will do everything in my power to preserve her purity, wonder, innocence...


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her cooperative, kind, giving heart...

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her goofiness, exploration, curiosity...

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Compassionate parenting feels natural and right. I think I should trust my instincts on this one even though this isn't how I typically prefer to operate. I love my daughter - she is the very best of my own heart. I want to provide boundaries because it feels safe to know where those are. I'm pretty sure I can do this without being violent in my thoughts, words or actions.
I've heard it said that when you want to strangle your kids is when they need a hug the very most. Yes, she screams when she doesn't get her way. I can ignore a temper tantrum most of the time. The rest of the time, she really just wants attention. She needs it and I'm not always great at giving it to her. As if a kitchen sink empty of dishes is really more important than laying on the wool-ball and cheerio covered carpet doing puzzles with my daughter? Again, the point drives home and I wonder how many times do I need to learn this lesson? Will I "get it" before her childhood has fled?

Love your kid. Actively show love to her by actively paying her attention.
Nothing is more important than filling her tiny, blossoming soul with a bottomless well of love. 

I'll bet if it were in a textbook somewhere and I could outline it on lined notebook paper with multicolored pens that I would get it. I want an A+ on that exam.


Linking up with Shell at Pour Your Heart Out. So funny, I went to grab her button and read her post from last week. I guess I'm not alone after all. Everyone has a journey. I would love to hear all about it if you can relate to the most recent leg of mine.

7 Lovies:

Shell said...

Oh yes, we all have those moments!!!

Kim said...

Oh I have so been there. You need to forgive yourself and move forward. With motherhood, I think the best way is to look at each day as fresh and new. I loved this post for your honesty.

Lisa said...

Been there. I try not to let it happen often though, and I am successful. My husband thinks yelling is good because it will stop him from doing something, I've asked him to stop doing, nicely, several times.

I hate when I am the cause of the lip quiver. I can't take it.

Ty's Girl said...

I have been there. I always feel terrible if I get impatient. Luckily, I can take more than my hubby. He will yell, but she always forgives and wants her hugs. There is no such thing as the perfect parent, but you are damn close. :-) Love you!

Elena (Running in Heels After Child) said...

Being a parent is the best thing ever, it is also the hardest thing ever.

redheadreverie said...

First of all thanks for stopping by the blog, and for the nice comment. Yes, music totally has a way of bringing back that vitality of youth. Still to this day if I hear Summertime by Will Smith or Bananarama I remember those carefree crazy summers where all I had to worry about was my tan.

I just read this post, and I want you to know we've all been there. Parenting is a tough job. There are moments where I want to pull my hair out, but you know what I do instead...give them a hug. Hugs are a nature's emotional heimlech. Oh, and listening to a little Duran Duran might help too. :-) Have a great week.

Aunt Barb said...

You are a wonderful mother sweetie. We all lose it sometimes and have deep regrets later. Ada will forgive you, probably already has. She loves her strollers, sweet little darling. She wants to be a good mommy, like her mommy. Buy an extra stroller for the car (I'll send some money soon) so she will always have one with her wherever you go. Go easy on yourself, and forgive yourself. Heck, Gr'ma always yelled at us too but look how much we loved her, deep inside our hearts. Love you so much! Aunt Barb