Originally posted May 10, 2008
I don't need any gifts for Mother's Day. All I want is a piece of Denny's French toast smothered in butter and syrup. With a dusting of confectioners sugar. Oh yeah, and I'll have fresh-squeezed orange juice, too, please.
I really don't want anything else.
…But a side of peace and quiet would be nice. No whining for the whole day. Imagine. Even as I write this I can hear the plaintive wail of my eight-and-a-half year-old son whining. His father is herding him into the shower, and Noah's still whining about … Well, I'll spare you any direct quotes, 'cause trust me, neither you nor I need to relive them.
Six years ago, when Holly was a just a babe, Todd and I hired a sitter for Noah, and brought our drowsy newborn to a friend's wedding. Precious in a puff of sage taffeta and white lace, she curled up on my husband's shoulder in that endearing newborn way and slept through most of the festivities. It was a lovely occasion. Maybe sixty people were on hand for the outdoor nuptials, held on the banks of the rushing Cullasaja River in Highlands, North Carolina. After a sumptuous feast, held under the eves of a rustic red barn, Todd and I walked off our dinner under strings of tiny lights glittering in the trees along the river's edge as their leaves gently rustled in the warm breeze of a dusky southern evening.
I remember, as we strolled through the gathered guests - all laughing and hugging and sipping and dancing - that all was not right with one of them.
Something was very wrong, in fact.
It wasn't so much a complaint as a statement. And it wasn't clear to whom she was speaking. It was more like muttering, really. She muttered, with her eyes downcast as she kicked half-heartedly at a small stone in the path, and followed her sullen children to the dessert table. I could barely make out what she said as they strode past my content little group: "The whining. It's never ending…"
"Oh, that poor woman," I recall whispering to my husband, as we glanced back over our shoulders at that downtrodden woman with the two kids, who I figured to be around seven and nine - and who I also figured would have rather been just about anywhere else. I'll never forget the pity I felt for her - or the very satisfying knowledge I possessed that I would certainly never feel that way, because surely I would have a better grip on parenting.
Boy, was I wrong.
Fast forward six years. I am now that pitiful woman. Now I'm the one who wonders if the whining is terminal, everlasting, never-ever ending. Sure, there are moments of peace, occasional laughter as we reflect on our less stellar family moments and even times of tremendous joy, but they are now tempered by a nearly daily dose of whining, brought on by the kids' growing awareness that life is sometimes unfair, they can't always get what they want, and someone else is (more or less) in charge.
Though those interminably whiny days feel just plain awful (for everyone), I must admit: I always feel slightly buoyed by the gift that woman gave to me that night all those years ago. She'll never know how often I think of her, and of how grateful I am to know that the whiny phase is more than a mere reflection of my shortcomings as a parent (I'm not willing to consider the possibility that we're both failing miserably…). Though I didn't realize it then, she unwittingly taught me that this experience is normal, and that I would not be alone in my misery.
It helps to know this.
Normal or not, whenever I share this story with other parents, I tack on this caveat: While we can make efforts to be diplomatic and patient with the valid disappointments our kids feel, and can recognize and learn to productively engage the naturally broody and emotionally impulsive phase characteristic of the the "tween" years, we can also make our expectations and limits clear.
Yeah, sure. Good luck with that, I now say, whilst my head spins right off into the ether. It's amazing that I ever taught a parenting class. Hell if I know what to do. It's survival of the fittest, guys. Plant your feet squarely, take three deep breaths, and calmly ride it out. The sun will set on this day, too.
Pitiful woman # 1's kids must now teenagers. I cannot even fathom it.
Peace and quiet for Mother's Day? Okay, so that's a lot to ask for.
The French toast is non-negotiable, though.
Note: This first appeared on my blog last year around Mother's Day. Sure, my kids and I often enjoy warm-fuzzy moments I'll treasure always (which by now you're just plain sick to death of reading about), but Noah's timing this year was spectacular. We have officially reached new heights in how we express disappointments, here in the DuBose household. Since everyone is now finally tucked away all snug in their beds, I'll see if I can conjure up the latest load of baloney levied by my firstborn on this day before Mother's Day:
"I hate you with the heat of a thousand suns," Noah stated, after I decided once and for all that we wouldn't be going to his friend Charlie's house for an impromptu gathering tonight.
The Backstory: We had just cheered for him at his baseball game (which I rather enjoy. I have the sunburn and sore throat to prove it), and still had Holly's soccer game and dance recital to attend this afternoon. It was already destined to be a doozy of a day, and I wasn't ready to commit to another thing at that moment. Not a patient one (so he takes after me ...), Noah continued to badger Todd and me about it, even talking over me (loudly), at one point. Not a good game plan, that one. (That and those pesky, clingy bits of packing styrofoam really tick me off - but I digress.) Suddenly the decision became quite clear, so I calmly advised him that we wouldn't be going to Charlie's after all, which prompted the fabulous "heat of a thousand suns" comment - with a few stingy, plain old "I hate you's" thrown in for good measure.
So he refused to get out of the car for the first quarter of Holly's soccer game. No, I didn't fuel the drama by pleading with him (I could see him from my seat on the sidelines). When Noah finally did emerge, he whimpered through the final three.
It was torture.
Later, as we left the auditorium and the lights came up on Holly's recital, I felt Noah's chin nudge my shoulder. The whining and pleas to go to Charlie's house started up again, right on cue.
It didn't stop all the way home.
Not game for another round of 'hell hath no fury like a disappointed, regretful kid promising he'll "never-do- it-again" again,' Holly and I quickly ditched the boys and ran back out to celebrate her recital in relative peace and quiet. When we returned two hours later a more composed Noah jovially volunteered, "I can't wait to go to Denny's (our standing Mother's-Day-morning plan)." Sweet. So he was attempting to extend an olive branch. He was trying to show me that he'd found a more appropriate way to manage his disappointment, and he wanted to connect. Well, good.
I often remind myself, my husband and the kids that the reason we're all in this nest together is because we still have stuff to learn from each other. Among other things, the kids get to model our social skills (Oh Lord) and practice them on us before they fly the coop and use them 'for real' on others. As I said to Noah (and, God love him, to my husband), I would not be doing him any favors if I gave in and didn't insist he respect me. While I totally get that he feels tremendous disappointment from time to time, and don't dismiss his disappointment as trivial, I draw the line at disrespect.
I'll always love him no matter what, but the rest of the world isn't quite so forgiving. It's my job to teach him to be respectful. If I don't who will? So sometimes it makes me unpopular. Thankless work, this motherhood gig.
So you see, people, re-reading my little ditty from last Mother's Day was something I needed to do to head into another one. I will definitely enjoy drowning my sorrows in that sweet puddle of butter atop my short stack of Denny's french toast (yeah yeah, so yoga is better ...I got the memo) and I 'm still hoping for those incredible home-made cards and hugs from my children, but I almost feel sorry for my little guy. How's he gonna avoid feeling like a hypocrite after a mere eighteen hours earlier he told me how much he hates me?
Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia.
See more of Jennifer's stories here.