With each of my pregnancies, my patience starts to fray *slightly* earlier every time. I will be giving birth in a matter of a few weeks, and I’m a little more tired, and a little heavier, and a little less patient, noticeably. I’ve also suddenly been handed some new opportunities–which perhaps I should be passing up, but…I’ve never been good at slowing down, and that’s ok. It’s always a juggle, being self-employed and being a mother, and that’s ok too. But when, the other day, I had missed out on several hours of what I’m realizing now is sleep essential to my sanity, and I (stupidly) had my laptop sitting on the counter, and I was trying to mix eggs with one hand, and edit something with the other, and my sweet Felix came over…I lost it.
Felix is, in fact, my sweetest, kindest child. This is not a value judgement, simply an observation. I don’t, for a moment, love him more than the others. But he has a quality about him of innocence and compassion and innate consideration for others that Horus, Treva and Cosmo don’t possess in quite the same way, to the same degree. Horus, Treva and Cosmo each have their own particular gifts and strengths, which are different. I think it’s ok to observe and to take note of my children’s personalities. And I try to make a distinction between this kind of observation vs. pigeonholing them into particular ways of being, or of unfairly or prematurely categorizing them, or of telling them who they are. I think people can go through immense changes and transformations throughout their lives. I also think that there is a core of who we are that always remains, that is *there* at birth. Maybe this is what the concept of the “soul” is all about.
Anyway. When Felix came over to where I was sitting at the counter, surrounded with my silly gadgets and ephemera, trying (stupidly) to do four things at once, and placed his full glass of water next to the keyboard of my laptop, I allowed the aggregate annoyances and stresses I’d been experiencing to spill onto this delightful kind-hearted child, and I yelled “What on earth are you doing???!?!!? Can’t you see my computer is right there??!?!?! For goodness’ sake, why can’t you be careful…..” and then I saw his face: the confusion, the hurt, and the tears about to erupt, and I came to my senses and I was immediately ashamed. I hope I’m not alone in the relaying of an anecdote like this. I hope I’m not alone in my reaction, or alone in the duality of saying something so unfair, so damaging, so accusatory. It is precisely parental outbursts like this that damage a child’s sense of self, sense of security, sense of being loved. I’m not proud, and there is no excuse.
So I stopped. I stopped right there, right then, and I knelt down and I held his hands, and I looked into his eyes, about to brim over, and I said. “Oh my sweetheart. I’m so wrong. I’m so wrong right now. You’re not wrong, you are right and good, and you didn’t know that putting your water there would upset me, and I shouldn’t have my computer on the counter anyway, and it’s not your fault at all that I’m upset and grumpy. I should not be speaking to you in such a nasty way, and I’m so sorry.” And he looked up at me, and he smiled, and he put his arms around me, and he said “It’s ok mum. I love you. You’re a good mum.” And I said “I’m not always a good mum. But I always love you. I make mistakes sometimes. Thank you for forgiving me.”
It’s inappropriate and rather gross to be proud of being able to stop being an asshole with relative promptness. And pride isn’t really the right sentiment at all. But I was a little bit pleased with myself, or at least relieved by my ability to stop. Pleased and relieved, because I’ve also spent enough time doing that thing where you realize you’re in the wrong and…you double-down on your outrage to save face. On the whole, I think I’m ok at admitting when I’m wrong, but I’ve had my moments. More than anything, I want my children to feel safe with me. I don’t want them feeling like they’re walking on eggshells around me, mother-volcano. I experienced quite a bit of that as a child, and it’s a frightening existence; unstable, tenuous, traumatic.
I also know that no one is perfect. I’m not perfect. But love does a lot. Humility does a lot. And it is precisely *because* children tend to be flexible, and trusting, and open to love, that we really must do our very best not to take advantage of that love and trust. There are many aspects of my children’s lives about which I take a hands-off, ‘you’ll be fine’, approach. The debate over whether children are “coddled” too much these days is interesting to me, and somewhat valid (and present, fascinatingly, through every historical era, with slightly different emphases and nuances). But it is my conviction that we cannot “coddle” our children by showing them kindness and respect. And when we mess up, like we all sometimes do, there is much healing in being humble.