6 o'clock was an ugly hour in my house tonight. The neighborhood kickball game had been postponed due to traffic, and while my kids were eagerly awaiting the ring of the doorbell to let them know that the game was back on, I was dreading that it would come just after my mental cut off of 6:30 for getting them inside and on to the bedtime routine. Our dinner, honey nut cheerios in front of the TV, had been spilled all over the couch by one hyperactive 3 year old. As I was trying the nurse the baby and another 3 year old was having a total tantrum meltdown, the first 3 year old had a messy accident on my bedroom rug. In my head I was giving my kids labels -- M was always clingy and overtired, prone to meltdowns, J was messy, out of control, prone to accidents, goody goody H was making things worse by trying to parent the little ones which was getting them even more riled up and independent minded, P was compulsively checking the front door, reporting the passage of time, obsessing about the neighbors and also likely to cry with the disappointment of not resuming the game, the baby was always needing me to nurse him at the most inconvenient times. My children's faults in the moment, though not non-existent, were being made into mountains in my head, and I snapped.
I yelled at M not to talk to me that way, and she curled up in a ball, sucking her thumb and moaning. P silently disappeared (he has learned to just get out of firing range), H started saying that she was being good mommy, what could she do to help mommy, in fact she gets so "good" in fear of my raising my voice that I get afraid that I am actually damaging her psyche.
Realizing that I was out of control, I put the baby down with H and explained that I was really sorry but he was going to be crying for a few minutes. I took J into the bathroom and got him cleaned up. Then, I got away from the kids for a few minutes.
As I started the laundry from the accident I called Red and told her that I was losing it -- she asked a great question -- is it just the end of a bad day? I answered honestly that it had been a fine day, but that our bedtime routine has been bad for several days in a row. She reminded me of something that I had really forgotten, that bedtime routine begins at 3 pm, for us, the end of quiet time, because your afternoon sets up your evening and dinner comes before you know it. She gave lots of other advice that was more particular to our situation, but most importantly she was there.
As a homeschooling mom of many, it is very hard for me to show weakness. I fear that if I tell people that I am struggling they will say "of course you are, you have a crazy home life." When I hear this from Red, it means "what you are doing is not easy and there will be some bad days."
Talking to Red tonight gave me a break from the bad scene in the other room, helped me create a strategy for getting it right (or at least closer) the next time, which gave me the hope to persevere, and also let me out of my guilt for screwing up. I think that our friends are so important at times like this -- dare I say, more important even than our spouse, who sometimes is sick of hearing about it and also doesn't entirely know what it is like to live it day in and day out.
I am happy and proud to say that I apologized to the kids for yelling, got the 3 year olds bathed, storied and into bed, and had a heart to heart with P and H about the importance of getting back to our routine. I think they were glad to have me acknowledge that things have been out of whack, and they seemed happy to have a role to play in making a new start tomorrow, especially because, at Red's suggestion, I framed it in the great context of privilege and responsibility -- the older two will be able to go out to the evening kickball game by themselves (it happens outside our front door) because I can trust them to come home at 6:30, but they may not go until all of their chores are done and they must get ready for bed by themselves when they return. This will free me up to focus on the little ones bedtime routine, which, if it goes smoothly, will give us all a better tomorrow without cranky twins on our hands. All of this made perfect sense to P and H.
The moment of truth came at 7:15 when the doorbell rang, and P and H went to the door and explained to the other kids that they can't be out after 6:30 and then returned to tell me without pouting about it. This is a new stage of parenting for me, one that is beyond the "time outs" and sticker rewards of preschool life, kids approaching the age of reason can be taken in to our confidence, can understand privilege and responsibility, trust and freedom, and that work comes before play. This is the way that I will continue to parent them into their teen years, when cars and curfews replace the kickball, and the way that (hopefully) they will govern themselves as adults, so I am excited that they seemed to respond really well.
This post was a bit of a ramble -- but to summarize my main points --
1 -- sometimes i lose it
2 -- routines are very important to my success
3 -- when i do lose it, I need to regroup, and friends help with that
4 -- my kids are growing and changing, which keeps me on my toes, sometimes an outside observer can see that better than I can, which made her suggestions really valuable
5 -- Thanks Red, I couldn't do it without you