It was a hard week, filled with more bad days than good. That Tuesday was a good day. I was up before the kids, which meant I was alert and happy to see them when they got up. I made eggs, and turkey sausage, and the little one helped. She actually cracked the eggs for me (with only minimal shell removal necessary), then demanded milk to add, then stirred. I am amazed at what they know and can do when you let them. While I cooked, the two of them played with play-dough and there was no yelling or whining or pushing. I had the Willie Nelson Pandora station on, and the song “Pancho & Lefty” came on. “This is my favorite song,” my older one said, and sang every word. “It is mine, too”, I told him, and sang along, while the little one reached for me and said “Mama, hold you”. I held her, and she said “Dance, Mama!”, and so I did. It was one of those moments where you can feel a memory forming, of singing Willie Nelson and dancing in our old ugly blue kitchen, on a hot July day, just an ordinary morning that turned magical. It was one of those days.
That Thursday was a not so good day. I was tired, and slow-moving, and frankly tired of deciding what to feed the kids. They got out the play-dough again, but this time there was yelling and pushing, and after three, four, five times of asking them to stop, asking them to them to sit down, to get their feet off the table, to eat their dinner, to stop giving food to the dog- after all that, I yelled. Loud. Scarily, even. Both kids froze, the older one immediately did what I had been asking (like he always does) and the little one went into hysterics and reached for me to comfort her. Even though it is sometimes the only way they will listen, even though I know that other parents yell, and it does not make me the absolute worst mother in the world, I feel like it. I feel dirty and uneasy and anxious and filled up with all the wrong things. I hugged the little one tight, and took small comfort in the fact that a hug from me is all it takes to make things better for her. The older one came over and put his arms around us, and said he is sorry, and he is ready to listen now, and I felt even worse. Look at these fragile little things, astonishingly mine and left in my care, and how could I let myself get so angry and yell at them? But I did, because it was one of those days.
I have this t-shirt, that says THESE ARE THE DAYS, in bold black letters on weathered white. When I was visiting my parents, there was this moment where we were trying to go somewhere, and we were late, and I finally got the kids in the car. The older one started whining because he wanted to bring his most favorite LEGO ever, and also he needed some water (after I had already asked him if he wanted water) and could he please have a snack? Then of course the little one starts screaming because- well, she’s two, so who knows. I think it was about Cheetos. I feel the frustration building and just as I’m about to lose it, my mom bursts out laughing and points at my shirt. “What?” I ask her, expecting some remark about how my daughter is just like me. “These are the days, right?” she says. I look down, and laugh with her. We joke about me putting the shirt on during bad days, looking at myself in the mirror and chanting “THESE are the days, These ARE the days, These are THE days” over and over, in an attempt to remind myself, to make it true.
I didn’t buy the t-shirt as some gauzy reminder of how fleeting these days are, or as a tribute to the song. I bought it because it looked vaguely French and nonchalant and cool, and I thought I would look nonchalant and cool in it, with some boyfriend jeans and maybe a hat, or a braid. Instead I usually wear it with yoga pants, my hair in it’s customary ponytail. I certainly don’t look French. But still, I do notice the words now, and it is true, these ARE the days. Days of what, it depends, but they are the days I am living, the days I have: good, bad, boring, exhilarating, tiring, frustrating, monotonous, magical, everything.
There are lots of blog posts and essays out there imploring us parents to make every minute count, to enjoy every.single.minute, because these days as a parent with small children are so precious, because we will miss these days when they are too quickly gone, because I am lucky to be their mother, because because because. And what I feel like saying to these people is WE KNOW. We know how precious and how fleeting and how messy and how beautiful and how hard it is, because we are down in it, living it every single day. We are aware, even in the moments where it gets to be too much or we let ourselves yell, we are aware of the privilege and pressure of parenting. We don’t ever forget. Life with small children is so interminable- intense and insistent. It is always pressing on you, the knowledge of your children, even when they are not there. The absence of their presence is equally pressing. It is always, always THERE.
