There are times I want to sell my child to the highest bidder.
At the ripe old age of eleven years and some change, my son can be at once loving and kind and funny and a demon spawn from hell whose only mission, apparently, is to drive me a little more crazy than I already am. Yay. He does it with practiced ease, and flows effortlessly between all these amazing attributes like water through a sluice.
He's been on lock down this week. No games. No electronics. No television. He's been such a happy boy. Ha! No one can pout quite like an eleven year old. No one can shoot daggers quite so accurately, or look so innocently aggrieved when called on the dagger-shooting. No one can take up so much negative space, or tap quite so insistently. He literally sits on the couch, clicking a button on some unplugged electronic doohickey, again and again and again, until I want to poke spikes through my forehead. Or his. And just when I am ready to burst from the the clickclickclick of that button, he switches tactics, bouncing his heavy foot on the floor. Stomp. Rest. Stomp. Rest. Stomp. Rest.
After a minute of stomping and malevolent staring, I turn to him. "We have neighbors downstairs. Do you think they want to hear you stomp?" Silence. For thirty-seven seconds. Then
Even he gets annoyed with the button pushing. At least, that specific button pushing. My internal buttons are, however, fair game for this side of eternity. Finally: I'm bored, he says. Clean your room. Pack your suitcase for your dad's. Read a book. Draw something. Practice piano. Something. Anything. It's not as if I've tied him to the bedpost. Yet. He practices piano. At me. He folds the book at me, noisily, angrily. I love passive-aggressive behavior. I wonder where he gets it from. Mm hmm.
It takes everything I have not to cave. Good lord, what happened to me?
I swore, when I was pregnant with him, that I would be That Mom. You know the one: The Earth Mother. Consistent, loving, firm, reasonable, reasoning. The one with the perfect child. You know, that mythical mother found only in the pages of What To Expect, or some other parenting book, written by Type A personalities thrust suddenly from the Board Room into the Changing Room, who has endless patience, endless resolve, an attentive and participating partner and a bottomless wallet. The mom you learned to hate, if only because she was so competent in the face of your eternal struggle.
The television would never be the babysitter. My child would never need to be bribed, coddled or cajoled into good behavior. This small miracle, when presented with a logical, well-structured and reasonable argument, would immediately see the error of his ways, apologize and cease all tantrum activity forthwith. We would read together, sing together, play together. Do crafts and art projects. Have good, quality alone time. Take walks. Learn. Be really, really cool--- the darlings of the block. Other parents would live in awe of my parenting success; really, be slightly envious of my calm and loving skills, my ability to remain unruffled in the midst of chaos.
Of course, no one told me that I would be living like a nomadic Bedouin for several years. Invariably, I was the mom who forgot to pack something--- extra clothes; a spare diaper; toys; food; the building blocks of a happy baby life. No one told me that my child's whine was perfectly pitched to disrupt every nerve ending in my brain, until I wanted to sell him or strangle hime, whichever came first, just to get him to stop. (Or that I would be the only one able to hear this particular resonant pitch). I learned all on my own that cookies-- more so than music-- had charms to soothe the savage beast, television was the opiate of the masses (and though I only have the one child, at times, he has the energy and volume levels to count as a mass). Don't even get me started on the restorative power of French fries...
I learned, after listening to him screech and wail and cry as if being chased by every demon from hell and beyond, that if I just gave in, there would be...peace. Silence. Blessed and holy quiet, the demons vanquished, sent back to the nether hells from whence they had come. Silence from the depths of the cave into which I have taken refuge. Far from being Earth Mother, I became her opposite, sacrificing discipline and consistency for a few minute's quiet.
And I hate the feeling that I'm such a bad mommy, that everyone else is doing it so much better. They're organized and disciplined. I look at my son and start singing "One boy! Boy for sale! He's going cheap--- only 20 pennies..." from Oliver! I am mostly joking when I do it. And of course Nate, being my son, has learned to sing back at me "One mom! Mom for sale..."
He has learned every lesson that I desperately tried to avoid. Trust me: sarcasm, never attractive in an adult, is really unattractive when streaming from the mouth of a five year old (and six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven year old as well. I'm sure it will be just as unattractive in a 12 year old). Perspective is a challenge. We each of us are Awful-izers, If now is bad, it will get worse and we will set up camp in that forever. We don't have bad days, we have the foreshadowing of abject misery throughout all eternity. Conflict resolution? Peaceful discussion between the parties? Sure, we get there eventually, but really, slammed doors and shouting and tears are so much more dramatic to begin. And so effective. Sigh.
The list is as infinite as my shortcomings. Large, small, petty, self-righteous, self-justified: each and every one plays out in my son's life for all to see. Are defects of character genetic?
And then, just when I'm about to give up all hope, throw in the towel, call Nanny911, this:
Last night, Nate hands me a slip of paper entitled "The Eight Nights of Chanukah" He has re-written "The Twelve Days of Christmas." The printing was small and crabbed and smudged pencil. Rhyme, meter and scansion were absolutely non-existent. Spelling was merely an approximation, and even then, I was hard-pressed to figure out what he was writing. But i got the gist: this was his wish list, his serial demands, for Chanukah gifts. he had even starred the most wanted (with, like 6 stars, in case I didn't understand just how much he wanted these particular gifts over some of the others immortalized in his song).
I skimmed through it quickly. A typically greedy, acquisitive expression of the holiday spirit. And then I read his line about the sixth night of Chanukah:
On the sixth night of Chanukah, not "my mommy gave to me..." but "and I gave toys away to the poor."
In that one line, cramped and smudged and misspelled, my son took my breath away. In that one line, I heard God's voice and felt hope rise like a blessing.
I was right-- he has learned all the lessons I have taught. Yes, he learned all the bad mommy stuff of which I am ashamed and try to hide. But he learned the good stuff, too: that we are called to be compassionate and kind, to share what we have with those less fortunate, to care for others. Oh my--- he is quite the teacher, my son.
So, yeah; sometimes he is a demon spawn from hell. Sometimes a whiny, pouty brat who can glare with the best of them, who pushes every one of my buttons and then finds a few more I didn't even know I had. And sometimes, he shows me everything I need to know about love. And so, I think I will take him off the market, and keep him with me a while longer. <3
PS: For anyone interested in the tradition of Sixth Night, the Ner Shel Tzedakah, please visit http://urj.org/socialaction/issues/poverty/ner_shel_tzedakah/
- I write, mostly to keep my head from exploding. It threatens to do that a lot. My blog is the pixelated version of all the voices in my head. I tend to dive into what connects me to God, my community, my family and my doubt. I do a lot of searching, not as much finding. I’m good with that. I have learned, finally, to live comfortably in the gray. In the meantime, I wrestle with God, and my doubt and my joy.