Gratitude for the Sting

So last night I walked into my girls' bedroom already on edge. It wasn’t their fault. I knew it. But in my frustration I justified that they should already be in bed, and that was reason enough for the bite in my voice. They were each on their beds, but the lights were on and my girls were sitting up, gabbing away and looking through treasured possessions—definitely not tucked under their covers with heads on pillows, waiting for their kiss goodnight. 


I knew that, were I still an eight year old whose mommy had told her to get in bed, I would have done exactly what they did. I would have gotten on bed and then proceeded to distract myself with anything but sleep. I knew it, but I let my annoyance get the better of me.


And I didn’t explode. I didn’t lash out. There are so many confessions on parenting blogs about the time I flipped my lid or the time I said something horrible I couldn’t take back. I’ve been there too, but this was not one of those times. Because I think it’s important to remember the times that are more subtle and easier to justify, easier to push aside as though that something was really nothing. Not just the times when I explode into a million fragments, leaving my girls covered in shards of my anger, but the times I maybe hold it a little closer to the vest yet still leave them with the unmistakable—and completely accurate—impression that I’ve left them to sit with something ugly. 


I walked into their room and saw them happily engaged when what I wanted was really not to have to go in there at all because I felt done for the night, and I got plain old exasperated.


“Ugh! What are you doing up still? When I say ‘go climb into bed’ I mean heads on pillows and covers up, ready to sleep. Is this not clear?” I let the words hang there, clearly rhetorical but delivered in that unfair, snarky way that suggests I’m actually waiting for an answer and there’s no correct one to be given. I see my daughter slink under the covers and assume her blank stare—the one that says she is hiding behind her own eyes. She is protecting herself. From me.


I tried to tone it down after that. I saw the look and felt the sting and I softened, trying to snuggle the covers around her and invite back some of the warmth I had just sucked from the room. One of my girls seemed quite unaffected by my startling entrance to the room, but the affects lingered on the other. She eventually ventured to offer, “It feels like you’ve been mad at us all afternoon.”


And I had to sit back and take that in, uncomfortable as it was. Of course a dozen defenses jumped into my mind immediately. I mean, there had been that one comment when they first came home from school, but it hadn’t been so bad. And those other directions, perhaps delivered a little harshly, well that was only because they knew better and this was the thousandth time I’d had to say something. And those other little scuffles—those weren’t even with her, they were directed at her siblings. Those didn’t count, did they?


And as I counted up the defenses and justifications in my head, the stark reality hit me square between the eyes. My frustration has become the norm. The undercurrent of Why are you doing that? or Why aren’t you? has become more than just a rough day, a busy week, a “season of transition.” It’s become the way things are around here.


And I need to do something about it.


The truth is there was once a time—a time that lasted many many years—when I spent the vast majority of my time with my three kids. I woke to them, attended to them all day, took them with me everywhere, and nestled them into bed at night. And then I went and pored over pictures of them, and of course attended to their every cry. And by and large, I reveled in it. That was my joy. I drew energy from their presence and enjoyed their company. I wanted to be with them and felt most at ease when my three littles were by my side. Generally speaking, I was patient with them, kind to them, and slow to anger or find fault. 


But this fall has found me in a different place. The tenor has changed between us. Some of that has been circumstance—they are into their second year of full-day school, and daily spending hours apart has become a fact of life. Not only that, but the hours that are left with them, the precious few hours between school and bedtime, are honestly not the fun ones. Now, my hours with my kids are the ones filled with homework and making dinner and bedtime routines and responsibilities. Honestly, if we had to lose so many hours of our time together I would much prefer to have kept the simple pleasures—reading books without an agenda, going to the park to play, wrestling and snuggling on the couch, or making a mess while baking cookies. Not only did we lose seven and a half hours a day together, the hours we have left are full of all the leftovers we don’t want to be bothered with. 


No wonder I’m cranky.


Not to mention this fall has been a time of intense self-scrutiny and soul-searching for me as I pursue a completely new path for my life. It’s career time again, and a new career at that, and just like diving into motherhood was a road full of bumps and crags, diving into building a business is a bumpy and emotional ride. I don’t doubt it’s the right ride for me, but it’s still a doozy. It would be fair to say that over the course of some months, my stress and anxiety levels have interfered with my once seemingly endless patience. And my kids bear the brunt of the change.


This is not new news to me, but for some reason last night it hit me different. Maybe it’s because the daughter who felt my anger the most was the one I thought I expressed it to the least. But the fact is she has been in an environment of my creation—an environment where impatience and frustration simmer too close to the surface—and it’s not a safe place to be an imperfect eight year old kid. 


I am ashamed of this. But I am also grateful. I’m grateful because last night I was uncomfortable enough to acknowledge I need to make a change. Last night I got upset enough with what has been that I am committing to bring about something new. I am grateful my daughter was brave enough to tell me the truth, and I told her so. I hugged her close and I looked her in the eye and I told her “I am sorry.” 


I am aware now, in a new way, which means I can change. Thank God today is a new day.