Another day that week all of us went to Toys R Us to make a birthday list for O. All was well until it wasn’t, and I began what is so far the worst tantrum of her life. I tried to ignore her, I tried to cajole her, I tried to distract her, I tried to bribe her, I tried everything. Her screaming only grew louder and then she began hitting me and yep, we became those people, with that kid. I picked her up and took her outside to sit in the car, where her tantrum continued for another ten minutes at least. As I was sitting there, waiting her out, I thought of the “enjoy every minute” people. I wanted one of them to be sitting there with me, in the passenger seat, witnessing this little miracle. How, exactly, do you enjoy every minute of a tantrum? Hold your significant other’s hand, lean into each other and smile, proud to be witnessing it all? Take a picture or a video for Instagram? No, it sucks and it’s okay that it sucks, and it’s okay to be annoyed and tired and overwhelmed in those moments. It was just one of those days.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the yelling, because it was been a yelling week. And I have a few friends that have had some hard days as well, and we talk about it, and we promise to do better and we laugh and send each other “enjoy every minute” quotes. I hate it, I do, but…well, I have to find some way to understand it, so here goes. What if the frustration and yelling, the bad moments, the lessons we learn, is all part of the privilege as well? It’s part of what makes up the shared territory of parenting, it’s what makes us all part of the same tribe, part of the secret language and sorrow of this world. We know it’s going too fast. We know that every day is another last, another step away from us. I feel it in every moment, yes, even in the angry ones. When I give myself a break, I think that perhaps the angry moments are just as profound as the beautiful moments- these are the moments in which I grow and learn, where I am forced to confront the things I don’t like about myself and try to hide in the dark corners or under the bed. These are the moments in which maybe I can make a choice to do better. And also to teach forgiveness, and how to comfort and maybe how to handle anger.
At the end of that week, we we were finishing our day at the pool. O had a swim lesson, and then the littles were eating dinner. I was tired and ready to get home and end the day, still had showers and bedtime ahead of me. I just wanted them to be quiet and let me enjoy the fading sunlight. And then O asked to sit at another table, alone. He has never done that. I said no, of course not, and he started whining. And I gave him my grown-up, reasonable answer which made him cross his eyes at me and growl (this is his version of rolling his eyes, I think). And in that moment, I realized how even though it will be nice to sit quietly at the adult table when the kids inevitably move over to their own table, I intensely did not want that to happen yet. “Well if you move over, then what about planning your birthday party? And didn’t you want to talk about what to put in your LEGO city?” He perked up, and said “Oh, yeah, of course” and then continued on talking, his words spilling over themselves as they always do, the familiar cadence of his particular phrases and mispronounced words soothing me, reminding me that right now, this is exactly where I want to be.
It’s like this, at the end of these days. Every day is a new chapter in our story. And only you get to decide how to tell that story. What I chose to remember and hopefully have time to write about, the moments that I describe and the lessons I take away, those are the stories of my life. If you remember the magic of your morning, that’s your story. If instead you want to dwell on the yelling and the mess, and how you are always always late, then that will be your story of parenthood. For me, I will remember the magic, but also recognize the mess. Because the mess can contain it’s own magic- the magic of noticing and awareness. If every morning we were singing Willie Nelson in the kitchen, I wouldn’t notice it. But after a messy day, a little kitchen dancing can break your heart and fill it back up again in one moment.
So yes, these are the days. Days of boredom and lightening giggles, of dancing in the kitchen and blowing bubbles in the bath, of hitting and screeching but also of unprompted hugs. It is days filled with gymnastics and swimming and art camps, and then a stormy day spent entirely inside, the older one creating intricate LEGO cities by himself, and the younger one sitting on my lap, eating Cheetos and yelling “Oh no! What happened!” at the soap opera you are secretly trying to watch. It is two hour long epic bedtime battles one night, and the peaceful perfection the next. It is shockingly well-executed family dinners one night, and frozen pizza and wine at 9:30 pm the next, thankful for Mindy Kaling otherwise you’d be crying instead of laughing. It is all of it, the mess and the magic.