Today was one of those days. It started because of Noah, of course, and a hoodie. Well, actually, now that I'm calm enough to consider it, it probably started because Noah overslept. If you aren't aware, Noah is the world's worst sleeper. He himself will tell you that he hates sleeping, that the night is too long, sleeping is boring, etc, etc, etc. From the time he was two months old and I moved him from my bedroom to his crib upstairs, he has only rarely slept through the night. When he was an infant and a toddler, he would cry, babble, call out, "Mama!" all the night long. Now, he's just up at 2 am, singing Bryan Adams and Justin Bieber and One Direction or whatever else is current in his repertoire, until whenever he finally conks out from simple necessity.
The pediatrician told me early on, "Don't go in when he calls you." Simple enough advice, as old as time and motherhood itself. But Noah never really gives up. I could never do "Cry it out," because Noah is never cried out. He will cry and scream and yell indefinitely. For once, I'm not exaggerating. I can clearly recall sitting on the edge of my bed in the darkness, the monitor blazing red with his screams, watching the digital numbers on the clock tick by. I remember thinking, "Twenty minutes," and then, "One hour," and then, "Ninety minutes." Ultimately, it became about survival. And also, my personal belief that my children should be able to count on me when they feel they need me. Noah believes he needs me. No, that's not quite accurate. It was Joe, my husband, who once said, "No, honey, Noah doesn't need you. Joey needs you. Noah just...wants you." He shrugged, shook his head, and said, "For whatever reason. He doesn't want me. He wants you. It's kind of a gift."
It's taken me a long time to see that Joe is right about this, because dealing with Noah's stubbornness is so painful at times I'm not sure I'm going to be mentally intact by the end of any given day. Which brings me to today, a day when I felt like I was about to unload my emotional burdens to anyone who happened to step in my path.
Noah, like I said, had overslept. When he realized what he'd done, he was angry at himself. He came down the stairs, one at a time, his overgrown hair a mess and a frown pushing at his eyebrows. "The night was too short," he grumbled. "I closed my eyes, and I opened them, and it was awake time."
"Yes, honey," I said, reaching to pull him off the third step and into my arms. To me, Noah oversleeping is a Christmastime miracle. "When you sleep, night goes very fast. It only takes long when you're awake."
This was absolutely the wrong thing to say to Noah, who scowled at me, pushed me away, and went to the kitchen for his breakfast. I sighed, and the morning wore on. The big altercation didn't come until it was time to get ready for school. This has happened before, it will unfortunately probably happen again, but it doesn't make it any easier to get through while it's actually happening. Noah didn't like the outfit I picked out for him.
The jeans were okay, the shirt was okay. It was the hoodie I wanted him to wear. He grabbed it from my hand and hurled it to the floor. "I'm not wearing THAT," he said.
I don't feel like getting into the nitty gritty of what ultimately became a painful battle of wills. Unfortunately for Noah, he gets his extreme stubbornness from me. Doubly unfortunate is that his father is also stubborn (and his grandmother, and both grandfathers, and his uncle, and...), so he's pretty much just doomed in that regard. But really, it's that extreme push, a drive to actually win, that he gets from me. So when he steps foot on that path to begin that journey, I'm already one step ahead of him. Yes, it's because I know him well, but more, it's because I've already tread that path into the ground for all eternity before him.
But a battle of wills between parent and child is doomed from the beginning, isn't it? On principle alone, the child can't win.
Noah does know this, but he doesn't like it, and that only makes it worse. More heart-wrenching and painful, especially in the end, when, almost from exhaustion, he collapses into my arms and apologizes a hundred times and tells me I'm wonderful and how much he loves me.
I finally got him into the car, five minutes past time, to go to school. He was wearing the hoodie, but had fat tears resting on his cheeks as I buckled him in. He continued to loudly protest in the backseat until I turned up the radio (Bruce Springsteen) above his voice. The whole way to his school, I battled within myself. I was so angry, and so, well, hurt, really by the episode. And then I was angry with myself for feeling hurt. I'm the mother, I'm the parent. I'm not supposed to have my feelings hurt when my child misbehaves and says nasty things. That's what children do. If they were born with good manners and making good choices, they wouldn't need parents. But I must be weaker than everybody else, because when my little boy looks at me with anger in his eyes and says things that mean he wants to hurt me, it works.
I considered how I would leave him at school. My own stubborn streak told me I should just tell him I'm still mad and then leave him at school. My more superstitious streak, as well as my heart, told me otherwise. As I navigated the slippery morning roads, I imagined myself leaving him at school, getting in an accident, and dying, and having my son grow up knowing that the last thing his mother said to him was that she was still mad.
Ultimately, it comes down to explaining. When I taught English and my students wrote poorly elaborated points in their essays, my motto was, "Explain to the point of pain." It works for parenting, too, I guess. I know my kids gets tired of hearing my explanations, but if I don't tell them, they won't know. Or remember it next time. Or, most of all, understand why this thing happened in the first place.
When I unloaded Noah from the car, but before I took him inside the school, I held him tight in my arms. He kind of smirked, and I didn't miss it. He was thinking I'd tell him I love him, and he'd win. He wasn't entirely wrong.
"Noah," I said, "I love you always, no matter what you do. But that doesn't change that I'm the boss, and you have to do what I say." He frowned at that, but I pushed on. "When Mommy says you have to do something, like wear a hoodie, you have to do it. AND you have to be nice about it."
"But you'll love me always?" he asked in a small voice.
"I love you always, too, Mommy," he whispered. "And I'm sorry for being so bad."
Why did I want to cry? There's no reasonable explanation. I delivered him into school, where he held on a moment longer than usual, desperately seeking eye contact. He held my gaze, and I knew what he was saying. He really was sorry.
I drove home feeling sad and unsure of myself. Why did my parents have to make parenting look so easy? It's not at all. I never know what I'm doing, and I'm pretty sure I never will. Kids just keep growing and morphing and entering new phases, and whatever you figured out last week is never enough to help you with the new thing this week. I imagined myself pulling over on the side of the road for a good cry, and then imagined someone knocking on my window and being mortified at my ridiculous display over something equally ridiculous.
So what did I need? I needed to talk. Against every impulse, I skipped the Tim Hortons drive-thru and went home and called my mom instead.
"Sometimes it just hurts," she said. "It just does. Maybe it's emotional, or hormonal--I don't really know. All I know is, it does. But you did the right thing, and you have to move on. Because it will happen again, and again, and in the end, it's okay. It has to be."
It wasn't advice, really, and it also wasn't earth-shattering, but it made me feel better. My mom went on to point out a few our real doozies--times I was just absolutely awful and had said anything I could to let my mother know just what I thought of her and whatever she was doing. I felt my heart constrict, remembering the same stories in a very different way than she did, and then sat down to write this blog. I'm glad to know that the person who made parenting look easy felt the same way I do sometimes. I was glad to hear her, above anyone else, tell me I'd done the right thing. But mostly, I felt comforted by the reminder that when you love someone with everything you've got, sometimes it hurts. And that's okay.