Snow days start to suck more the older you get. Instead of snow angels and sledding, there’s dropped VPN tunnels and day care closings and shoveling, lots of shoveling. We spent Wednesday snowed in. Rather than look at it as an opportunity to spend extra time with our kids, we were cranky. YG and I both have a lot of work to do. I, of course, added this crankiness to my ever-growing List of Things To Feel Guilty About. Normal, good parents would be happy for a break from work. Normal, good parents would want to play in the snow with their kids. I don’t know what normal, good parents are. I don’t know if I know any. But I’ve gotten it into my head that I am not one.
It’s been a rough couple of weeks. Work has been ramping up, headed into the pressure-cooker Conference, and I am just reaching that part of pregnancy where my hormones are raging and physically, I ache all the time from things stretching and moving. Plus, the tiredness. All.The.Time.
On the parenting side, the MG is testing out her adolescence, rolling her eyes all the time and huffing or sulking whenever she is asked to do something. Or, correction, whenever I ask her to do something. Dad is still perfect and saintly and the expert on all things. I’m just the extra. Sadly, this is not just a function of the weird stepchild/stepparent relationship. Zygote also follows YG around like a shadow, demanding to be held and yelling if he dares to do something else. When I reach out to her and say, “Come to mama. I’ll pick you up,” she gives me this look that says, “seriously? Are you kidding with this?” She looks like my mother, but most so when she’s staring, witheringly, at me. “NO,” she shouts, decisive. I think of all my friends who never travel or go out by themselves because their kids would freak out. That must suck, but at least they notice when you’re gone.
Is this all sounding a little too sad sack? A bit much with the self-pity? Of course it is. But finding myself halfway through another pregnancy, I’m still SHOCKED and AMAZED that being a parent hasn’t transformed me into a shiny and new version of myself. Sometimes I think it’s brought out the uglier versions of me.
Zygote has started having temper tantrums. Given that she started everything else early, it’s not surprising that the Terrible Twos are starting now. If she doesn’t get her way, she melts down and screams. She throws things and hurls herself onto the floor, kicking and flailing. This is great fun in restaurants and other public places. We ignore her, give time outs, and other forms of “positive discipline” or yell back, and eventually she settles down, but not until everyone is rattled.
This came to a head last weekend during a battle to get her down for a nap. After multiple fits and starts and soothing and rocking and stroking her hair, she still wouldn’t calm down. Then she took her little hand and hurled it across my face so hard that it made my nose bleed. I was stunned, and my reaction was…not good. Horrific actually. I completely lost my shit. I screamed as loud as I could in her face, and left her wailing in the crib while I slammed the door to her room, punched it for good measure and then knocked a bunch of things off of our walls.
And then, quiet. Nothing except for her heavy breathing and hiccupy sobs. She went to sleep for two hours, and I crawled under my own covers to cry and made myself physically sick (read: puked. A lot). It’s not that I haven’t yelled at her before, or disciplined her. It’s just that my reaction was so quick and fiery. I replayed the whole scene in my head, wondering where I slipped over the edge from “my toddler is irritating” to “I’m so angry I’m going to punch the walls down.” I thought about her scared look, and remembered all the times I was nervous that I had finally pushed my mother over the edge. We would fight about my hair, and she would smack me with the hairbrush and I’d cry, wondering why she was so mean. Why I wouldn’t just let her brush my goddamn hair is another story.
I’ve always had some anger in me, but it’s the pilot light kind, always on but never really explosive, save for the occasional disaster. And it’s embarrassed me, because really, I’ve lived a pretty privileged life. What is there to be so angry about? But kids, and the lack of sleep and free time that come with them, have made that embarrassment really ugly. I yell. I lick things. I listen to Black Sabbath on the radio REALLY loud. It’s like being a teenager again, but without the cool goth makeup and badass boots. It’s just unattractive.
Other horrible traits of mine that have been amplified since having Zygote: an extreme lack of patience, selfishness, stubbornness, and a crippling fear of asking anyone for help for fear that I will appear incompetent.
After the blowout, I was afraid for Zygote to wake up. How do you apologize to someone that doesn’t talk? How do you explain to someone that hitting (her) and screaming (me) is not okay when she doesn’t really grasp those concepts yet? What’s the best way to convey ‘I love you no matter what’ when what she hears is blah, blah, blah, dog, blah, cat? I walked in there, and she rolled over, smiled big and reached out. “Hiiiiii mama,” she gurgled before scrunching her lips into a kissy face.
And that, there, makes it worth it. All the crap. I didn’t understand that before I had her, and I probably would have barfed all over a story like this, telling the author to go buy another Hummel figurine and Christmas sweater down at The Hallmark Store. The good parts are almost too hard to explain.
These kids seem to bring out the absolute worst in me, but they also help me find the good parts – tenderness, sweetness, those gross words that never had a place in my vocabulary before. I get to be silly. I get to sing off-key show tunes to an appreciative audience every night. I always have someone with a head on my shoulder reminding me, with authority, where my nose is. I get to be the nicer version of me too.
We survived the rest of Snowpocalypse without any other major incidents. Zygote’s smile did not magically make everything better, even though I had a brief few minutes (maybe seconds) where I thought, “I am never going to lose my shit again. I am going to read those Positive Parenting books and we are starting over.” A few hours in, I found myself dying to get out of the house. To do something, anything without being smeared in applesauce and boogers.
Is there some lesson here? I don’t know. This stuff happens. Most of the people I told this story too shrugged it off with a, “Relax. Stop guilting yourself.” I am….trying? Trying to remember that she’s going to get older and keep testing her limits. And trying to remember that her personality, just like mine, has its good parts and its less-than-appealing parts.