Thursday, December 4, 2008

Theorizing

I love theories. All of them, even the bunk ones. Maybe I love the bunk ones even more, because de-bunking them works my mental gears and gives me joy. I married a fellow theorizer, so I have someone to help me Google for the rationale for why the moon landing didn't really happen. Yep, I even love conspiracy theories.

The problem with being a mom and loving new theories is that you're doing on-the-job theory de-bunking, while also shaping the foundation of a child for whom you have 100% responsibility.

I used to think that my children will only grow up sane and stay out of jail if I was perfectly calm and serene at every moment of their childhood. I have since decided that what I want from my children is emotional honesty, even about the tough stuff. Please don't whine to me, though. That's not productive communication and it grates on my nerves. But crying, anger, frustration, and plain old crabbiness are welcome in this house. Just don't hurt people and don't hurt stuff. When I'm crabby and throw a temper tantrum, I apologize. And hope in the process that I'm teaching them we don't have to be perfect, but we should acknowledge our imperfection and try to make up for it.

So far, this theory seems to be working, in that our eldest subject (4 years of age) seems to be a lovely, empathic, caring human being. He gets mad or frustrated as expected for a healthy primate, and can usually manage to talk it out with us. So far, it seems to be creating more empathy and emotional strength, not less.

But what if I'm wrong, and he grows up to have a problem with rage? That actually, the theory about bottling it up and hiding it all away is the healthier version? Well, then I've screwed up my children.

See the problem?

I have no perfectionism about the little things in parenting. Spend a weekend with us, and you'll see. My kids wear pajamas if we're not going anywhere...or Andrew is usually naked. Jack dresses himself, no matter what the combination of clothes. Andrew stood up in his chair our entire Thanksgiving dinner, wearing a sunhat and holding his steak while he chewed it. See that? We didn't even have turkey! They did wear matching PJs for their "fake Christmas" with the grandparents. So that looked a little Stepford. But actually, they were just on clearance at the Hanna Andersson store and I thought they were adorable. Next year, Andrew will wear Jack's old ones. Simone will wear Andrew's. And Jack will probably wear whatever I find on clearance somewhere else.

But what about the big stuff? It can make a committed mama's mind hurt if she thinks too long on it. It's why I like what Anna Q says about listening to your children and not the experts. Because for one... the experts don't know what to tell me about that particular moment in mothering when Jack snapped the elastic from the bobby-hat directly into his eye and screamed bloody pain for three hours, which scared Andrew and HE started screaming/crying, which woke Simone and they were all crying.

No joke, I was a perfect mother for the first hour of it all. They were all on my lap. My heart felt warm and gentle. I was soothing and serene. And then, my perfect motherhood dissipated and I started feeling annoyed. Yes, I know that the elastic in the eye had to have hurt beyond imagination. Jack doesn't often cry from pain, and he's never cried like that. But the surround-sound crying started seeping into my psyche and I needed a break. Steve was gone late that night from coaching, so I just sat with screaming children on my lap and tried to close my eyes and pretend I was somewhere else. Somewhere quiet. In the middle of all this, Andrew starts crying about his toe hurting, and I look down to see his toenail dangling by a thread. What? When did THAT happen? During the crying? How? There are so many mysteries of motherhood that will never be solved.

Anyway, when Steve came home I told him about the eye. And my one-hour span of perfect mothering. And how now, I needed to go sit in a hot bath because I was feeling hateful and overstimulated. Apparently, it was just the beginning...as Jack woke up several times during the night screaming again and holding his swollen eye. Waking up Andrew who cried as well. And then Simone woke too, although she didn't seem scared anymore. It's like she'd gotten de-sensitized to the madness.

Will I ruin my children by wanting everyone, in that moment, to just be quiet and not hurt? Steve says our children are shaped by my emotional investment in them, which can sometimes mean being overstimulated and annoyed because of that investment. I like that theory because it's comforting. But who the heck really knows? Will Jack go in and tell a therapist someday that I was annoyed by his crying from his eye pain, or will he only remember what a warm and giving heart I had for the first hour of it all? And how I held him for three hours while he cried and pretended to not be annoyed? Do I get credit for just "showing up" even if my heart wasn't 100% there?

We do the best we can, I guess. And I just have to take solace in those little moments along the way that give some sense we're all on the right path... because all of the theory formulation and de-bunking along the way has to do something toward letting our children know we tried. That we cared. And hopefully, that counts for something.

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