Okay so its 6:30 and my very nearly 10 year old and my 7 year old are in bed—asleep because I sent them there. I didn’t know where else they could go after being so relentessly flip, so “no I’m not going to wash my hands”, so “yeah I’m going to expect something in my advent calendar and still not listen you tell me to put my homework in my backpack,” for the third—no fourth time.
They were doing nothing and so they were doing everything—wrong. And I know they were hungry, and tired. I know Dash didn’t get enough time at recess. I know Conrad was home sick and on an Advil high.
But the more I tired to redirect them by saying things like ” It looks like you need a job, go walk the dog,” or “Help me set the table,” the more rolling around on the floor there was, the more snickering and giggling and secret jokes there were between them. I refused to “get mad” to raise my voice as in the olden days of when they were 5 and 3. Instead I removed myself I told them I wasn’t going to have a dinner where people weren’t listening, or respecting me. I told them I was going to Hawaii…and I gave myself a time out. I went down to the basement and folded laundry. A lot. And while down there I heard laughing and running around and a lot of hijinks and I was, probably stupidly, shocked that they could still be up there giggling instead of being worried or scared that there mother was gone. Removing myself, meant nothing.
After one particularly loud cackle and tumble I couldn’t fold anymore socks, so I came upstairs and saw them laughing and I said, “Okay I see you are done with you dinner, time for bed.” Now they were shocked. “But we are stille eating,” they said.
“It didn’t sound like you were still eating so it’s time to be done.” Both boys went upstairs without looking at me to brush their teeth. Dashiell was on the verge of hysterics and Conrad was angry, resentful, bitter and pale. He glanced at my clock. “It’s 5:56,” he said.
I knew I crossed a threshold, but I didn’t know how to go back. While Dash brushed his teeth he looked at me in the mirror and said, “I never want to be with you again.”
Fair enough. But right there, I felt like I was teaching them right there that women are crazy. Be nice to us or we will be crazy. It’s not what I ever thought I’d tell my sons and there it was–with Dashiell lying in his bed inching his body way under the blankets and Conrad brushing his teeth with his eyelids almost shut looking like he had already retreated inside himself, as if he had already resigned himself to never wanting to figure it out. He’s 9. I’m 43. I had been dismissed.
So to get help them both understand I said, “As the mom, my feelings are hurt. I asked you more than three times to wash you hands, get your drink, put your homework away and all I got was the the two of you chasing, laughing and getting up from the table, not helping me set it, not helping me come together. So goodnight.” I could have said more but they got into their beds, silent, and disappeared under their covers as if the whack-a-mole game I was playing ran out of time.
And I know my mom, my therapist and my wonderful neighbor who I texted on the verge of tears said I was doing the right thing. She’d asked me if I had any onions and when I gave it to her the driveway she said, “It’s actually good, how else will they learn you mean what you say.” But inside I wished I had bulima, and was used to feeling sick, because I was ready to throw up on the ashphalt.
I went back inside wondering why I couldn’t climb out of this. And worse, I thought of having to explain to David. He’d nod, but inside wonder what the hell is wrong with me. When David is home with the boys they play games. When I’m home we renact scenes from Mommy Dearest.
It’s been an uncomfortable Christmas. My freelance checks haven’t arrived. I keep expecting that tomorrow we can buy gifts but then the mail comes and the checks don’t. David put lights on the tree but two 150 strands broke and so we don’t have as many as we normally do. I suggested running out to get more, but he really thought it looked magical just lit from within. It did at the time and I didn’t want to argue. Only now it looks dim, like were are only operating at 60% glow.
I also I had a fight with my mom because I wanted to come to her house the night before Thanksgiving but she said no because my brother and step brother were already there and she didn’t think she could fit us in her house, even though she has a pull out couch in the music room/den. I decided to be hurt by this and that was a big mistake. We didn’t talk over Thanksgiving, I didn’t get to see my brother visiting from Wyoming, and I only see him once a year. It ended with me finally calling her in the parking lot of Toys R Us before walking into a “Doorbuster” NERF sale two weeks later. Standing next to a line of shopping carts, one with an empty juicebox inside it, she told me that she will never apologize to me, not ever, about anything she does. So a few days later I apologized just to be done with all of it, but now I just get tired when I think about her coming at Christmas.
I went back outside to let the dog out and when I came in Conrad had cleared the dining room table and left a note that said “Your welcome. And I’m doing my homework.”
I went upstairs. Dashiell was asleep. it was only 6:45 but he was exhausted and while I wished none of this had happened he probably need to go to bed this early. Conrad was doing his homework. I told him I appreciated his help and I was sorry, that I was upset I wasn’t being listened to.
Conrad turned around from his spelling assignment of breaking words into syllabels: head-ache, mis-take, heart-break… I’m not making it up those were on his list.
He turned to me and said, “You think we feel good too mom? We were laughing at dinner but did you think we really felt good?”
It was right on time, a week ago I had expected my mother to understand me and just know that I needed, but she didn’t get it. And here was I a week later just as far away from my own son.
Every night before we go to bed we listen to the Writer’s Almanac. It’s like our bedtime story. The other night there was a poem by Sharon Olds that I can’t stop thinking about. It reads:
In the sunless wooden room at noon
the mother had a talk with her daughter.
The rudeness could not go on, the meanness
to her little brother, the selfishness.
The eight-year-old sat on the bed
in the corner of the room, her irises distilled as
the last drops of something, her firm
face melting, reddening,
silver flashes in her eyes like distant
bodies of water glimpsed through woods.
She took it and took it and broke, crying out
I hate being a person! diving
into the mother
a deep pond—and she cannot swim,
the child cannot swim.