Mondays Are For Practicing Grace

I think I should start every Monday in a garden like this one.
I think I should start every Monday in a garden like this one.

Monday. Not my favorite word. Not my favorite day of the week. At 6:40 a.m., before my alarm had the opportunity to interrupt my sleep, youngest son busts into my room ready to beat his brother to the first shower of the day. I knew this was trouble because the first shower has traditionally gone to our unusually early-rising Joe, but honestly I was in denial that the weekend was over and not quite awake enough yet to deal with him so I let it slide. I remained in bed, trying to savor the last few minutes of relative peace before my week had to begin in an official capacity. After about five minutes, Luke exited the shower still giddy about his triumph.

“I can’t believe I beat Joe to the first shower. I’m going to hurry and get dressed before he gets in here. I want to beat him downstairs,” he announced to me from the bathroom.

“It’s not a race,” I reminded him.

“I know,” came the rejoinder. “I just never get to be first.”

This is true. He’s the youngest. He’s acutely aware that he is forever behind the curve of his older brother. He’s been in second place his entire life. He gets the hand-me-downs. He has to wait until he’s bigger to do things his brother is already allowed to do. Any chance to be first is a treat. I get that. I also knew Joe would be annoyed because the first shower of the day is a big deal to him for some reason. Sure enough I was right. Just a minute later, Joe burst into my room, saw Luke fully dressed with wet hair, and started yelling.

I get first shower of the day. I always get first shower, Luke! Why did you do that?”

At this point, the boys began bickering loudly and I began slowly coming into reality. Lovely way to start a week. I rolled out of bed, hoping to minimize the damage to the morning. I told Luke to get downstairs and out of the way and snapped at Joe to get over it and get into the shower, which he did. Less than 30 seconds later, I heard the water shut off. Was he kidding me? All that fuss for a 30-second shower? There’s no way he actually used soap. The kid barely had time to get wet.

“What are you doing?” I asked, striding into the room in full-on, overtired annoyance.

“I’m done,” he replied.

“Oh no you’re not. No way. You didn’t wash your hair.”

“Yes, I did,” he retorted.

“That’s not possible,” I said, raising my voice and upping the ante.

“I did, Mom,” he insisted.

“You threw a complete fit because you didn’t get the first shower. You started my morning with screaming, and now you take a 30-second shower after all that commotion? Nuh uh. Get back in there.”

From there, things rapidly shot downhill like an Olympic bobsled team gaining momentum. Joe was mad I thought he was lying about washing his hair. I was mad that he had made such a huge issue out of his shower time and then didn’t even bother to take it. He began crying and I was beyond irritated that this was the inauspicious beginning to my week. I sent him downstairs while I worked on my frustration by stomping and banging around upstairs. Childish, I know, but I was exhausted. I thought everyone in my house understood that you don’t wake this sleeping dragon beast by screaming in my lair.

When I had finally chilled enough to arrive downstairs, Luke was busily getting water bottles and lunches ready (feeling a bit guilty, I suppose, for knowingly starting a war for the sake of being first). Joe was sitting on the living room sofa crying. I tried to pull myself together and regain control of the situation. I could not understand why he was making such a big deal out of missing the first shower. Then I started to wonder why I was making an even bigger deal about his big deal. I certainly wasn’t helping anything with my histrionics. I stopped, took a long, deep, yoga breath to the count of ten, and went over to hug Joe. I told him I was sorry for yelling at him and for not believing he’d washed his hair. He hugged back and told me he was sorry for starting our day with a fight. He was starting to calm down. I looked at the clock and realized we had 15 minutes before we had to leave. I went off to fix him some breakfast, satisfied that once he had some food we’d get beyond the ugliness. Quietly I berated myself for acting like such a brat.

When breakfast was ready, I called Joe into the kitchen. He came to the counter, sat down to the gluten-free waffle in front of him, looked up at me with a smile and pleasantly said, “Good morning, Mom.”

My 12 year old was schooling me in how to deal with setbacks. He’d decided to leave the mistakes of the morning behind. Yes. Monday had started out badly, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t change it. We could simply declare a do-over and move on. So, we did. I decided right then that do-overs should be my theme for the week. This came in handy a bit later in my Monday morning when I got to the Corepower studio for my flow-yoga class only to discover I’d gone to the wrong studio. Oops. Guess I’d be attending afternoon yoga instead.

Of all the days of the week, Mondays rejoice the most in providing me with multiple opportunities to practice grace.

Mama Said

Two boys in a jogger stroller and a 75 pound dog on a leash? Yep. I got this.
Two boys in a jogger stroller and a 75 pound dog on a leash? Yep. I got this.

As I was exiting yoga today and walking towards my car, I noticed a mother with two young sons standing by a minivan. I’m not a highly observant person as a rule (ie., you would not want me to pick someone out of a line up), so it’s fair to say that the reason I noticed them at all was because her oldest son was mid-tantrum and wailing terribly. She was holding her younger son on her hip while the older son rolled on the pavement in the parking lot. Next to him were the spilled remnants of what appeared to be a large cup of fro-yo complete with toppings. She was talking to him in a stern voice in an attempt to quell the tantrum, but the whole thing wasn’t going so well for her. I knew she was having one of those Calgon-take-me-away moments to which all moms can relate (even if they don’t want to admit it). She was young, or at least younger than me, and she was beside herself and becoming increasingly frustrated. I averted my eyes lest she feel inadvertently judged, got into my car, and quietly thanked the heavens that my boys are no longer toddlers.

I don’t miss those days, although I do remember them as if they were yesterday. Like the mom today, I too bear the scars of dropped ice cream cones that gave way to full-fledged meltdowns in public places where passersby shot me derisive looks and shook their heads. I recall the amazement I felt when I realized I’d been reduced to a spineless, kowtowing dope by a 30-pound, 3 year old boy who was only standing on this planet because I dropped him here. Literally. It was a sobering moment. As I watched the mom struggle in the parking lot today, a part of me wanted to approach her and tell her she was doing a good job. I wanted to tell her that despite what all the books tell you some days being a parent feels more like a curse than a blessing. I wanted to let her know that I had been standing exactly in her shoes and that some day she would be standing in my shoes watching another mom struggle through the same situation. It happens all the time. But, I didn’t go talk to her. I didn’t say anything because I know that when I was at that point in my life, any comment about my parenting experience was like nails on a chalkboard. When people would see my young kids and tell me to “enjoy them because they grow up so fast,” I wanted to smack them for asking me to cherish something that was beyond unpleasant for me in that moment. I get it now, but then I was bitter.

When I think about my experience parenting over the past almost 12 years, what strikes me is how unfair I’ve been with myself. I’ve berated myself and belittled my efforts. I understand now that I’ve only ever done the best I was capable of at the time with the knowledge I had in that moment. Sure, in hindsight I made some stupid decisions, but I didn’t know any other way. I wish I could go back in time and tell that younger me, standing there in the parking lot at the mercy of my tantrum-enhanced child, that it was nothing more than a bad day. I would tell myself to relax. Ice cream gets dumped. Kids throw fits. It happens, and it doesn’t mean that you’re an overly indulgent parent or that your child is a spoiled brat. It simply means that gravity won that round.

Some days being the parent truly sucks, as the minivan mom in the parking lot of the Vitamin Cottage today can truly attest. Parenting books offer suggestions, but they don’t know you, your unique child, or your family circumstances. Some days you have to sing Kumbaya  and practice a trust fall with yourself, knowing that in the end it will all work out. Mama wasn’t lying when she said there would be days like this. What she failed to mention, though, is that you shouldn’t sweat it. You’ve got this.