I wrote this post a month ago, on the day that it happened. At the time, for whatever reason, I didn’t want to publish it, and wondered if I ever would. To spoil the ending, everything turned out just fine. Better than fine, in fact.
So I’m having a mommy melt-down right now.
Of course, it is Friday, which means my five year old will not get out of bed. This means the entire morning went the usual way it goes when Eliott decides not to do anything. But my new approach to this attitude is to tell her one time, “If you do not do all your jobs before school today, or if you are not ready when it is time to go, you will ride in the car to drop Carter off and come back home with me.” (Thankfully, school is currently a reward in her mind.)
This is the only way for me to maintain sanity as she proceeds to ignore all directions, with defiant slowness.
As usual, she manages to pull everything together at the eleventh hour. She hates the outfit I picked out for her, which is my one and only victory of the morning, as I feel like absolutely no lesson has been learned when she gets to laze around moaning and complaining and still gets ready in time for school. With the breakfast table cleared, I tell her and Carter to go get in the car. I’m grabbing my purse and my phone and jackets, and nobody else is moving. I repeat, “Go get in the car,” at least four times.
Apparently I’m talking crazy talk.
So I go get in the car, Carter directly on my heels. This is the moment Eliott chooses to have the biggest five-year-old temper tantrum you can imagine. Instant terror-screams, “DON’T LEAVE ME!” Panic. Frantically grabbing jacket and back pack and literally screaming at me not to leave without her.
When she’s finally in the car, I lose it.
After forty-five minutes of passive aggressive defiance, we are once again going to make it to school on time, and Eliott has the nerve to scream at me from the garage like any of this is my fault. I spend the better part of our four-minute drive and another eleven minutes in the parking lot spewing the verbal equivalent of a head explosion. Raining down a literal thunderstorm of guilt-style lecturing, I wrap things up about the minute Eliott’s eyes well up in tears.
There is a war that goes on in my brain on mornings like this. I know from experience that close calls in getting places on time are just enough to continue to encourage pushing it, like Eliott tends to push it at least two mornings a week. I know that hashing out the gritty details of the problem right before school starts does not set my child up for high self esteem and success for the day (two things every parenting expert assures me are important in life). But I also know that to put off the discipline or the processing of her behavior, at all, will ultimately have no meaningful result, because she will not connect the natural consequences of holding the family up in the morning when everything she wants seems to keep falling right into place.
If you know me, you know I always default to this familiar John-mantra: fight the small battles first thing in the morning, and avoid the big battles before bed.
So today, with the come-to-Jesus behind us in the car, we hugged it out in the parking lot, Eliott finally managing to summon up a sincere apology and acknowledgement of her behavior. My parting words were, “Eliott, I love you. I love our whole family. This is why when your attitude makes me or the rest of our family miserable, I will make you miserable, every single time. I am the Mommy. This is what I do. Can we please just work together instead of fighting against each other?” She agreed.
So we walk in to the lobby of pre-school, to the usual traffic of kids coming in and parents going out. With Carter on one hand and Eliott on the other, getting through the doors is often slow and usually a little awkward. Carter typically spends some time hugging the kids in Eliott’s class who are waiting on the bench. In this, what, thirty-second exchange of bodies, I overhear a little girl on the bench dare to make fun of Eliott’s outfit. I did not catch her first comment, but Eliott’s head drooped immediately to her chest when this little girl laughed, pointed, and asked, “Why did you even wear this today? What were you thinking? Did you think this looked cute?” This said as she’s looking to others for agreement. (Lest I remind you these kids are all of four and five years old?)
I about roundhouse kicked this little blonde head into the wall.
In what I can only assume was the result of my mothering-juice still running hot and fast in my veins, without thinking, I sunk to this girl’s eye level and talked to her as if she was my own daughter saying something mean to her little sister. “Hey!” I said, calling her by her name. “Are you being ugly? Because that was not nice. And pretty girls have to always be nice or they will not be pretty.” Then, I sort of poked her shoulder and finalized it with, “You need to remember that.”
Several parents, lingering nearby, I noticed, stared at me. I hope they caught the entire exchange.
Even so, it wasn’t enough.
I got into the car and burst into tears. What I wanted to do, what I maybe should have done, in that moment, was declare loudly, “Hey Eliott, these kids are assholes. You feel like having donuts? I sure do! Come on, let’s go!”
I don’t frequently experience guilt, in any form, but especially when it comes to my mothering choices. Generally speaking, I understand that my children don’t know any better. They aren’t comparing me (yet) to other parents. I don’t have the fear that I’m scarring my kids or setting them up for counseling one day. I may not fully subscribe to the Positive Parenting manual, and more than once a day I break cardinal disciplining rule #1. Yelling never works. And I feel no guilt about these things. At the end of the day, my kids are well behaved and mostly polite in public, and our dinner table is generally filled with laughter. Despite what the books might suggest, John and I are raising a pretty healthy family.
But mornings like this morning, probably combined with my low blood sugar, lack of caffeine, and fetus-allergy, just make me feel defeated. I will wait out the three hours of school this morning with dread in my heart, hoping and praying with every breath that Eliott’s day improves. I will worry that it doesn’t.
And the worst part is, I will tell myself to remember this next Friday, when the cycle repeats itself. But I probably won’t do anything differently.
Today, Eliott’s battle with bed-making grows a distant memory. And that day, unsurprisingly, Eliott was best friends with her perpetrator by the time I picked her up at noon. So my hormonal freak out was for nothing. But the freak out over my child’s early morning attitude completely worked.