It's Never Always

Our daughter Norah is just a kid. This seems like an obvious statement, especially if you know that she is five years old, so why is it then that we struggle to keep this sentiment in focus?

This morning at breakfast she spilled her cereal. This is not a unique event. I was in the bedroom getting ready for work and heard Pete correcting her, irritation and frustration vibrating through his vocal chords and raising his decibel level. He’s not the yeller that I am, but he has his signature angry tone accompanied by a kick in volume. Incapable of controlling my need to control, I inserted myself by entering the kitchen and investigating the scene. Please stop, I said to him. All we do lately is get mad at her. She’s just a kid.

What a hypocrite. All WE do lately is get mad at her, and that ‘we’ includes me. 

I have noticed a pattern of calmness spreading over me when Pete’s parenting dial is redlining. Calm is not my normal, so the presence of such catches my attention and I tend to revel in the unusual sensation. Regardless of my pleasure in discovering novel feelings, I should not meddle when my darling husband has hit his heightened state. I should know better, for intervention on his part during my far less rational expressions of anger has been known to cause volatile reactions i.e. screaming expletives and flying objects. 

I’m working on it. Forever. 

He left the kitchen, possibly in a huff, but definitely without throwing anything, and I turned to Norah—her flushed face and watery eyes validating my (perhaps untimely) declaration. She’s just a kid. 

Our daughter is five, turning six is July, and lately (maybe longer) she seems to be hitting every one of our negative nerves. She is not a bad kid, and in fact on multiple occasions we’ve been offered praise, sometimes awe, from friends and teachers for her behavior, maturity and manners. With both of our children, we’ve somehow avoided public tantrums and rarely experienced cause for severe reprimand in the presence of those outside of our family. The comfort and privacy of our personal space is a different story, but even then, her moments of misbehaving are far from noteworthy.

Quantity over quality. Death by a thousand cuts. How many times do I have to tell you? We just went through this. Why don’t you listen? Ugh, again, are you serious? Pay attention! Do you enjoy getting yelled at? Stop, stop, please stop, STOP! NOW! 

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over and…

I feel defeated. I feel sad. I feel as though the negative interactions I have with my daughter are far outweighing the positive, and I feel like I’m wasting precious opportunities to connect with my little girl who before long will be sucked into the tornado of her teenage years. Already at five there are moments when my mama sense twitches in awareness of the slightest slipping away, underlined by the fierce, bone-deep need her younger brother exudes. I don’t want it to be this way. I don’t want to bend over to kiss her goodnight, awash in disappointment over the unfolding of the previous hours, scrambling to make things right with exaggerated affection in the final moments before sleep. 

Breathe deep. Breathe slow. 

I know that this is not forever. I know that in parenting, phases envelop us, obstructing our awareness of their transience. I also know that much like my patience with the lack of attention, listening and mindfulness on our daughter’s part, my patience with navigating and beating this phase is about as a strong as a spaghetti noodle. 

We can do this.

Boundaries. The key to success in all relationships. We can set boundaries without amplifying an already tense moment. We can communicate our expectations, underline inappropriateness, offer consequences, and teach lessons, and we can do all of this without yelling, belittling, cussing, condescending, or displaying any other behavior that will only serve to leave everyone involved feeling awful. 

We can do this. 

Focus on the positive. She’s bright, damn is she bright. She impresses us every day with her ability to learn and apply, her teachers sing her praises, and she wants to go to Duke because ‘smart people go there’ (goodbye money). She is kind and compassionate and she cares deeply for her brother (despite that episode where she kicked him off the bed sending us to Urgent Care). She’s creative and inquisitive and sensitive, she craves adventure and exploration, and she is willing to try (though sometimes only after a brief emotional breakdown) nearly anything. She works hard to live up to my (possibly too high) expectations and though the effort can exhaust her, she radiates with delight when she succeeds.   

We can do this. 

When I arrived home from work this evening, a little girl in pink tights and leotard breezed down the hallway to greet me with a magical smile. Dance bag in hand, she was calm and collected, and practically parented me out the door. Her buoyancy in tact through dance and home, she changed her clothes and eagerly inquired after any chores she could help me with. The laundry never lets us down in its readiness to be done, and so both kids took to gathering the dirty items. “Crosby, please go try to get the hamper from Mommy’s room, and if you have trouble I can help you.” For the entire evening, with the exception of one sloppy moment where she absentmindedly spit toothpaste all over the counter, she was a peach—a well behaved, helpful, cooperative, listening, manner minding peach. 

Did the Universe sense an imbalance in our household and kindly shift its energy to assist with providing a much needed reprieve? It’s possible. Even more possible is the likelihood that what felt like forever mad was actually much less, for so it goes with human nature—we have a remarkable knack for projecting the negative and adopting absolute perspectives. Maybe she’s tired sometimes and energized others and the resulting behaviors make sense; maybe she perceives and aligns herself to our moods and we’re the cause of any anxiety she experiences; maybe her tummy hurts or she feels badly about something that happened at school or she just doesn’t want to deal with all the rules rules rules that everyone in her life seems to be endlessly imposing. 

Maybe she’s just a kid.